Hansal Meha’s Chhalaang is about a physical training teacher – the PT Master of many childhoods who would blow on his whistle and make students fling their arms and legs about purportedly in an endeavour to keep them fit.
The Amazon original movie is a throwback in more ways than one. Chhalaang evokes such 1970s comedies as Chhoti Si Baat and Katha. Its hero is a lovable loser who is happy just the way he is until he faces the prospect of losing the woman he loves. Monty must pull up his socks and endure a thorough workout if he has to score – an exercise that yields sharp observational humour and a strong feelgood flavour.
Monty (Rajkummar Rao) is a serial dropout who is winging it as a PT instructor at his alma mater. He has no reason to be any better than he is. Principal Usha (lla Arun) is an old acquaintance, the school grounds are familiar, and the job is secure – until Neelu walks in, followed by “Singh Sir”.
Monty is besotted with Neelu (Nushrratt Bharuccha), the school’s new computer teacher, and she appears to be reciprocating too. But the arrival of Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), the trained and aggressive new instructor, exposes Monty’s many shortcomings. Just like a halwai cannot be confused for a chef, a PT teacher cannot be mistaken for a game-winning coach – Monty must overcome this perception if he has to stay in the game of love and life.
The delayed coming-of-age drama is based on a story by Luv Ranjan and a screenplay by Ranjan, Aseem Arora and Zeeshan Quadri. The battle between technique and instinct yields both warm humour and sporting drama cliches. These include the training montage, the home-grown hacks (ever tried catching a hen to practise your tackling skills?) and the early setbacks before the inevitable triumphal sprint across the finishing line. Among the tweaks made to a comfortably predicable template is the suggestion that for all his newly minted vigour, Monty isn’t quite an Olympian-level coaching legend.
The memorable secondary characters include Ila Arun as Monty’s employer, Satish Kaushik as his supportive father, and Saurabh Shukla as Monty’s well-wisher. Nushrratt Bharuccha delivers a competent performance, but is overshadowed like the rest of the cast by Rajkummar Rao’s winning antics.
Rao earned his stripes through intense portrayals of serious men, many of them in Hansal Mehta’s films. He is equally a gifted comic actor, as evinced in Stree, Bareilly Ki Barfi and most recently Ludo. His Monty in Chhalaang is both underdog and happy puppy – hopeless in love, halfway decent on the field, and wholly victorious whatever the situation.