Director: Nitesh Tiwari
In Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari’s new film Chhichhore, nostalgia is the sauce that brings flavour to a fairly straightforward story. A bunch of friends in their forties reunite some 20 years after they passed out of engineering college to help their own in the time of crisis.
But from its very opening scene in which a student, seeking a break from his books late at night, sets off a full-blown ‘water war’ in the hostel, you’re transported to the wonder years of these friends as they look back fondly at their best times.
Such is the tone and treatment of the film that it’ll trigger a flood of memories for anyone who’s lived on campus. For those that haven’t, it evokes an unmistakable feeling of having missed out on a life-shaping experience. But frankly anyone who’s been to college will have no trouble recognising friends, acquaintances, or even oneself among the film’s canvas of characters. Surely we all knew a Sexa growing up – the porn-obsessed fella hiding a stash of nudie mags under his mattress, his mind preoccupied with one thing alone. Or the over-protected child-man struggling to adjust to a world beyond his home, who earns the nickname Mummy; the perennially pissed-off buddy with the acid tongue aka Acid; the genius with a drinking problem, Bewda; or Derek, the ‘stud’ who believes he was cut out for bigger things; Maya, the campus hottie desired by all, and Anni, the seemingly regular Joe who somehow fits perfectly into this circus.
Tiwari, who has co-written the film with Nikhil Mehrotra and Piyush Gupta, graduated from IIT Bombay himself, and he mines his student years for humour, emotion, and life lessons. The lines have an authentic, conversational quality to them, the language isn’t sanitised, and profanities, double meanings, and innuendo flow freely in the exchanges between friends. Many of the scenarios are outright hilarious – like one in which the alcoholic friend Bewda is thrashed during a train journey – but others are cheerfully silly. Like the ragging scenes in which seniors demand that a “freshy” perform a pole dance…with the catch being that one of the lanky guys will play the pole. Or the old favourite – an order to fetch the clothes of female students from the girls hostel. The truth is that these gags land too, because who can’t relate to doing dumb things at that age?
As if to underline an overarching message of this film – that failure doesn’t define you – Chhichhore becomes an underdog sports film in its final act. There’s more than a whiff of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander here, with the ‘losers’ going up against the undefeated champions. But it’s especially interesting that the loser gang from the ill-reputed Hostel 4 will do anything it takes to win, be it cheating, sledging, or faking injury on the football field so the opponent can be sent out on a red card.
It’s there that the film’s heart resides. In the fact that this isn’t a story of heroes. It’s merely a story about a group of friends who decided to savour life’s little moments instead of getting caught up in the rat race. It is in this tiny detail that the film is also different from 3 Idiots. That film encouraged you to pursue what you love. Chhichhore merely says take a beat, resist the pressure that academics and life will put on you, forge enduring friendships, make lasting memories.
As romantic as these notions may sound, Tiwari conveys them with sincerity. It’s why you’re willing to overlook many of the film’s shortcomings. Like the tacky make up for the characters’ older versions, many of whom appear to be balding in exactly the same way. Or the fact that the film is clearly sexist. It’s true that male students vastly outnumber females on engineering campuses, but there’s literally not a single other female character in sight – teacher or student – apart from Shraddha Kapoor’s Maya. The weakest link, however, are the regular cutaways to the present day emergency. They feel obligatory, as if to routinely remind us that this film is about more than just fun and games. The cautionary message about the pressure of high grades that we put on our children is well intentioned but might have felt less pat and preachy if delivered with some subtlety.
Chhichhore rises above these flaws. Because Tiwari gives us charming characters that are the glue in this film with a threadbare plot. Varun Sharma is especially terrific as Sexa, the boy with sex on his mind…constantly. Tahir Bhasin nicely channels Derek’s wounded pride, and Navin Polishetty as Acid and Tushar Pandey as Mummy are in solid form. Shraddha Kapoor matches the boys step for step, and is impressively restrained in the older portions. Sushant Singh Rajput brings a winning boyish quality to the younger Anni, transforming seamlessly into the older version of the character, whom we catch at a difficult time in his life.
The film is all about its characters, frankly, and the hoops they’re made to jump. In them you’ll likely find traces and memories of your own youth. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Chhichhore; it’s good, harmless fun. I had a big smile plastered on my face throughout, and I think you will too.
Rating: 3.5 / 5