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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Chhichhore, Review: Posers for losers, choosers and imposers

Chhichhore, Review: Posers for losers, choosers and imposers

Few ideas would be more contradictory than a parent’s attempt to revive his dying son by calling his college mates to the Intensive Care Unit of a posh hospital and collectively narrating to him, in some detail, their recollections of the hellcyon days they spent in a college hostel, as a bunch of slimy, gooey, swearing, cheating, boozing, smoking, rude, flippant, frivolous ‘losers’. All this is done in the hope that the boy, who attempted suicide when he failed to get admission to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), would get solace from the efforts of this suicide squad to rid themselves of the ‘losers’ tag, and will go under the scalpel with the determination of a fighter.

Aniruddh Pathak is a senior executive, divorced, with one son, Raghav, who is in his late teens. The two share time with their son, an only child, and Raghav even brings home Aniruddh’s favourite dish whenever he returns from Maya’s house. It is not clear why the couple divorced, considering Maya was the hottest thing in college and Aniruddh part of a ‘losers’ group, with nothing going for him, except some interest in sports. Raghav fails to make it to the 1% of applicants who are selected for admission to IIT, and dreads the thought of being called a ‘loser’, since some of his friends, who were not academically superior, are selected. In a moment of extreme depression, he jumps off the balcony of his home, nearly killing himself.

Luckily, he survives, and a friend, who was there with him at the almost fatal moment, alerts Aniruddh immediately. Under the treatment of specialist Dr. Kasbekar, Raghav is barely alive, and his condition keeps fluctuating. It is impossible to predict whether he will pull through, and, at one stage, Kasbekar, informs Aniruddh that Raghav is not fighting to stay alive. Rather, he seems to be resigned to his fate. While going through an old photo album, a brainwave then strikes Aniruddh. He remembers how he found himself an inmate of Hostel H4, the dumping ground for the scum of the college, while the smarties all stayed in H3. But as he meets and gets to know Sexa, Mummy, Derek, Bevda (slang for alcoholic) and Acid, he feels he is in good company, and chooses to stay on in H4, though his request for moving to H3 is approved. What’s more, H4, which had always finished at the bottom of the annual General Championship, even plans to take on the champs H3, which is led by the imposing personality Raggie.

Creating outrageous comic situations and then executing them with matter-of-fact panache is the hallmark of the script, the handiwork of Nitesh Tiwari (who directs too), Piyush Gupta and Nikhil Mehrotra. Nitesh is known for directing Chillar Party, Bhootnaath Returns and Dangal, in all of which his name appeared in the writing credits too. This is Tiwari’s third collaboration with Gupta, after Bhootnath Returns and Dangal, ditto Nikhil Mehrotra. Obviously, Tiwari values loyalty and has banked on his collaborative duo to deliver once again. Whether it is one or the other or the still other or two of the trio or the triad as a unit that is to blame, things have not quite gone their way in Chhichhore.

Pronounced Chhichhoray, the word can only be approximated in English as frivolous, flippant, prone to using vulgar and obscene language, and indulging in such acts. It is a misleading title, as we discover soon enough. Sure, the bunch make vulgar and obscene remarks, revel in sexual innuendo as one-liner jokes, and run around in their underwear, throwing bucket-fulls of water at each other, in the hostel corridors. They even unhinge a door and leave it in its frame so that it may fall on the occupant when he comes to enter his room. Hey, but these guys have hearts of gold! All of the above behaviour patterns, with the pole-dance ragging routine thrust on the freshers, are just their way of getting some ‘clean’ fun into their boring existence, which is compounded by some horrible canteen food.

Chhichhore spends its first half setting the stage for the attempted suicide and the introduction of the gang of the salacious six (seven, when Maya comes in), and letting the audience vicariously enjoy some of the pranks and practical jokes they might have played, or wanted to play, at boarding school, or in college, with a smattering of lewd content and boorish behaviour. It then decides to turn these underdogs from losers to fighters, with the help of all that you can compile from a compendium of self-help and motivational books. Not finding lofty ideals enough, the writers then stoop to conquer, by letting loose tricks of the trade and playing by the rules that aren’t found in any sports book. How else will an alcoholic, a boy who calls his Mummy on the phone ten times a day, a fat lard of corruption who survives on porn and masturbation, a young man who cannot utter a single sentence without a barrage of expletives, etc., give the sportsmen of H3 a run for their money? And don’t forget, 26 years down the line, they have to inspire a twentyish Raghav Pathak to fight for his life on the operating table.

As director and co-writer, Nitesh Tiwari let’s things get as Messi (pun intended; there’s football in the film) as possible, in the hope that the noble intentions will prevail and all will be forgotten and pardoned. No go. Aniruddh and Maya’s divorce is never really explained and the little that is offered by way of explanation is a lot beating round the bush. Nothing is shown or suggested about the background of the main characters. Fathers of two of the losers are introduced, but strictly for comic effect. Sexa’s father, who arrives out of the blue, is outraged at the collection of pornographic material he finds in his son’s room, while Mummy’s father wants his son’s amigos to turn him from a wimp into a real man. That’s all. Seven lead characters, eight if we now include Raggie, and only two, singular, parental appearances. Almost all the players in the losers’ team have physical injuries or handicaps: one is asthmatic, another cuts his finger on a wall mirror while trying to hit his own image, believing it to be that of an assailant, and yet another has his foot deliberately crushed by an opponent, getting a taste of his own medicine.

