Hansal Mehta, who has been making headway with his show Scam:1992, on Sony LIV, is credited to be the director of Chhalaang, written by the infamous Luv Ranjan, Aseem Arrora and Zeishan Quadri has nothing much to work with in a film that seems to be following the template small town sports drama stories. A story of egos, a story of competition, a story of proving worthy, however it sticks with the same regressive stereotypes, just because it has been set in a small town.
The dynamic duo of Hansal Mehta and Rajkummar Rao, who have given us films like Shahid, Omerta, Citylights etc, this time take the rather mainstream, family entertainer route, and away from those that paint a poignant image of society. Though, being versatile is not a bad thing, when two opposite forces of Hansal Mehta and Luv Ranjan come together, one shouldn’t expect anything new or fresh. However, Chhalaang does have a few moments of spark, but overall is barely average.
The film starts with Montu/Mahinder (Rajkummar Rao) being woken up by his rather angry mother who tells him that if he slept for any longer, he will miss the morning assembly at school, and if he misses that, there will be no one to monitor the sports period for students. Montu’s response to that, and buying more time to sleep is that because he cares for the students, he doesn’t want to conduct his PT period, and his thought, just like the stereotype is, was that, “kheloge kudoge banoge kharab, padhoge likhoge toh banoge nawab”.
That thought of his wasn’t the only regressive vein in Montu’s character. He was lazy and took his job for granted as he was a PT teacher of the same school he passed out of and after his lawyer father pulled some strings. More than that, he also pulled off being a moral policer who makes sure that couples aren’t being romantic in public places because that is a ‘Western Culture’. All these morals go down the drain in one instance when there is a pretty, modern, newly hired computer professor Ms. Neelima (Nushrat Bharucha), a feisty young woman who calls him out on his actions.
Nushrat is the epitome of liberal ideas within that world, and the symbolic representation of that is that she openly drinks with men and imparts ideas, not REALLY new in the present world, but for that in the film, she is considered to be the driving force. All was going great, but how can a Luv Ranjan story not have romance being the driving force of other things to come.
One morning, there is another PT teacher, I.M. Singh (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub), who actually knows what he is doing, and who actually likes it. Somehow, that pierces Montu, who otherwise didn’t care about the responsibility he had, but when he saw that “Naukri, chokri and ijjat” all three were challenged, he took the leap of fate and threw in a challenge. It took a man who actually knew the right thing, to teach our otherwise aimless protagonist to have some purpose in life, and to be okay with ‘defeat’ than ‘abandoning’ something he couldn’t do. However, the only mistake Singh sir makes, is that he is a toxic alpha male.
In order for love, and having found purpose in his life, Montu throws in a rather unfair challenge being left with random students who have no relationship with sports. But as we know with every sports drama, the underdog team will win, or atleast live up to higher expectations, and that’s what happens. The film doesn’t care about logic either. Rajkummar doesn’t realise how he is actually putting his students in danger while just trying to get them to learn how to run quick, a concept whose logic is flushed down the drain even further in the climax.
Rajkummar does his best to get into Montu’s skin but since the story has nothing to offer, even he can barely lift it up with his performance. There are a lot of things that the writers somehow don’t feel are important to flesh out more, which could actually take the film somewhere. The instance where he sacrifices his younger brother and lets Ayub take him in his team was an issue that wasn’t challenged at all in the film and would create good conflicts if explored further. Jatin Sarna, who plays Dimpy, Rajkummar’s close friend and a halwai by profession has nothing to add to the film and it feels like an absolute waste of such a talent.
Nushrat Bharucha’s character as well, though we know that she stands for the right things, still it doesn’t make the audience actually like her as she still carries that coy grin like she does in any Luv Ranjan films. Other than that, her fickleness, switching between Montu to Singh seems very convenient even though she uses all these methods to motivate Rajkummar to step up and not give up.
Chhalaang can portray itself as a family entertainer for its easy laughs and a monologue by the protagonist in the end delivering a message, but on a deeper level, it is just a barely average sports drama that uses stereotypes and immature tricks to get where it does, and while doing that, overshadows the nicer moments.
Now streaming on Prime Video.