The jadoo of college life – that’s what Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore promises to explore through the lives of seven ‘loser’ students between 1992 and 2019. The trailer features underwear jokes, drinking scenes and sports montages, but also emotional reunions and promises of finishing what the friends started all those years ago. Written by Tiwari, Piyush Gupta and Nikhil Mehrotra, the film’s ensemble cast includes Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma and Naveen Polishetty.
Chhichhore also marks Tiwari’s first directorial outing since Dangal (2016). The sports drama, based on the lives of wrestler sisters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, was a critical and record-breaking commercial success, becoming the fifth highest grossing non-English film. He spoke about whether its massive success played on his mind at all while he was going into Chhichhore, how much of the film stems from personal experiences and steering clear of the template set by other Bollywood films that explore college life:
Films like 3 Idiots have explored the theme of college life and friendships with great success. How much of a challenge is it to keep it fresh?
I loved 3 Idiots (2009), loved Rang De Basanti (2006). Not to forget Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). It’s close to my heart. There’s always a challenge when you’re coming up with a college film because the benchmark has been set by some very successful films. Your biggest challenges are – how do you make it look different? How do you make it sound different? How do you give it a purpose which is much different from the other films so that it feels like a completely brand-new experience for you? It is challenging, but it’s something that we always kept in our mind. Just because there is a hostel life and a college life being depicted, it need not go down a similar path. Chhichhore shows a very different shade of hostel life, which you may not have seen before.
That’s how I normally like to write – I pick up characters from real life, modify them to suit the storyline and present them in a realistic way
How did the idea for the film come about?
It was always at the back of my mind for quite some time. Once you become a storyteller, you look for stories you want to tell. I was always excited for the audience to hear my version of college life, a life that I have very closely observed. I lived with that thought but was always waiting for a purpose – why that story should be told. I never wanted it to be just an amalgamation of sunny episodes in a hostel student’s life. It needed a purpose. My writers and I sat and wracked our brains as to how we could make this part of life even more meaningful. Once we got a purpose, I realized that this was the film I wanted to make next.
When did you crack that purpose?
The 2019 part, where everyone plays a middle-aged character, is why this story needed to be told. I can’t tell you what the purpose is, I’m trying to hold my cards close to the chest. People should be rewarded when they go watch the film. It’s got humour, yes, but will also make you think. It’s an important film for the youth, but also for their parents.
I was very clear that I was looking for actors who are predominantly in their early 30s so when I cut three years, they look like college-going kids and when I add three more years, they look middle-aged
How much of the film is culled from your own life?
College life is one that I’ve observed during my four years at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, but I’ve tweaked it to suit the storytelling. It stems from real life and that’s how I wanted to keep it. I’m very lucky – I shot at locations where I lived that story. It’s a double dose of nostalgia for me. I’m not only telling a story that is very close to my heart, I’m shooting in the place where that story unfolded. The hostel parts are shot at IIT-Bombay. The hostel you see is the hostel I lived in. The rival hostel is the actual rival hostel we used to compete with. The grounds are the grounds on which we played. Everything is real and the rest was recreated to match the sensibilities. All the guys are based on guys I’ve lived with during my four years. Some of the character’s names are based on real people, some are tweaked to make them sound better in the screenplay. But these guys were either my seniors, my batchmates or my juniors. Sexa was one year senior to me, Derek was super senior, Bewda was my batchmate, Mummy was my junior and Acid was my senior. That’s how I normally like to write – I pick up characters from real life, modify them to suit the storyline and present them in a realistic way. But the objective is to keep them relatable. If you look at any friend circle in any college, you’ll always find a Sexa, a Bewda, a stud-boy Derek, an Acid. It’s not just restricted to engineering colleges, it’s across groups. That’s why I chose these characters, to appeal to a broader audience.
As far as commercial success is concerned, it’s very unrealistic to set Dangal as the benchmark. All we can hope is that we get the same amount of love for Chhichhore as Dangal got
What was the process of casting for roles based on your closest friends? You have an ensemble cast, what does each one of them bring to the character?
Every character in the film has a distinct personality and a different journey – both in 1992 and in 2019. That’s what made the casting even more challenging. We wanted the characters to not only look very real but also authentic as far as time is concerned. In 2019, we wanted them to look like nice, middle-aged versions of their younger selves. How do you make all of them look different when they hit middle age? A lot of research went into that. I was very clear that I was looking for actors who are predominantly in their early 30s so when I cut a few years, they look like college-going kids and when I add a few more, they look middle-aged. That seemed like the best route so they look authentic in both worlds. So all of my actors are in their 30s, barring Naveen Polishetty, who is 29.
Dangal was the world’s highest-grossing sports movie in 2017. Is there any pressure of coming off a massive success like that, going into your next film?
It would be unrealistic for me to take any commercial pressure, very well knowing that Dangal was made under different circumstances. The only pressure I would take is the expectations people have of me. To be able to live up to them is the only pressure I would like to take. As far as commercial success is concerned, it’s very unrealistic to set Dangal as the benchmark. We made Dangal with the utmost honesty and sincerity, without keeping the box office in mind. All we can hope is that we get the same amount of love for Chhichhore as Dangal got.