Films set in high schools or colleges are rarely made in India. When one thinks of films made in this space, names like ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ (1992), ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ (1998), ‘Ishq Vishk’ (2003), ‘Rok Sako To Rok Lo’ (2004), ‘3 Idiots’ (2009), ‘Student Of The Year’ (2012) and ‘Sixteen’ (2013) serve to one’s mind. Though such films are made quite frequently in the west, in India that is not quite the norm. One looks forward to such films as they help one take a trip down memory lane. ‘Chhichhore’, this week’s new Hindi release which has been directed by Nitesh Tiwari (‘Chillar Party’ (2011), ‘Bhoothnath Returns’ (2014) and ‘Dangal’ (2016)), revolves around the lives of a bunch of students who reside in the hostel of one of the premier engineering institutes in the country.
Annirudh Pathak (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Maya (Shraddha Kapoor), who were college sweethearts, are now in their 40s and are separated after living together as husband and wife for a while. Their teenage son Raghav’s (Mohammad Samad) custody is with Annirudh and he visits his mother, whom he seems to be equally close to, occasionally. Raghav is anxiously waiting for his engineering entrance exam results which would decide whether he would get an admission in National College of Engineering, India’s premiere engineering institute, where his parents also studied in. Soon, the results are declared and Raghav discovers that he did not make the cut. He fails to come to terms with this and jumps off the balcony of his apartment. Raghav lands up in a hospital and is now battling against death. The doctor tells Annirudh and Maya that Raghav is in a critical condition and the sad part is that he does not seem to have the will to live. Though Raghav is not in a conscious state, Annirudh decides to try his best and narrate to his son the story of his youth, the times when he and his friends, consisting of Gurmeet aka Sexa (Varun Sharma), Sundar aka Mummy (Tushar Pandey), Acid (Naveen Polishetty), Bevda (Saharsh Kumar Shukla) and Derek (Tahir Raj Bhasin), were called ‘losers’ and the battle they fought to get rid of that title.
Those who have lived in a hostel while studying in high school or in college in India, will be able to relate to the events happening in the film. The film would definitely help them refresh their memories and revisit those days when life was simpler and fun despite being saddled with a heavy syllabus and the responsibility to build a career. The film relies on a mélange of moments which deliver the laughs, evoke emotions and send across a message that remains as relevant as ever. Like several films made in this genre (‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’, ‘Rok Sako To Rok Lo’, ‘Student Of The Year 2’), the film uses sports as a device through which the larger story is told. While there is a chance of being repetitive while doing that, the makers steer clear of doing that as they introduce a trope which has not really been used in films where one sees people being perceived as ‘losers’ being pitted against the star-performers of a school or college. Nitesh and his co-writers Piyush Gupta and Nikhil Malhotra make it a point to keep things real while taking the creative liberty to create a couple of larger-than-life moments to add to the entertainment value to the film. While the basic story is quite simple, the screenplay throws up several scenes which are novel and keep you consistently engaged. The dialogues are one of the major strengths of the film; most of the comic scenes will end up leaving you in splits.
On the flipside, there are a few things (mostly the ploys used by Sushant and his gang to beat the opponents) that come across as implausible and thus, fail to strike a chord. Nitesh and his team seemed to have put all their energies in writing the portions set in the ’90s and have not really put enough to draw a broader arc for the present-day storyline where the characters in their 40s. A major tragedy happens and there was the potential to get the audience emotionally involved here but that does not really happen. There are a few scenes, of course, that tug at your heartstrings but overall, this portion leaves a lot to be desired. The make-up of the actors, in this portion, looks tacky and almost caricaturish. While the stylists give the boys the right ’90s look, Shraddha Kapoor’s costumes and hairdo make you feel as if she has landed from the ’60s.
Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor are, as one would call it, are the ‘star attractions’ of the film but they let the other actors (all fine performers in their own right) have the better lines and scenes. Sushant Singh Rajput is equally wonderful as the younger and the older selves of Annirudh. He underplays both characters and despite his towering personality, manages to convince the audience that his character, along with others, struggled to shed the tag of being a ‘loser’ in college. Shraddha gets limited scope as the younger Maya but leaves a strong impression in some well-written scenes that she gets to perform as the older version of her character. She still needs to get rid of that slightly anglicised accent though. Varun Sharma gets some of the best lines and scenes in the film as the sex starved Sexa and he makes the most of the opportunity. There are very few who can match this actor’s comic timing today. Naveen Polishetty, who has been a part of a few digital shows and played the lead in ‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’, a Telugu detective thriller which released earlier this year, makes a confident debut in Hindi cinema. Tahir Raj Bhasin delivers a wonderful performance too and makes one wonder why he is not seen in more number of films. Tushar Pandey is terrific as Mummy. He brings out a nice distinction between the younger and older selves of his character. Saharsh Kumar Shukla makes an appearance post-interval but wins over you with a fine performance. Mohammad Samad, who was terrific in the web show ‘Selection Day’, gets a few scenes to shine and he does very well.
Despite a few blemishes, ‘Chhichhore’ is definitely one of the best Hindi films to have arrived this year. Nitesh Tiwari has demonstrated a good command over storytelling right from his debut film ‘Chillar Party’ (co-directed with Vikas Bahl) and has been going from strength to strength with every film. Though ‘Dangal’ is still his best film, ‘Chhichhore’ is a close second.