Hansal Mehta in its 2.0 avatar has usually made serious films like SHAHID , CITYLIGHTS , ALIGARH , OMERTA  etc. He did try a black comedy in between with SIMRAN  but it was forgettable. His most recent venture, the celebrated web series, SCAM 1992, too was a no-nonsense affair. But now, Hansal Mehta switches to a light-hearted zone with CHHALAANG. It reunites him with his favourite actor Rajkummar Rao. Meanwhile, it is produced by Luv Ranjan and Nushrratt Bharuccha, a regular in his films, has been casted as the female lead. The trailer promises entertainment and also some amount of thrill. So does Hansal Mehta succeed in acing this genre with CHHALAANG? Or does he fail to deliver? Let’s analyse.
CHHALAANG is the story of a disinterested sports coach finding meaning in life. Mahinder Hooda aka Montu (Rajkummar Rao) is a PTI (Physical Training Instructor) in Sir Chotu Ram School in Jhajjar, Haryana. In his teenage years, he had participated in cricket and athletic tournaments from the same school. But he quit sports after he didn't make it to the state team. Similarly, he also left law when he realized that he'll have to read lots of heavy books. This is when his father (Satish Kaushik) recommended his name to the school's principal Ushal Gehlot (Ila Arun). Hence, she hired him. Montu is not quite interested in doing his job as he believes that sports are not going to help the students. He also indulges in other activities in school, one of them being assaulting couples roaming in a park. During one such session, he ends up harassing a middle-aged couple (Rajeev Gupta and Suparna Marwah). The next day, Neelima aka Neelu (Nushrratt Bharuccha) joins the school as a computer teacher. Montu gets attracted to her and this is when Neelu reveals to him that the middle-aged couple were her parents! She also blasts him for being the moral police. Montu realizes his mistake. Slowly, both Montu and Neelu grow closer. Montu wants to take the relationship to the next level. But before that can happen, there comes a twist in the tale. Inder Mohan Singh (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), a certified sports trainer, joins the school as PTI. Montu is demoted to being an assistant PTI though his salary still remains the same. Montu obviously protests but the principal doesn't pay heed. Inder arrives and starts giving hard training to the students. He also gets friendly with Neelu, further angering Montu. Singh realizes Montu is jealous and taunts him. An angry Montu assaults Singh. The principal tells Montu to apologize to Singh. He refuses at first and then requests her to hold a competition between two teams of the school. One team would be trained by Singh and the other by Montu. Further, Singh will have the advantage of selecting the best students. Montu asks the principal that if his team loses, he’d resign and he expects vice versa from Singh. Singh gives his nod. The principal, too, agrees and selects three sports for the tournament - basketball, 400 meters relay race and kabaddi. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Luv Ranjan's story is predictable and nothing new. However it makes an important comment that sports are a vital cog in the wheel of the overall development of the child. Luv Ranjan, Aseem Arrora and Zeishan Quadri's screenplay is better. The writers pepper the narrative with some very interesting moments that keep the interest going. The first half especially is well-written, especially before Montu and Singh become arch rivals. This is the point where the interest should have been maintained and the writers succeed in doing so. The characters are also very well-written and fleshed out. In the post-interval portions, however, the script should have been tighter. Luv Ranjan, Aseem Arrora and Zeishan Quadri's dialogues are sharp and quite funny.
Hansal Mehta's direction is decent. A film of this genre is not exactly his forte but he manages to pass with flying colours. He has handled the light-hearted and also the sports moments with elan. However, a big issue with the film is its release timing. It should have ideally been released 1 ½ or two years ago, before the release of CHHICHHORE . That film had a similar premise of a poor, underdog team training hard using creative methods and then giving a tough fight to a strong team for self-respect and honour. Not just that, two of the sports shown in CHHALAANG are also the same as the Sushant Singh Rajput starrer! Also the climax is a bit like PANGA . To give the credit where it’s due, the makers try their best to use the rustic flavour of the film and by other means to ensure that their film doesn’t remind viewers of CHHICHHORE.
CHHALAANG begins on an average note though the opening credits are very creatively done and the Haryanvi setup sets the mood. The film picks up interest once Montu harasses Neelu’s parents and Neelu teaches him a lesson the next day. From here on, the film holds interest well. The film gets better as Singh makes an entry and gives tough competition to Montu professionally and also personally. The intermission point is dramatic. The second half, too, has its share of interesting scenes especially the tricks used by Montu to motivate his team and Neelu and Montu’s father using the 'saam-daam-dand-bhed' strategy on the parents. The match scenes are nail-biting and are very well edited. Montu's climax speech where he talks about being parents of Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli etc. is excellent and would have been greeted with claps and whistles if the movie had released in cinemas.
Rajkummar Rao delivers a very entertaining performance as always. One might argue that he’s being repetitive but watch closely and one realizes that he has added some fine touches and nuances to his role. Nushrratt Bharuccha looks graceful and delivers a lovely performance. She also gets the Haryanvi diction right. However, her character doesn’t have much to do in the overall scheme of things. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is quite nice as the so-called antagonist. His dialogue delivery especially is praiseworthy. However, his character should have been better fleshed out. Saurabh Shukla is adorable and adds to the fun and drama. Satish Kaushik is dependable as always. Ila Arun is apt for the part. However, the makers should have further stressed on how her character used to tell Montu to help the school earn extra bucks by renting the school premises as a marriage venue. Jatin Sarna (Dimpy) is hilarious and one wishes he had more screen time. Baljinder Kaur (Montu's mother) gets limited scope. Naman Jain (Bablu) has some interesting scenes in the first half and is efficient. Garima Kaur (Pinky) is an integral part of the film’s last 30 minutes and is superb. Rajeev Gupta and Suparna Marwah are nothing great.
Music doesn’t work except for 'Le Chhalaang'. It has an anthem-like feel and is in sync with the film’s mood in the second half. 'Teri Choriyaan' is okay. 'Care Ni Karda' appears just before the end credits while 'Deedar De' is missing. Hitesh Sonik's background score is exhilarating.
Eeshit Narain's cinematography (sports cinematography by Chris Reed) is spectacular. Both the lensmen work well in tandem to uplift several scenes. Shashank Tere's production design is realistic. Same goes for Aki Narula and Arun J Chauhan's costumes. Samidha Wangnoo's costume in the 'Care Ni Karda' song for Nushrratt Bharuccha is glamorous. Harpal Singh's action is fine. Akiv Ali and Chetan M Solanki's editing is uncomplicated. Lastly, special mention should also go to Vicky Sidana's casting for getting such great child actors, and also to Rob Miller for his effective sports direction.
On the whole, CHHALAANG is a simple, relatable and a well-made entertainer that keeps viewers engaged from start to finish. The performances, writing and well-edited scenes are like an icing on the cake. Recommended!