Tag Archives: Luv Ranjan

Movie Review: Chhalaang (2020)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A character archetype Bollywood screenwriters return to time and again is the “loafer with a heart of gold”: a leading man with limited career prospects and few likeable qualities (other than being handsome) who is nevertheless beloved in his small town and allowed to boss around whomever he wants. His only acknowledged flaw is that he doesn’t have a girlfriend — though he will by the end of the movie.

As someone who didn’t grow up watching films with this archetype, it’s a character I’ve never warmed to. The presumed inherent perfection of the main character — whom the audience is supposed to like because of their affinity for the actor playing him — precludes meaningful character growth.

Chhalaang turns the trope on its head, introducing a typical “loafer with a heart of gold,” exposing his shortcomings, and forcing him to fix them — especially if he wants to get the girl.

Montu (Rajkummar Rao) works as a gym teacher at his old high school in Haryana, even though he’s not interested in teaching. Principal Gehlot (Ila Arun) doesn’t care about the subject either, which is why she hired Montu to fill the job.

The school’s beautiful new computer teacher Neelu (Nushrat Bharucha) piques Montu’s interest. They get off on the wrong foot when Montu publicly embarrasses her parents while he and his boys are out harassing couples celebrating Valentine’s Day. More importantly, Neelu recognizes Montu as a guy who only does things that are easy, avoiding challenges.

Things change with the sudden arrival of a new gym teacher, I. M. Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). A new state law makes physical education compulsory, forcing Principal Gehlot to hire someone with actual teaching credentials. She tells Montu he can stay on as Singh’s assistant, but Montu’s pride won’t allow it. He throws down the gauntlet: he and Singh will train two teams of students for a sports tournament, and the winner gets to keep the job.

It’s a silly premise, but this is a comedy after all — and a pretty good one at that. There are lots of well-written jokes that are carefully translated in English subtitles by Laxminarayan Singh. Rao is always good, and he plays Montu with sincerity. Rao and Bharucha have a nice chemistry as well. Even better is the relationship between Rao and Saurab Shukla, who plays Montu’s former teacher and best friend, Mr. Shukla.

Coaching the kids in preparation for the tournament — which features funny play-by-play announcing by Mr. Shukla and Principal Gehlot — helps Montu learn the importance of seeing a task through to its completion, regardless of the outcome. However, it’s a little morally questionable that the kids are forced to partake in the competition over their parents’ objections and at the expense of their academics. And Montu’s training methods — which include siccing dogs on them to make them run faster — aren’t exactly orthodox.

A preponderance of moral inconsistencies keep Chhalaang from  being the family-friendly classic it could have been. Neelu — who is established as a dedicated and compassionate educator — suffers for the sake of Montu’s character growth. When parents pull their children from the competition, Neelu threatens to fail the students in retaliation. Montu’s lawyer father Kamlesh (Satish Kaushik) joins her, threatening legal action against the parents unless the kids participate. It’s not funny and seems out of character for both Neelu and Kamlesh.

Neelu is part of another insensitive scene that errs while trying to make a valid point. She brings Montu to a school for students with special needs where she volunteers in her off-hours. The purpose is to show Montu — whose team for the competition is made up of kids who’d rather be studying math, while Singh’s is all jocks — that every student can flourish with the help of a dedicated teacher. Neelu tells Montu, “Any teacher can take a student from 90 to 100, but only a good teacher can take a student from 10 to 40.” It’s a clever line, but there had to be a better way to make this point than calling specials needs students a bunch of 10s out of 100.

Chhalaang‘s writing is its best and worst feature. The dialogue is top notch. Director Hansal Mehta does what he can to make the film enjoyable and to make Montu’s evolution feel earned. But the screenplay, by writers Luv Ranjan, Aseem Arrora, and Zeishan Quadriis, needed more  moral consistency.

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Movie Review: Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2015)

PyaarKaPunchnama2Zero Stars (out of 4)

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Calling Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (“Postmortem of Love 2“) a comedy is false advertising. It’s impossible for a movie so hateful to be funny.

