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(Spoiler Alert)

Overall an entertainer and downright hilarious in parts, Chhichhore is worthy of a watch! It also attempts to tackle an important contemporary issue among young students in India. Not sure a big screen experience is necessary however, so waiting for it to show up on your favorite streaming service is just fine. The movie (the word means frivolous, and mostly applies to boys or young men in this context) is about a group of engineering students at a residential college in India. While not explicitly mentioned, it clearly refers to life in IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and the film is even shot on the IIT Bombay campus in Mumbai. The depiction of student life at IIT is the best part of the film. The friendship, the “ragging”, the humor, the argument brought back some wonderful memories of that time. The bonds that students form there–probably true of any residential college—are lifelong; and they do stand the test of life and time. The nicknames given to students is a rich tradition followed in almost every hostel. So Bevdaa (drunk), Sexa (horny), Mummy (mama’s boy), etcetera were all too real and part of the hilarity of the film. The best of the film lies in the situations these characters find themselves in. The abject number of women students at the college as shown in the film is also very real—there are too few and they live a fish-bowl existence, adding to the general lunacy of the high pressure environment.

What did not ring true (for me) about that life, were a couple of aspects—firstly, the nastiness of the inter-hostel rivalry. IITians are competitive but it almost never devolves into a mean-spirited match bordering on the threat of violence. Admittedly, my experience of IIT is over 30 years old when there were only five such institutions and now I believe there are twenty plus so perhaps such antagonistic competition is more common. The other aspect that was completely off was that this group of thick friends did not stay in touch after college. That just does not happen. Maybe a couple of people fall off the face of the earth, and that too usually temporarily, but enduring friendships is a fundamental and fortuitous feature of life in IIT.

The biggest issue with the film had little to do with life in IIT—although I couldn’t help but notice that the hostels are in better shape (yes!) than in real life. In fact at our 25th reunion, the hostels looked like they had not even been whitewashed in the 25 years! But I digress. The weakest link in the story was the meta story in which the son of the main protagonists played by Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor, attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a tall building when he finds out that he did not make it through the entrance exam to the IITs. This tragedy is very real—every year numerous students attempt suicide before, during and after various entrance exams and many even after they have been accepted to colleges that are perceived to be prestigious. The pressure to get in and to perform once in, is simply ridiculous. I think almost every IIT-ian knows of at least one person who attempted suicide in their time. From that perspective shining a light on this issue is laudatory. It is a message film but it’s just not very well executed. The first big issue is that Sushant Singh Rajput is a very limited actor. In every scene where he is crying, it sounds like he is whimpering. It is hard to sympathize with him. And Shraddha Kapoor who is typically limited as well, actually does a little better because Rajput in contrast is worse.

The suicide storyline unfortunately pulls too many punches. Firstly, the build up to the suicide is just not there. Showing how the kid is driven to it due to peer, or parents’ or self-imposed pressure is missing. Ultimately there is a vague admission that it was the parents who played an unwitting role in the tragedy. And the suicide attempt is just not as shocking as it should have been. The fact that the parents are clueless about the dire state of the kid’s mind does not come across sufficiently; and if they are supposed to be clueless, then their shock is not depicted well. The progression of their reaction from disbelief to shock to grief is poorly handled. This is the core message of the film and it falls flat. Finally the convenient recovery of the child without as much as any lingering brain damage is not believable. You have to simply dismiss it as a typically Bollywood happy ending.

Overall, the message that one failure does not define you, and that parents owe it to their kids to ensure that they understand this, is worthy of commendation. But the film falls short. This is even more glaring because Nitesh Tiwari has written and directed much better films such as Dangal (2016) and Chillar Party (2011). Overall I still give Chhichhore a measured thumbs up perhaps out of sheer gratitude that message films of Sooraj Barjatya fame, with their regressive directives especially for women, are a thing of the past!

CHHICHHORE. 2019. Director: Nitesh Tiwari. Written by: Nitesh Tiwari, Piyush Gupta, Nikhil Mehrotra. Players: Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma. Hindi with subtitles. Distributed by Fox Star Studios.

Reena is a tech product consultant in Silicon Valley by day, and a poet and photographer somewhere in between. She graduated with a B.Tech in Engineering from IIT Delhi. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, and one human and two canine children.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

Cover photo credit: Chhichhore facebook page.

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