Review: CHHALAANG Loses Itself In The Rom-Com But Finds Redemption In The Inspirational Sports Movie
Chhalaang is the latest Amazon Prime original Bollywood movie to head straight to the streamer. From acclaimed director, Hansal Mehta comes a sports-themed movie that is possibly the director’s most lighthearted to date. After movies like Aligarh, Shahid, Omertà, and others dealing with pretty heavy and seriously dramatic topics, I was eagerly awaiting what he could do with a comedy like Chhalaang. And while I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t entirely blown away either. So check out my Chhalaang movie review as I deep dive into what went wrong, and what went right.
Chhalaang Is Exceptionally Well Directed And Performed
Before getting into this Chhalaang movie review, we need to discuss the makers. The talent on both sides of the camera in Chhalaang is very commendable. You’ve got Rajkummar Rao leading the charge along with Nushrat Bharucha. Supporting Rao are comedy veterans like Satish Kaushik and Saurabh Shukla. And then you’ve got a great supporting actor in Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as, kind of, the main antagonist. The movie earns some leeway by stacking the screen with these likable and well-known performers, allowing the story to breathe a little before moving forward.
Everything from the montage sequences to the framing of the story and even the motivations of the characters align with what’s going on. For the most part. It’s hard to find plot holes with what happens and how things go down by the end of the movie. The weakness, at least in my opinion, is the writing. Certain things rubbed me the wrong way in the first half of the movie when it tries to be a romantic comedy, but by the third act, we’ve sort of shifted into a movie about something else. Which was a much better movie than what we started with.
The Chhalaang Movie Review Focuses On The Movie’s Writing
Chhalaang is all about Montu (Rajkummar Rao) as a no-good lazy and unqualified Physical Training Instructor at a local school in the state of Haryana. Having gotten the job solely because of his dad, and the fact that the school is where he went as a kid, Montu has absolutely no ambitions in life. He’s not even that great of a PT teacher, half-assing it every day, choosing to hang out with his former teacher, and now best friend Shukla Ji (Shukla himself). But his immaturity is put to the test when a new, much more qualified PT teacher appears on the scene, undermining Montu’s status quo in his community. Not to mention trying to steal away the new girl he likes, in the new computer teacher Neelima (Nushrat Bharucha).
Trying to regain his self-respect, Montu proposes a competition to see who the best PT teacher is. Students will form into two teams, with himself and Singh (Ayyub) coaching them to compete in three different events. The winner will get the job and bragging rights of being the best PT teacher. All sounds well and good, but along the way to getting here, there’s a lot of questionable actions and scenes, which puts a damper on an otherwise decent movie. Now, this Chhalaang movie review isn’t entirely spoiler-free, but I don’t feel it ruins anything, regardless. But, in case you don’t want details, stop here, watch the movie and finish this review.
Montu Is The Most Terrible Protagonist Ever
Here’s the thing about character development; your protagonist has to go through a journey and have some sort of progression or growth by the end. But to do this, they have to kind of start out worse than they end up. But the trick is to not make them so bad in the beginning, that they’re hard to redeem by that end. Bollywood has a major problem with this, and Chhalaang is no different. Montu is a terrible person when the movie starts. Lazy, irresponsible, completely chauvinistic views of women and relationships.
For example, he assaults couples during Valentine’s Day because public displays of affection go against traditional Indian values. And I mean assaults, with a gang of other men, with bats and other blunt weapons, physically hassling random couples. But don’t worry, the pretty female love interest will reform him of this outdated and archaic mindset. Come on!
The Love Story Aspect Is The Weakest Storyline Of Chhalaang Movie Review
Enter Neelima, the self-respecting, modern thinking, alcohol drinking, progressive computer teacher, to be the catalyst that awakens the hero within our protagonist. Well, kinda. For every time I think Chhalaang goes off the rails, Mehta is able to pull it back. Which is why it feels like he was saddled with a bad script rom Luv Ranjan, and made the best of it.
Neelima calls out Montu’s BS to his face and challenges him constantly for his thinking, lack of ambition or passion every step of the way. Through this, Montu learns to fake his way into trying to be the kind of man he thinks she would like. But the transformation isn’t complete until he loses respect at work, hurting his inflamed ego. After a confrontation with Neelima, she again calls him out for his lack of commitment in anything in life. Essentially explaining why he is such a loser.
Montu trying to change himself for Neelima is where I thought the story was going. And it kinda does. But not really. However, there are still moments when Montu acts like he’s entitled to Neelima’s affection, feeling betrayed and acting bitter at her for simply being cordial to his rival. It’s a little too much male drama in a story that, in the second half, really isn’t even about them anymore. It’s the typical Bollywood rom-com moments that honestly feel more a result of Luv Ranjan’s writing than Mehta’s direction.
The Character Development Is Weak And The Story Suffers For It
The movie changes when Montu vows to be better, and the best part is, not for the girl or anything else, but himself. Awesome! He throws down the challenge and gets to work. But literally a few scenes later, he’s back to his meek, pathetic old self, trying to manipulate the better players on Singh’s team to join him. And then doing an about-face when almost exposed in front of Neelima. So this totally undermined that brilliant one scene where Rao actually acts in the entire movie. It undermines his entire motivation to fight for his self-respect and dignity, for once in his entire life.
Eventually, he starts working with kids who are as much underdogs as he is, and has to inspire them. Obviously, Neelima hasn’t given up on him and advises and pushes him to do better. So he does. Again, not through his own grit or dedication, but ‘cuz he’s kind of taunted and goaded into it.
The Best Parts Of The Movie Become Underdeveloped
In essence, Chhalaang is almost two different movies. There’s the weak love-story, and then the inspiring sports movie about underdog kids in the second half. The problem is, that the sports movie is totally underdeveloped because of the love story. They assemble a ragtag group of impressive nerds with no physical attributes. And also a group of athletic girls joins, since it’s a co-ed school, so why the hell not. But we never actually spend any one on one time with any of these kid characters, which is what the movie could have really benefited from.
There’s one girl, Pinky, who is essentially the all-star of Montu’s team, and there’s a side story in the end with her parents refusing to let her participate. But it would’ve been so much cooler if she had more scenes where we got to know her, versus her just being there, and athletically competent.
Chhalaang Is Funny In The Unexpected of Ways
Obviously, the most hilarious parts of the movie are when Shukla and Kaushik are on screen. They’re also the most emotional moments. Kaushik’s speech to inspire Montu in fighting for his ambitions is incredible. It’s a low bar because there’s not a lot of those moments in this movie, but it’s still effective nonetheless. And then Shukla gets a monologue that seemingly has more backstory and emotional arc for his character than the entire movie does for Montu. There’s a whole arc about how his support of a woman principal 18 years ago may have caused him to be the late-in-life loser that he is always accused of being. It’s brilliant.
Most of the movie’s comedy comes from these two actors as well. Shukla calling out Montu for his ‘confused’ ways during that about-turn that I criticized is kind of my favorite scene in the movie. Overall Chhalaang isn’t a bad movie, it just has certain elements that don’t really resonate or connect. It flirts the line between being the typical rom-com, but also an inspirational sports movie, never doing either that well. Chhalaang is still a worthy enough time-pass movie, focusing on the funny bits, and ignoring the major issues. If you’re into that kinda thing.
Chhalaang is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Did you like Chhalaang? Or do you think it could’ve been much better? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @theshahshahid.
Featured image via Amazon Prime Video.