Three bros — Gogo (Karthik Aaryan), Sid (Sunny Singh), and Thakur (Omkar Kapoor) — find life in their carefree bachelor pad turned upside down by the apparent source of all evil: sexy women. Faced with female sexiness, the men become unthinking automatons, doing whatever the women say, at the expense of their own happiness.

The budding romances proceed through the same gender clichés that were tired back in the 1980s: women love shopping; they don’t like sports; they have nosy friends. Presumably the scene of several women going to the restroom together was left on the cutting room floor.

Gogo’s girlfriend, Chiku (Nushrat Barucha), is a walking stereotype. She schools a disinterested Gogo on the various shades of pink, and she talks during a televised cricket match. Sid’s girlfriend, Supriya (Sonalli Sehgall), isn’t any more modern, fearing to tell her traditional parents about their relationship.

Writer-director Luv Ranjan doesn’t know what to make of Thakur’s girlfriend, Kusum (Ishita Raj). She portrayed variously as cheap, greedy, thrifty, and extravagant. The ultimate point is that she’s money-conscious, which is a no-no in Thakur’s free-spending world. He doesn’t know how much money he spends, and he doesn’t care.

All of the women’s flaws are revealed after only a few dates, so why do the men stay with them? The promise of sex. None of the women makes a promise so explicitly, but that’s presumably why the men to stick around, despite their misery.

The thing is, only Thakur and Kusum have sex regularly. Gogo and Sid wait around to collect on their promise for a year-and-a-half before realizing that, perhaps, their relationships aren’t worth it. These guys are complete idiots.

Further, not one of these guys is willing to take any responsibility for his part in these messy relationships. No one is holding a gun to their heads, making them date these women. It’s a choice. Yet the movie never assigns them any guilt.

To do so would mean that men can be flawed, which is not possible in Ranjan’s narrative. Women are the ones who are wrong, except for mothers –mothers who live and die for their sons’ happiness and love them unconditionally. If only these guys could have sex with their mothers…

When the guys finally decide to end their romances is when things get really nasty, and this orgy of hatefulness constitutes the whole of the film’s third act. Gogo is comparatively kind, only going so far as to trick Chiku into thinking he loves her before revealing that he’s been secretly recording her conversations to use against her.

Thakur mounts his high horse after Kusum suggests that he save some money and develop a plan before quitting his lucrative job to “start a website.” He takes her suggestion as a treasonous lack of support, ignoring the fact that his current job pays all the rent for the guys’ bachelor pad. Have fun living on the street with your bros, dumbass.

The darkest of the breakups is between Sid and Supriya, which is a shame since Sid is the only one of the three guys who isn’t nauseatingly smarmy. Supriya spends the night with Sid after confessing her intention to marry him. The next morning, her father — whom she fears — shows up at Sid’s door accompanied by the police.

At the station, Supriya’s father asserts that the guys drugged his daughter in order to keep her overnight, and Supriya doesn’t contradict him. Sid protests to a cop, “But she came of her own free will!” The cop replies, “No girl tells the truth here.”

How many times have those very phrases been used to discredit rape victims, to blame them for their own violation? How many times have Indian police turned away victims because they believed the women deserved it? Now, Ranjan uses the same language in a comedy film to give a spineless twerp a reason to finally dump a woman he was never going to be able to marry anyway. What a man!

If victim-blaming wasn’t bad enough, Ranjan makes a joke out of drunk driving. One of Chiku’s friends wants to drive after a night of partying, and Gogo doesn’t stop her for fear of jeopardizing his hypothetical chance of someday sleeping with Chiku. The next day, Chiku laughs about how lucky they were not to get in an accident, given how drunk her friend was. Thakur gets mad because Gogo never lets him drive the car, even when he’s sober.

Hilarious. Just hilarious. The lack of humanity in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is stunning.

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