None of the six look 16-17, the age they are supposed to be when they join college or be in the first year of an engineering college, looking at least 8-9 years older (Raghav looks 16). To the credit of the make-up department, they do look in their mid to late 40s when shown in the present day. All the scenes in the hospital, including those involving health updates by Dr. Kasbekar must obviously have been shot in one schedule. The trick, however, would have been to make them look cinematically fresh and different. They all look the same, except for the obligatory mounts and troughs in the doctor’s pronouncements, which, too, are at a minimum.

In one scene, all the friends in the room seem to suddenly disappear as we have a mid-long shot of the couple embracing each other. A tour de force is the dance in which all the losers shake a leg with their alter egos, bridging some 25-26 years, in a piece of technical wizardry. If you do see the film, you might find this song a redeeming feature, but only if you stay on till the last frame has rolled away. These days, some films bring in their redemption beyond/after the redemptory line, offering too little too late. Chhichhore only brings it in as the last hurray!

Sushant Singh Rajput (PK, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story; Raabta; age 33) is a pleasant looking actor who is restricted by an indulgent half-smile, tightening of jaw muscles and slight narrowing of his eyes, as a compulsive personality trait. He shares this mannerism with another actor, Kumud Mishra (not part of this film’s cast). As a result, you never know whether he is just glum or stopping a sardonic grin halfway or concealing embarrassment. Though he is just about passable as the younger Aniruddh, the older version is too affected to get away unscathed. Shraddha Kapoor Aashiqui 2, Stree, Saaho; age 32), on the other hand, has a face that is sort of timeless, and slips into the roles spanning the two epochs with much less effort. It’s a small role, lacking definition, but Maya’s entry is as grand as that of a hundred other college girls who entered campuses on the Hindi film screen, with a hundred admirers trailing and drooling, while she swings her way ahead, without as much as a look shot in their direction.

As the sex fixated Sexa (real filmy name Gurmeet Singh Dhillon), Varun Sharma (Fukrey, Dilwale, Khandaani Shafakhana) has a ball (singular, pun not intended). He gets to mouth the choicest wise-cracks, flaunting a male view sexual angle in almost every line he utters. Surely, if he is speaking such lines with disarming candour, and putting….er…pointing his finger, thumb and fist in strategic directions, with the add on of him running around the corridor in brief briefs, carrying a pail of water, and dropping his costume ‘skirt’ in a stage production, he must be a natural, and a “so what?” kind of guy. So what, indeed? Is that what acting is all about? His trade-mark, drawling, laid-back diction will have to move with the times, if he wants to show some variety in the films to come.

Prateik Babbar as Raggie looks intense. On dialogue delivery, he stands close to Saif Ali Khan, vocal grains added, whose style, on bad days, invites mimics to hone their skills. Looking haggard and more of a professor’s age, Saharsh Kumar Shukla as the alcoholic gets audience sympathy when he gives up liquor in order to remain sober for a crucial chess match. But when he doles out expertise in the form of inspiration from Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, it becomes hard to swallow (pun intended). Tushar Pandey makes Sunder ‘Mummy’s caricature look real, even though his transformation from a Mama’s boy into a worldly wise individual is too sudden and not reasoned. Sanjay Goradia hams as Mummy’s Papa, which is in character, while Adarsh Gautam (who starred in the mega TV serial Chanakya) is also in character in a little cameo as Sexa’s father. Shishir Sharma meets the image one might conceive of a specialist doctor, and imparts a quiet dignity to his role, which, sadly for him, doesn’t go anywhere. Tahir Raj Bhasin (Master’s Degree in Media) who shocked us with his ruthless, merciless villainy in Mardaani and impressed us as Shyam in Manto, is a surprise packet as Peter, and remains lovable even with his half receded hairline.

Cashing in on the recent trend of films based on sports and sporting personality biopics, Nitesh Tiwari concocts a medley of several games in the climax. Luckily for viewers, he does not milk Rajput’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India’s former cricket captain) biopic persona, and, instead, gives him the uniform of a basketball player. Perhaps basketball is Tiwari’s own favourite sport, for the climax is an ode to the game, with every two points turning into two missed heartbeats among the opponents, H3 and H4. A three pointer was desperately needed turn the tide, but… spoiler alert. That goes for the film too. There are a quite a few two pointer field goals, like the camaraderie among the seven protagonists that survives more than a quarter of a century, but not one three pointer in the basket, and in the absence of distant vision, the film dribbles along, presenting only pedestrian fare.

The phenomenon of students committing suicide when they get, or expect, bad grades, and get rejected, or fear rejection, when applying for admission to prestigious institutes like the IIT, is a harsh reality facing Indian society. Rubbishing and trivialising it, or even overtly sermonising about it, is doing the cause of preventing such instances a great disservice. We do not expect a film to offer solutions to socio-psychological conditions and ailments, but nor do we expect a film to treat them the way Chhichhore does—frivolously and flippantly.

Hint: the film’s title is a giveaway.

Rating: **

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsxemFX0a7k

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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