Tag Archives: Satish Kaushik

Movie Review: Chhalaang (2020)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Chhalaang on Amazon Prime

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.

Links

Movie Review: Dekh Tamasha Dekh (2014)

dekhTamashaDekh3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a satire of modern India, but its relevance is universal. Director Feroz Abbas Khan and writer Shafaat Khan present an insightful, funny story about the dangers of sectarianism and intellectual laziness.

The town of Canda functions under an uneasy balance between the local Hindu and Muslim communities. The town’s most prominent politician, Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik), also owns the local newspaper, and he bemoans the declining readership. The marketing guru he brings in pushes local gossip: “What people wish to read is more important.”

Mutha Seth gets his wish when a billboard depicting his likeness falls over, killing Hamid (Satish Tare), the local horse cart driver. Hamid’s body is already in the grave when members of the Hindu community demand that the Muslims turn the body over to them. Hamid was born as a Hindu named Kishen, although he converted to Islam more than twenty years earlier.

This sparks a protracted legal battle over the dead man’s body, and both sides become increasingly militant. The new chief of police, Sawant (Ganesh Yadav), struggles to quell a feud he doesn’t really understand, as he’s reminded by the local historian, Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar).

Though the ideas of corrupt politics and violent religious tension are large in scale, they are exacerbated by small acts. For example: Kulkarni (Dhiresh Joshi), the editor of the local paper, feels his career threatened by the new marketing guy, so he publishes an inflammatory story that sparks a riot. When the paper’s lone reporter, Rafiq (Angad Mhaskar), asks a visiting imam to promote peace instead of war, Rafiq is forced to flee for his life as the city burns.

Khan constantly reminds the audience that fights driven by fanaticism have dire consequences for people who want no part in them, especially the poor. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s shots capture characters framed in doorways or windows. We are invited into their homes to see their suffering.

The people who suffer the most in the fight for Hamid/Kishen’s body are his own family. His widow, Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), doesn’t care what happens to the body. He’s dead, and she and her children are still poor. She tolerates the mournful wailing of the women who’ve taken over her house, vowing to pray continuously for Hamid’s soul until he’s buried. Then the water turns back on for the day, and they abandon their prayers to fill up their buckets.

Even worse off is Hamid’s daughter, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), who’s in love with a Hindu man named Prashant (Alok Rajwade). Shabbo’s pragmatism and worries are mitigated by Prashant’s relentless optimism. He stares at her as though she’s the only thing that exists in the world. In another place, their future happiness would be a given, but not in Canda, where their very relationship is tantamount to treason.

Grounding the story so firmly in one town highlights the way such problems could manifest in any town in any country. Substitute two other religions — or races or political parties — and the mania that overtakes Canda could happen anywhere. It’s a chilling lesson told in an amusing, moving way. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is terrific.

Links