'Chhalaang' review: A good mix of drama and romance

'Chhalaang' review: Romance and comedy mix well with this sport drama

Rajkummar Rao plays Montu, a sports teacher who goes from being a not-so-good guy to pretty good. Credit: Amazon Prime Video.

Director: Hansal Mehta

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Zeeshan Ayyub, Nushrat Bharucha

Score: 3.5

Diwali is nearly here, and what better way to start a festive season in the middle of a global pandemic than a colourful, well-acted and written sports drama with just the right amount of romance in it to take some of the stress off? While this may not be the intent of Chhalaang, it certainly looks to be working to that effect.

Written by Luv Ranjan, who's had a hand in no less than eight romance films, Chhalaang really feels like it takes its title both literally and metaphorically, in the sense that success, after endless struggle and sweat, is sometimes just a 'chhalaang' away, and so is the concept of personal change - one just needs to seize it with the intent of holding on.

Chhalaang follows a small town, where Montu (Rao) is a graduate-cum-sports teacher at a local school. His brand of teaching is unorthodox at best, and ineffective at worst, and he also partakes in the local anti-Romeo squad, acting like a tough macho man in the worst of ways.

However, his life is forced to change when the school he works in gets two new changes - a computer teacher named Neelima (Bharucha), and a new, decorated sports teacher Singh (Ayyub). Caught between a blooming love with Neelima, an intense rivalry (with some side of inferiority complex) with Singh, a severely wounded pride, and the potential of his love story becoming a love triangle, Montu ends up finding himself in a sports championship with Singh.

The plot of Chhalaang is in itself, not something particularly noteworthy. Like many sports dramas, the teacher has to overcome a number of challenges to best his far superior competitor, who comes off as some kind of a goon bent on winning. Along the way, he has to find a better half of himself that he himself did not know to win over the girl he loves.

What is noteworthy is how the writing has taken this barebones plot and turned it into something almost amazing, building on the back of quality acting, great camerawork and a nail-biting (though somewhat predictable) finish.

Zeeshan Ayyub steals the show with his character Singh, who has a really bad mean streak and a penchant for mocking Montu for his weakness as a teacher. Fortunately, he does not slip away into the abyss of being an annoying cliche villain and is elevated to an almost likeable state as the film goes on. Rao and Bharucha also have a solid chemistry as Rao's Montu goes from a silly goon who gets enjoyment in denying couples their time together, to one who learns what it is to love; while Bharucha's Neelima proves, yet again, that a well-written female character is no less important than a male lead. She seems to be, for all intents and purposes, the actual main character.

To close, Chhalaang is a decent candidate for a weekend Diwali film to watch with the family. It's got a brisk pace, good writing, and most importantly, great characters.