Indian directors are known to indulge their actors. In Chhichhore, it works the other way round. The film’s sole point resides in director Nitesh Tiwari leaning into his college years and fishing for trinkets. Sushant Singh Rajput, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Varun Sharma, Prateik Babbar — all crowd around like diligent schoolboys and join this nostalgia trip. But instead of rewarding their trust with originality, Nitesh hands them out familiar crutches, spinning together a mundane yarn of friendship and failure without bothering to say something new.
Anni (Sushant) has burned himself out. He is separated from his wife and batchmate Maya (Shraddha Kapoor), for reasons not hard to add up. An accomplished engineer, Anni has been an uninvolved father, exerting undue pressure on his JEE-aspirant son. Expectedly, something bad happens and Anni is forced to reassess the formative years of his life, relying on the healing touch of storytelling to pull his child out of a spot.
In the past, it’s still all fun and games. We meet Anni and Maya as students of the National College of Technology — a stand-in for IIT Bombay, the director’s alma mater. The shenanigans centre on the occupants of ‘Hostel 4’. There’s Varun Sharma’s Sexa in an Eraserhead haircut. Naveen Polishetty plays a bully called Acid, a name he derives from tossing cocktails in the chemistry lab. This is deliberately a hangout movie, which is why it’s weird when the film abandons its rollicking tone and settles for a sports movie template.
Nitesh shows much affection for the nineties: Debonair, Mastram, Mamta Kulkarni, crummy walls festooned with Playboy and Martin Luther King pinups. The film borrows a yearbook aesthetic — frames freeze even though no one is clicking — as we cut between timelines. We’ve seen this format before (Dil Chahta Hai, 3 Idiots, Hum Chaar), but the reunions in Chhichhore rarely pack a punch. Except for Anni and Maya, there’s no tug between the characters, as the film banks on receding hairlines to convey the passage of time.
Sushant plays his own skittish self. He runs through as many tics and jitters as an old man as he does as a fresher. Shraddha, as a despairing mother and campus stunner, is reliably sidetracked. Her presence in a stringently all-male universe is played for laughs. Yet, for all its bro codes and pledges of honour, Chhichhore has little to comment on the nature of male friendships, or what binds these scamps beyond the floors of Hostel 4.
Editor Charu Shree Roy can cut a montage: in the final showdown, the tension coherently bounces from a basketball court to a race track to a chess match. Nitesh has a flair for unbound slapstick, which becomes a problem each time we flip back to the present. Chhichhore has a big point to make about defeat and self-worth, but takes the laziest possible route to get there. For a film about the dignity of trying, it does not lead by example.
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Rating: 2.5 stars
(This review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)