A few weeks ago, I came across an old clip of Kaun Banega Crorepati in which Amitabh Bachchan, in his magnificent baritone, recites Sohan Lal Dwivedi’s Koshish Karne Walon Ki Kabhi Haar Nahi Hoti. The beautifully written poem comments that one should consistently give their best to achieve something because the one who tries is the one who never loses. In the same week, many people watched the live telecast of Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram during its moon landing attempt. Unfortunately, Vikram lost contact moments before the final landing. However, there was a massive outpouring of support and congratulatory messages for the scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation for their ambitious effort in carrying out a herculean task to near perfection. As it happens, Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore released in the theaters in the same week. It also talked about something similar. Life is not all about winning and losing. It is our effort that decides whether we win or lose.
Chchichore tells the story of a group of old college friends who have a reunion in rather unfortunate circumstances. Aniruddh ‘Anni’ Pathak (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Maya (Shraddha Kapoor) are a divorced couple and have a son Raghav (Mohammad Samad) who is preparing for entrance examinations to the country’s premier engineering institute. Raghav does not qualify for admission and jumps from an apartment building as he is devastated that he would have the ‘loser’ tag all his life. To talk him out of this situation, Anni tells him the story of his college days where he was part of a group of friends who were called ‘losers’ in college. These friends got the loser tag as they stayed in a hostel that was mainly for students who were good for nothing and who always lost the sports championship in college.
One year, these friends decided to give their best to win. They fought back with all their power, even doing some unethical things in the process. They still lost but were not called losers anymore. Chhichhore makes the point that it is not the final result that decides if one is a winner or a loser; it is one’s koshish that decides it. Koshish karne walon ki kabhi haar nahi hoti. It also asks parents to teach failure to kids. If you win something, everyone praises you, but if you fail, no one tells you what to do.
The theme of Chhichhore is the opposite of Tiwari’s last film Dangal, that showed an extremely strict father who pushed his daughters to the limits to make them win the wrestling championships. However, in Tiwari’s first film, Chillar Party, there was again a bunch of children who would always lose the cricket game to the neighboring team, making them the object of ridicule by the colony uncles. But these losers would also go on to shake the civic administration for a noble mission.
Films based on competitions usually follow a template where the protagonist faces major obstacles in life but then overcomes them and eventually goes on to win. Cinema likes to show the triumph of the protagonist to build relatability with the audience. In the iconic Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Sanju (Aamir Khan), a good-for-nothing student of the loser Model College, manages to defeat Shekhar (Deepak Tijori), a champion of the prestigious Rajput College, in a marathon cycle race.
In Lagaan, a bunch of villagers who only know about gilli-danda go on to defeat the mighty English in a game that was invented by them. In Chak De India, missing out on a penalty shot in the final moments of the hockey world cup match with Pakistan earns Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), the captain, the tag of a traitor, thereby forcing him to leave his neighbourhood and move to a different place. He finds redemption in mentoring the women players of the Indian hockey team, whom everyone thought had no chance, to a World Cup victory. In ABCD: Anybody Can Dance, the dancers of the group Dhongri Dance Revolution manage to stun the audience and the judges with an on-the-spot routine winning the final competition.
Even though people perhaps lose more than they win in real life, the films in which the protagonist eventually loses are so rare that they can be counted on fingertips. One such film is Mahesh Manjrekar’s Ehsaas. The 2001 film told the story of a father Ravi (Suniel Shetty) who trains his son Rohan (Mayank Tandon) to win an athletics competition. Like Mahabir Phogat from Dangal, Ravi is extremely harsh in his training methods. Ravi was a good athlete in his own college days, but an accident before the final competition left him injured, not allowing him to pursue the sport further. Therefore, he wants his son to achieve what he couldn’t in his own life. Unfortunately, Rohan fractures his legs days before the race; however, he still manages to take part in the competition. Moments before he crosses the finishing line, a bruised Rohan falls down due to his injury and eventually loses the race. Ravi consoles him and says he is not a loser because he has won the ‘zindagi ki race‘ and he is proud that he gave his best. Ehsaas was one of the rare Hindi films that said that it’s okay to lose.
More recently, Anurag Kashyap also subverted the idea of the hero winning against all odds in Mukkabaaz. The film told the story of an aspiring boxer Shravan Kumar Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh) who runs into trouble with Bhagwandas Mishra (Jimmy Shergill), a local politician. Shravan faces more of Bhagwandas’ ire when he ends up falling in love with his niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain). After much drama, Bhagwandas allows Shravan to play one last match after which he would have to retire. In the final bout, Shravan falls down after a knockout punch and looks at Sunaina and starts smiling and the film ends. In any other film, this scene would have been followed by a turnaround where Shravan would have received a powerful surge to fight back and then he would have won the match. In Mukkabaaz, Shravan loses the match, which he probably knew that he would due to his kidney injury, and retires from the sport with pride and self-respect.
There have been more movies in English language cinema that have been empathetic about the idea of losing. In the first Rocky, boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) loses closely to world heavyweight champion boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). In Moneyball, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) abandons baseball’s traditional method of scouting talent for a more statistics-based method of building a team. Beane’s team goes on an impressive victory run but ultimately loses. Other films, such as Kingpin, Tin Cup, Million Dollar Baby, and A League of Their Own, have also depicted events where the main character loses in the end.
But the one film that truly celebrates the concept of losing is the charming Little Miss Sunshine. It’s the story of the dysfunctional Hoover family’s road trip from New Mexico to California. The purpose of the trip is to support daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), a seven-year-old chubby and spectacled little girl who yearns to become a beauty queen in a contest called ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.
Olive is afraid of losing the competition because her father Richard (Greg Kinnear) hates losers. During the beauty pageant, it becomes clear that a chubby Olive doesn’t stand a chance in front of other young girls with their perfect looks. Her father realizes it and wanted to talk her out of performing. However, her mother insists that she should perform even if she loses. Olive performs her final dance because her Grandpa also told her, “A real loser isn’t someone who doesn’t win. A real loser is someone who’s so afraid of not winning they don’t even try.” This is again similar to the message that Chhichhore tries to convey.
Little Miss Sunshine also propagates the belief that it is in losing and suffering that one gets to learn the most. This belief is synthesized from the philosophies of Proust and Nietzsche, represented by the characters of Olive’s suicidal uncle Frank (Steve Carell) and her stepbrother Dwayne (Paul Dano). During the trip, Dwayne discovers that he is color blind, which would mean his dream of becoming a pilot would never be fulfilled. Frank, who came out of a tough breakup where he tried to kill himself, consoles Dwayne by giving him an example of the writer Proust and says, “Marcel Proust gets down to the end of his life, he looks back and he decides that all the years he suffered, those were the best years of his life. Because they made him who he was. They forced him to think and grow, and to feel very deeply. And the years he was happy? Total waste. Didn’t learn anything.” Frank and Dwayne realize that what essentially matters is one’s individual will and that people should do whatever they want to do to be happy.
In Chhichhore, the so-called losers turned out well later in life. Most of them went to become top executives in the corporate sector. The film does not talk about a few others, but even they survived. Something or the other would have worked out for them, too.