Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari is back with Chhichhore, which follows a group of college friends who reunite in middle age following an accident.

The September 6 release stars Sushant Singh Rajput as Anni and Shraddha Kapoor as his girlfriend and future wife Maya. Other cast members include Varun Sharma as Sexa, Tahir Raj Bhasin as Derek, Naveen Polishetty as Acid, Tushar Pandey as Mummy and Saharsh Shukla as Bevda. The film has been co-written by Tiwari, Piyush Gupta and Nikhil Malhotra.

The exceptional success of Tiwari’s 2016 sports biopic, which grossed over Rs 2,000 crore worldwide, gave him the freedom to make any film he wanted. Why Chhichhore? “Because this was the closest to my heart at the time, and I have always followed my heart,” Tiwari told Scroll.in. “Having spent four lovely years at IIT-Bombay’s hostel, I had many experiences to draw upon. What I needed was a reason to look back on those memories for a meaningful purpose. Once that was cracked by our writers. The rest flowed.” Excerpts from an interview.

How do you avoid the cliches associated with the college campus movie?
If you are aware of the cliches, it’s not a trap. If you write the film without realising the cliches, it is.

We knew what our purpose was with Chhichhore. With campus films, only the backdrop is similar. Not every cocktail is the same. Not every human being is; they have different DNA. A script is the DNA of a film.

Chhichhore (2019).

How did you cast your principal characters?
I had most of the actors already on my mind, but I did auditions for some of them just to convince myself. I was clear that they needed to be in their late twenties and early thirties, so that if you add or subtract a few years through makeup, they could be both college students and middle-aged people.

How did you go about with the makeup for each character?
The makeup isn’t random. Everyone’s look as a reason. I worked closely with the makeup department head Preetisheel Singh to figure how each character’s habits, personality or jobs would make them look years later.

For instance, Bevda loves to drink. We reasoned that in middle age, he may have mellowed down but not quit drinking. So we gave him a potbelly and a puffy face. Derek is athletic. Usually, such people maintain their physique for years.

Again, Acid, after engineering, possibly went abroad for work, came back dissatisfied, began a startup that got successful and now is funding other startups. So he has a nomadic look. Mummy is a studious kid, so he probably became a university professor. All these things aren’t spelled out in the script, but it’s all thought out.

Fikar Not, Chhichhore (2019).

You studied metallurgy at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. How did you get into advertising?
I wrote and directed plays for our dramatics society, as I was always inclined in that direction. Seeing an instant reaction from the audience to my work encouraged me to express creatively. After working for four months in a software company, I figured that before I got too complacent with the perks and salary, I should listen to my heart and give writing a shot.

So I quit and began working as a copywriter at FCB Ulka, which hired an IIT graduate only because two ex-IITians were directors there and they liked my passion.

How did the move into filmmaking happen?
Not deliberately. After Vikas Bahl and I had the script for Chillar Party ready, we had no director. But we did not want to let it go, since it was such a beautiful story on paper. We thought, fine, we would direct it. The worst-case scenario was that we would make a bad film, but at least we would make it. We anyway had our advertising jobs to fall back on.

Haanikaarak Bapu, Dangal (2016).

Did writing short commercials help you with screenplay writing? Is there greater economy, for instance?
The economical bit of advertising is not desired. It’s incidental, as it’s a part of the job.

Advertising taught me two things. One is the discipline to not write for myself but someone else. I better entertain someone for their time and money’s worth so they can go home satisfied. Secondly, it taught me the importance of writing in a group. I don’t write my films alone. I always feel more minds than one is better.

Do you feel the pressure of replicating the success of ‘Dangal’?
There are two fears. One is of repeating the box office success. The other is the need to meet people’s expectations. The first fear is unrealistic, since box office success depends on factors that are not in your control. But we have tried to meet people’s expectations. We did not make Dangal with the box office in mind. It was made with an honest intention, and the belief was that the story needed to be told. It’s the same with Chhichhore.

Nitesh Tiwari with Shraddha Kapoor and Sushant Singh Rajput. Courtesy Fox Star Studios/Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.

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