Director Nitesh Tiwari offers the ultimate homage to his college days with this film about his time as an engineering student and the lessons one learns outside of the classroom. Chhichhore operates on two planes. The first is nostalgic, with fuzzy flashbacks to after-hours hostel life on an engineering college campus. On another plane it offers a message on pressure to make the grade, to live up to imposed expectations and be prepared for success, failure and everything in between.
In the present, Aniruddh “Ani" Pathak (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a successful professional who has custody of his teenaged son. Inadvertently, Ani has been loading expectations of Raghav (Mohammad Samad) as he appears for his common entrance exams. Plans are made to celebrate a sure-shot grade. Raghav’s mother, Maya (Shraddha Kapoor), however, comforts Raghav that the result is not as important as his intent. In the midst of this, Raghav makes a terrible choice.
Watching their son oscillate between life and death, Ani dips into his bank of memories and calls upon the support of his college friends. Enter Sexa, Acid, Mummy, Derek and Bevda, the coterie that ruled the roost at Hostel 4 and took on the sporting might of Hostel 3 in the annual inter-hostel sporting competition.
They recount the story of their hostel life and, through their experiences as the underdogs that tried to change the odds and shake off the label of “losers", they attempt to convey important life lessons to Raghav.
Writers Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrotra and Piyush Gupta infuse the hostel scenes with energy, mischief, humour and cadence. It’s refreshing to see hostel life steeped in healthy competition and pranking but not defined by harrowing ragging.
The film hits the right notes when it flashes back to the inter-hostel sporting competition and the camaraderie between the students. Tiwari, who showed flair for sporting drama with Dangal, builds suspense and tension as we track the ups and downs of Hostel 4 inmates versus their arch nemesis Hostel 3, led by the abrasive Raggie (Pratiek Babbar).
In the present, this gang has not aged well, besides Shraddha Kapoor, who simply seems to have traded in her retro college wardrobe (completely period incorrect for the film’s 1992 setting) for contemporary desi chic. The styling is so uneven that Maya and Ani appear to be from different generations.
In spite of a sketchy role, Kapoor delivers a moving and likeable performance. Indeed, the boys share better chemistry than Rajput and Kapoor do. Tahir Raj Bhasin as Derek, Naveen Polishetty as Acid, Tushar Pandey as Mummy and Varun Sharma as Sexa work well as Ani’s buddies that rooted for him then, and continue to do so now. This is by far Sharma’s best performance, as he is finally given an opportunity to add a layer to his buffoonery by conveying sensitivity and nuance. I look forward to seeing more of Polishetty’s work. Pandey subtly captures the changes in the mummy’s boy who is now a US-based NRI. Bhasin plays the brooding jock with the requisite restraint.
Rajput smoothly traverses both ages. He captures both the playfulness of a fresher as well as conveying the guilt and trauma of a father who realises that he forgot to impart one important lesson: that the result is not as important as one’s effort.
The tropes of campus films abound, yet the humour in Chhichhore is so organic and the characters so particular, you feel like a member of the crowd hoping Hostel 4’s strategy makes them champions. It’s almost enough to make you overlook the present day prosthetics and script conveniences that lean heavily on the kind of Bollywood melodrama one is not nostalgic about.