Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma, Naveen Polishetty
What were your college days like? Mine were a blur of bad jokes, glorious friendships, heady romances, illicit pastimes and mostly forgettable lectures despite which, somehow we came away with an education. Chhichhore encapsulates all of this. Director Nitesh Tiwari creates a cocktail of nostalgia, relationships, family drama and on-the-nose messaging that wobbles precariously but eventually it lands. You walk away wanting to be friends with some of these characters – especially Varun Sharma's Sexa, who I think deserves his own spin-off film. In college, Sexa is called 'Hawas ka papita' and Varun nails this lovely phrase with his wonderfully louche expressions. He delivers one of the film's best lines – "Engineering life main do cheezein sabse important hain – brain aur bunty." Bunty of course being your privates. But when we see Sexa as a grown up, he's sitting in London discussing global trends. I want to know how that happened.
The one-line pitch for Chhichhore would be Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar meets 3 Idiots meets Student of the Year. College friends reunite because one of them is facing a crisis – Anni's son Raghav is in hospital, fighting for his life. To bolster his spirits, they start to recount their time together when they were engineering students, living in the H4 hostel. The H4 boys were unanimously dubbed losers because the hostel always came last in the General Championship – a college competition in which 10 hostels competed in 30 sports over 2 months. But these losers decide that they will change the narrative. The screenplay ping-pongs between college days and present crisis – the journeys mirror each other, down to the dialogue. So when one character says something in the hospital, the retort comes in a scene in the past because the situations are so similar in spirit. And vice-versa.
The writers Piyush Gupta, Nikhil Mehrotra and Nitesh stitch the screenplay like a tapestry. It's clever but too neat. And it gets predictable very quickly. It doesn't help that the scenarios in the film aren't new. We've seen all of this before – the nerdy losers versus the more entitled and affluent bullies, the good-natured ragging, the canteen romances, the bonding that creates a family. There is little in terms of craft to dazzle you. The music by Pritam is passable but not sticky. And the film, even when dealing with issues like ragging or the pressure to achieve, stays in a sanitized space – there is calamity but no darkness. Despite the obvious bumps, what keeps Chhichhore afloat is the sincerity in its messaging, the characters and the performances.
We've all known guys like this – Acid (Naveen Polishetty), the boy who can't speak without swearing, Derek (Tahir Raj Bhasin) the jaded senior, Bevda (Saharsh Kumar), who is basically Devdas without the angst. He's always drunk. And my favorite Mummy (Tushar Pandey) who embodies better than anyone else the awkwardness and vulnerability of youth. Sushant Singh Rajput as Anni and Shraddha Kapoor as Maya don't blend into the surroundings as easily as the others. He's too confident and she's too lacquered. But they make up for this in their older avatars. Though Shraddha struggles with an underwritten role – Maya seems sour even before they are struck by tragedy. But Sushant blossoms into the father struggling to make right his relationship with his son. His climatic monologue hits home.The prosthetics aren't bad though did all of them need to have receding hairlines?
These actors and characters hold together the flimsy plot. Nitesh, Nikhil and Piyush also don't let the jokes sag. Pay attention to the supporting characters – like the guy in charge of student accommodation and the hostel cook. Each face is a find. The one-liners keep coming so that even when the film tests your patience – and let me assure you that it does, the championship games especially are over-stretched – you keep rooting for these people to succeed.
Especially for Raghav, played by Mohammad Samad. He looks like a dark-eyed, older version of Jugal Hansraj from Masoom. You know what that means. Basically, he grabs your affection from the first scene and doesn't let go. He's earnest and heartbreakingly sweet. We want to believe that once upon a time, we were all as unspoiled.
Chhichhore allows us to revisit that first flush of youth. The film never matches the the inspired grunge vibe of In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1989) or the magic of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. But it's a satisfying journey back to woh din!