Chhalaang Hindi Movie Review
In Hansal Mehta's 'Chhalaang', a physical trainer enters a school-level competition and must succeed against all odds, to save his job. Rajkummar Rao's Montu is a happy-go-lucky PT who shrinks from his responsibilities. He has an explanation for everything he does. When Montu's former school teacher, Shuklaji, asks why he wears shorts, the latter replies, you can wear two shorts for the price of one pant.
Later, his parents bring up the arranged marriage question at the family meal, and Montu dodges the bullet then too. Mehta quickly sets up Montu as a responsibility-shrinking man who knows his way out of situations. He is not the nice guy you may first take him for. He is even part of a local group that goes around moral policing people, including even a matured married couple.
The thing is Montu is no physical trainer (PT); the designation is the result of a phone call from his father to the school principal. His luck changes as a new government policy requires the school to have a proper PT. Little does Montu know that a new trainer will soon displace and demote him. As for him, it will even pose a threat to his secure school job. To preserve his job and dignity, Montu challenges the other PT to a competition between two groups of students headed by the two. The winner takes it all.
Chhalaang is Mehta and Rao's fifth collaboration, and inarguably their weakest one to date. This is not a bad film, but it is one that does not realize its full potential. The thing with Chhalaang is not that the stakes are really low in it. Any frequent watcher of sports movies could see the resolution of this film from a mile away. Chhalaang never subverts from the conventions of the sports movie genre. The routine training drills, the participants fighting against all odds, a tutor without any professional experience bringing some rookies together to achieve his goal, and the underdog triumphing arc of the film. These are all familiar, generic elements. Even if you look beyond these, the makers portraying Chhalaang as a sports film is a miscalculated step.
Some of its characters are fighting with their own misconceived idea about what sport and training are. The film conveys this flimsy idea that it takes even coercion to achieve the results. So, it is hard to buy into anything it says about sports education in India.
What gets clouded amid the movie's missteps is a fine performance by Rajkummar Rao. Few young actors convey the good, bad and ugly sides to a human being within a matter of moments as well as Rao does. There is an early scene that shows the actor's caliber in making his character relatable. It helps that Mehta circles him with some fine actors in supporting roles.
Nushrat Bharucha comes up with an assured turn as Montu's love interest, Neelima. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as the other coach has the lesser role of the two, but I would argue that he is the real hero of the film. Saurabh Shukla as the wisdom-spouting school veteran, Shukla, is also good here. And, the same goes for the sporting sequences at the school.