Quit Playing Games
Chhalaang hopes to be an uplifting sports film, but misses the mark
Director Hansal Mehta is as prolific as he is unpredictable. In 2020, a year that saw him win acclaim for Scam 1982, a cracker of a web series about the Harshad Mehta racket, he has also released Chhalaang—a disappointing sports drama, which stars Rajkummar Rao and Nushrratt Bharuccha. Set in Haryana, the Amazon Prime Video film shifts registers so quickly, it fails to ever feel wholly authentic.
Rao plays Montu, a lazy wastrel who takes moral vigilantism more seriously than his job as a PE teacher in a local school. Things start to change after Neelu (played by Bharuccha) comes to teach computer science at the same school. Neelu has the spunk of a progressive young feminist, and it’s baffling to see her warm to Montu’s clumsy, regressive buffoonery. Neelu’s feisty dialogues, in particular, explain more than they suggest, and her accent, much like Rao’s, is Haryanvi only occasionally. The film, too, only sometimes warms the heart. Though well-meaning, it suffers the weight of its own righteousness.
Chhalaang has all the ingredients a successful sport-oriented film needs—a bumbling underdog, a close competition for a climax, sweat and eventual success—but unlike, say, a Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar or a Dangal, it never involves its audience enough for us to care about its protagonist or its lofty messaging. Only Satish Kaushik makes you smile. Taking out a bottle of scotch to commiserate with his son, Montu, he tells a kind of story you wish the film could. Sport should be fun. Chhalaang is not.