With a very confused idea about who is a ‘Loser’ or what it means to be one, and a very fixed, ‘3 Idiots’, template on making a crowd-pleasing college-life film, director/co-writer Nitesh Tiwari follows up on his super-successful Dangal with a disappointingly average Chhichhore.
Once upon a time there were four — no, five; no, no six — collegemates, and a girl. There appear to be several reasons why the six were dubbed Losers by the cool gang, but it transpires late, quite late, in the film that it is because their hostel has consistently lost a college championship year on year for 15 years.
You know how that goes, of course. What you won’t know is how the aforementioned hostel, H4, in one of India’s most prestigious engineering colleges, goes about doing the winning. Usually films with a message about winning/losing, and winners/losers — to underline that all it matters is trying — draw the line somewhere. Not here.
Still, much as it may be difficult to swallow the whole lot of these very grown-up men as fresh-out-of-school greenhorns, how the film hangs the whole story is worse. The lessons about winning/losing are imparted against the backdrop of a boy struggling between life and death, after having failed an engineering entrance exam.
The plot is cruelly manipulative, besides being narrationally uneven, as hospital and hostel jostle for space while the film interchanges between present and past. The six friends don receding hairlines and greying beards to indicate the passage of years. When the film is on hostel territory, there are still some occasional laughs, usually along the well-trod lines of love, sex, dhokha and daaru.
Rajput (playing hotshot executive Aniruddh), a dependable actor otherwise, cringingly struggles here both as a college student and a grieving father. As his ex-college mate and now former wife, Kapoor (playing Maya), has only so much to do. After donning pleated skirts all through college, she moves on to exquisite cottons in motherhood and hospital. But her role remains the same, of a placid, eager cheerer as the boys have all the fun. Prateik, meanwhile, is wasted in the role of the college’s cool dude and bully.
Interestingly, in the beginning, the fact of Aniruddh and Maya’s divorce is treated with a lightness missing in most of Bollywood. The development has left no lasting scars on either of them or their teenage son. It is also a brave decision to have the son living with Aniruddh, with Maya having given up custody.
Now, exploring that strand alone may have lent itself to a better film — about choices and the definition of winning.