Synopsis – Chhalaang is a hilarious, yet inspirational journey of Montu, a PT Master from a semi govt. funded school for whom teaching PT is just a job. When circumstances put everything he cares for at stake, including Neelu who he loves, Montu is forced to do what he’s never done- TEACH. Through his journey, the film humorously addresses the value of Sports Education in school curriculum.
My Take – Despite the abundance number of sport based films releasing every year, filmmakers keep heading back to the arena as audience continue to lap stories revolving around the personal conflicts underdogs go through all in order to attain their share of deserved glory. Throw in some punches and gags to ease the tension, and you have a winner on the hands.
Here, fresh off the stupendous success of his SonyLIV drama series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Hansal Mehta returns to the feature direction but by surprisingly shifting gears into a much lighter zone. Re-teaming for the fifth time with Rajkummar Rao, following Shahid (2013), CityLights (2014), Aligarh (2015), and Omerta (2018), this Ajay Devgn produced Amazon Prime Video presentation isn’t dark or spine-chilling as one would expect, but instead a charming slice-of-life venture. A major factor in this change could also be contributed to the fact that the film is co-written and co-produced by Luv Ranjan, known for his Pyaar Ka Punchnama films and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018).
And as one would expect from this collaboration, the film succeeds in impressing right from the opening credits. Sure, the plot isn’t exactly fresh, however, Hansal Mehta’s direction, the hilarious script and serious effort by the cast, ensure that the runtime of 136 minutes remains high on entertainment quotient and keeps you engaged throughout, despite familiar tropes.
Set in Jhajjar, rural Haryana, the story follows Mahinder Hooda aka Montu (Rajkummar Rao), a slacker of the first order, who is employed as a physical training instructor (PTI) at the local school he graduated from, not on merit, but because his lawyer father (Satish Kaushik) made a phone call to the principal (Ila Arun). Rather than coach children, which is his actual job, Montu rather eat samosas and slurp tea in the PT period, and spends the rest of the day hanging out with his former Hindi professor Shuklaji (Saurabh Shukla) and his childhood buddy Dimpy (Jatin Sarna) boozing.
But his life takes an interesting turn when he falls heads over heel in love with Neelima ‘Neelu’ Mehra (Nushrat Bharucha), a computer science teacher who has just joined the school. Though the two start off on the wrong foot, they quickly become drinking buddies with romance blossoming. However, trouble comes calling when the school also hires Inder Mohan Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), a mustached genuine PTI with a degree and the guile necessary to shatter the daydreaming Romeo’s ego. Realizing that he is on the verge of losing his respect, love and job, Montu ends up challenging Singh to a competition between teams they will each take the responsibility to train. With the end resulting in the losing coach resigning.
With the tone set within minutes it take us through some quirky scenes without being in our face, a pretty infamous Bollywood trait. Through some quick transitions, the film shows Montu pushing some ‘nerdy’ kids to the forefront to win a sports battle for the sake of his coming of age moment. Nevertheless, this turns out to be a thrilling journey and the one with fantastic acting by a great ensemble. Uplifting messages aside, this is an extremely sharp film and the simplicity with which the story unfolds is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t attempt to excite or confuse the audience with twists and turns. This makes it predictable but also a comfortable watch.
The film is co-written by Luv Ranjan and directed by Hansal Mehta, masters of two different worlds. And it seems this film has brought out the best in both of them. While most of the Bollywood directors, including some top ones, believe in screaming about their characters’ virtues, Mehta allows Rao ease out in steps. Montu doesn’t leave his original behavior overnight in order to become the coach you want him to be. He remains the same affable Haryana boy who slowly understands values.
The film makes an attempt to highlight the miserable yet reality of the sporting system prevalent in India. It targets the frivolous nature of PT as a subject in schools with subtle yet powerful gender inequality still existing in society, and holds the people responsible for it. For example it shows Montu working more diligently for the principal’s daughter’s wedding than his job. He isn’t a loser but a quitter, a far more lethal quality in a PT teacher. The film aims to give out the message that sports are as much important for the growth of children as studies and that this should be inculcated right at the grassroots level. And thankfully, it’s all done in a playful, non-preachy manner.
Since it’s a commercial Hindi film, it’s a foregone conclusion that the underdogs would ultimately win, despite the heavy odds. However, the three-layered competition, leading up to the tense final moment is extremely enjoyable. The sports action thankfully looks like something we might actually see in a genuine sports meet and doesn’t look contrived.
Performance wise, the ever-charming Rajkummar Rao is once again effortless and the star of the show. Even in the charged up moments of anger and frustration, he maintains the rawness of his character without overdoing it. Nushrat Bharucha manages to hold her own alongside Rao. While looking drop dead gorgeous throughout Nushrat also manages to deliver some of the best dialogues of the film with much power and ease.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is as formidable an adversary as it could be and maintains a thumping presence throughout. But the film’s real winner is its terrific supporting cast which comprises of Satish Kaushik, Saurabh Shukla, Ila Arun, Jatin Sarna, Baljinder Kaur and Naman Jain, who are excellent in their respective spaces and turn the whole affair into an enjoyable, non-preachy film. Among the mass of students, Garima Kaur as Pinky standouts. On the whole, ‘Chhalaang’ is an easy-breezy sports comedy drama which despite a predictable script manages to be highly entertaining.
Directed – Hansal Mehta
Rated – NR
Run Time – 136 minutes