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Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Zeeshan Ayyub, Nushrat Bharucha

Director: Hansal Mehta

Sports-based Hindi films have always been more about adrenaline rush and underdogs than being neutral in perspective and letting the best person win. They have always been about hope even if the protagonists go through personal conflicts. Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De and Aamir Khan’s Dangal features unlikely winners who come from behind to snatch their share of glory. In between, the directors throw in some punches and gags to ease the tension off before building it to the highest during climax.

Director Hansal Mehta’s Chhalaang is one such story about a wayward Haryana school teacher Montu (Rajkummar Rao), who is forced to do a soul search after his physical education coach’s job comes under fire. His challenger is Singh (Zeeshan Ayyub), another physical education teacher in the same school, who also seems interested in Montu’s crush Neelu (Nushrat Bharucha).

Through some quick transitions, Chhalaang pushes some ‘nerdy’ kids to the forefront to win a sports battle for the sake of Rao’s coming of age moment. Nevertheless, this turns out to be a thrilling journey and the one with fantastic acting by a great ensemble.

Mehta and Rao have joined hands for one more time and their understanding is quite visible. They set a tone within minutes and take us through some quirky scenes without being in our face, a pretty infamous Bollywood trait. While most of the Bollywood directors, including some top ones, believe in screaming about their characters’ virtues, Mehta let Rao ease out in steps. Montu doesn’t leave his original behaviour overnight in order to become the coach you want him to be. He remains the same affable Jhajjar boy who slowly understands values. Needless to say that despite Chhalaang being very unlikely Mehta-Rao film, they have kept everything under control.

Zeeshan Ayyub has matched Rao at every step and has a thumping presence. As far as appearance goes, with track suit on and a pointed moustache, he is as formidable an adversary as it could be. His ‘I am here to stay’ vibe can steal any competitor’s sleep.

Nushrat Bharucha (Neelu) is the third wheel of this lovestory and has her moments. A couple of customary punchlines enhance her personality in a film dominated by two hotheaded men.

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But the film’s real winner is its terrific ensemble cast—Satish Kaushik, Saurabh Shukla, Ila Arun, Jatin Sarna, Baljinder Kaur and Naman Jain. Out of these, Kaushik, Arun and Kaur are too good in their respective spaces. Truth be told, it’s these actors who have made Chhalaang an enjoyable, non-preachy film. The film definitely belongs to these actors more than the lead cast.

They should be thankful to the writers–Aseem Arora, Luv Ranjan and Zeeshan Quadari—who have used typical Bollywood tropes and have also gone overboard at some crucial junctures, but maintained high entertainment quotient throughout the runtime of 140-minutes.

You may not take to the racing track as soon as the film ends but you will definitely applaud the kids at the helm of affairs with a lot of empathy and a big smile on your face.

After Scam 1992, another gift from Hansal Mehta.

Rating: 3.5/5

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