It's a packed ground. The nerdy players of the Red team are one basket short from settling a draw against the Blue team. It's a close match, but the Blue team takes the lead and wins the game by eight points.
This match reminded me of my school days when our team of imperfect players would shriek and sweat, giving all that they had, to win a match. The only difference between the Red team and my school team was that they had a recently motivated PT teacher (Rajkummar Rao), and ours never found any motivation.
This isn't an isolated case. In a country where parents are obsessed about seeing their kid 'settled' down as an engineer or a doctor, physical training is something that doesn't even cross their mind. Result? Extremely unqualified, under-motivated PT teachers.
Hansal Mehta's Chhalaang isn't about the low quality of sports in our country, but the people responsible for it. Its lead star is an extremely lazy PT teacher (Rajkummar) who works more diligently for the wedding of the principal's daughter than as a cricket coach. He isn't a loser but a quitter, a far more lethal quality in a PT teacher.
Rajkummar's complacency is challenged after the principal brings in a qualified PT teacher (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). Apart from taking over his playground, Zeeshan also tries to woo his love interest, a fellow teacher (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha). Seeing his self-respect and ladylove kiss him goodbye, Rajkummar challenges Zeeshan to a tournament, allowing him to pick his team first. Naturally, Zeeshan picks the fittest students and Rajkummar ends up with the nerdy lot. Those who are more interested in Olympiads than Olympics.
Begins the war of pride.
Chhalaang is an extremely simple and sharp film. 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. Chhalaang has some powerful dialogues but they never get heavy. You don't see coaches give the 'sattar minute' speech in the film. As Rajkummar puts it, "Main koi speech nahi dunga, tumhe khelna aata hai, khelo." It's simple, precise and very real.
Along with the writers and director, Chhalaang is an equally actor-driven film. An ever-charming Rajkummar Rao is even more charming in Chhalaang. He is 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.
The presence of Satish Kaushik and Ila Arun provides a warm comfort to the film. They are excellent in their respective roles and their performances help ground the film. But for us, the consistently good Saurabh Shukla takes the cake. He is a friend, guru, confidant and a constant companion of Rajkummar. The comedy in Chhalaang is simple and effortless and Saurabh is responsible for almost half of that. And he doesn't even have to speak to make his audience laugh, his mere expressions are enough.
Nushrratt deserves a special mention here. Starring alongside such a stellar cast, she holds her own. Nushrratt gets some of the best dialogues in the film and she delivers them with much power and ease. In one scene, she berates Rajkummar for insulting her parents after he tries to apologise to her. She says, "Dikhti aachi hoon toh sorry bol rahe ho, varna toh woh bhi zaroori nahi samajhte." This dialogue was the highlight for us. Luv Ranjan, who is often accused of glorifying misogyny in his films, redeems himself in Chhalaang. It is also worth mentioning how all the actors aced the Haryanvi accent. None of them felt out of place, keeping the film's authenticity intact.
Chhalaang impresses you right from the opening credits. When you see the names of such great actors come up on screen, you assume it is going to be a special watch. And Hansal Mehta delivers on that promise.
4 out of 5 for Chhalaang.