Synopsis – A con man decides to take advantage of an academic world where there are very few opportunities and too many aspirants, and only the smartest can survive. From rigging examinations to forging certificates, his schemes will both exploit and expose the failings of an Indian education system fraught with problems.
My Take – A film based on the Indian education scenario sounds like an interesting idea. As India has been a lucrative market for years, a whole system of buying your way through education, jobs and earnings has been well established. While the rich get what they pay for, these existing malpractices end up affecting the middle class parents and the students who fall prey to the cheating done by the exam mafia in order to secure a seat in their client’s desired college. And despite an evolving education system, India continues to face scams like SSC and HSC paper leaks, CBSE re-examination, among others.
The focus of the film here is to make people understand the vulnerability of hardworking and gifted students who get left out between all this. Set against the backdrop of budding-urban locations like Kota, Jhansi, and Jaunpur, where the pressure of rural to urban evolution is pushing desperate parents to make their children a part of the economical rat-race, the film comments on the mounting pressures of living in the third world and surely succeeds in finding its resonance with the audience there.
But while the story and concept of the film holds a lot of merit, it loses grip half way through. There is no doubt the film keeps you engaged, but considering its subject, the flawed direction and screenplay from Soumik Sen (Gulaab Gang) ends up leaving a lot to be desired. It remains a bird’s eye view of the problem and wherever there is detail, it isn’t convincing enough. A sad truth considering how the film’s leading man, Emraan Hashmi, delivers one of his career’s finest performances here.
Set in the 1990s in a grungy UP town, the story follows Rakesh Singh (Emraan Hashmi) aka Rocky Bhaiyaa as admiring young men call him, a sweet-talking examination facilitator, who along with his small team exploit talented students to take entrance tests on behalf of weak students, with parents of very deep pockets. While he also runs a coaching center as a front, he uses his network, which also has obliging cops and ministers on his payroll, to bring in what matters to him the most – money.
One such recruit of his Satyendra (Snigdhadeep Chatterjee) aka Sattu, who has just qualified for a top-flight engineering college and is convinced by a glib Rocky to see the value in making big bucks before he graduates and considering his father’s debt on his behalf makes him an easy prey. Like him the other mules are also offered money, luxury, booze and sex.
While his business continues to boom in the engineering sector, Rocky decides to expand to the much-in-demand MBA circuit and shifts base to Mumbai, where he once again comes across Sattu’s sister Nupur (Shreya Dhanwanthary), who has also managed to make to a career in Mumbai, dodging the dowry-trap marriage of the small-town girl. Now independent, she has no qualms about Rocky’s wife back home, a garrulous woman he was forced to marry. Meandering through the various ways to cut around problems, Rocky’s business begins to pick up that is all until things begin to go awry.
Needless to say, cheating is an integral part of India. We see it and probably would have done it right from the school days. The film does try to tell that the education system is wrong in India and needs to be corrected. Sadly, while the story and concept of the film holds a lot of merit, its execution is not as effective. With a largely insensible plot that constantly tries to exonerate its lead character’s actions by blaming the system, the film goes on and on, showing how Rocky uses his smart moves and political influence to help poor-rich students get a seat in the colleges of their choice not paying heed to the disaster that is becoming of the lives of the bright students who are helping him.
There are no such delusions in the man on whom Rakesh is clearly modeled upon – Gordon Gekko (from 1987’s Wall Street), one of the great antagonists in film history because he’s gleefully, wholeheartedly amoral. Here, much like Gekko, Rocky uses and feels responsible for Satyendra, shepherding him through the early days of college while also putting him on a punishing schedule of proxy exams. Like Gordon, Rakesh is also married and involved with another woman. And sure enough, he ends up using Gekko’s famous phrase: greed is good.
To make worse, there are songs placed unnecessarily. While drama does make an effort to show what happens to these students, it just feels stretched and disjointed, and at times, lacks a direction altogether and loses itself in weak plot build-up. While Satyendra boar the emotional pin of the first half, he suddenly fades from the second half of the film, and the narrative, already in guilty of repetition, starts to meander, as we see Rakesh attempt a scam similar to the engineering tests, with MBA entrance exams, but with Satyendra out of the picture, there’s less at stake emotionally.
Like I mentioned above, the film is enjoyable to some extent and has its heart in the right place, as it mirrors the ills in the education system, putting everything under the microscope. From plain copying to getting ‘dummies’ to write papers for wealthy brats, you get a ringside view of how all this crazy syndrome works. The film also delves deeper than many supposed expose films, from the affluent parents’ child who is not really interested in their own education to the rat race that classes towns like Kota train you for, the film goes on to comment equally on the pressure on parents and by parents. However, it’s never enough for a film to just have good intention.
The makers should have definitely paid more attention to the execution. For some reason the film also felt like it had three endings, indecisively shown one after the other – one of which uses a refrain to Hum Honge Kamyaab as an afterthought, pasting it on immediately after another song, diluting any potential impact.
Even the courtroom sequence towards the end is made to look like a conversation between two people, which eventually turns into a sermon, all the while showing the judge take forty winks. Might have been a reference to how real-life courtroom dramas unfold in India, considering how the film often takes potshots at the BJP government, but still looks out of place and unreliable. Here was a golden opportunity to give us a film that would jab us in the jaw. Instead, it falls flat.
However the writing can be applauded for little things if it loses its way in the big picture. It is interesting to see what goes behind the closed curtains in all those news that we read about question papers leaking and cheating racket being busted. I especially liked the narrative tool of using Sattu as a character to detail the methodology of the exam-cheating scam and them zooming out later in the film to cursorily scan over how these scams are conducted.
However, it largely remains a story told from one perspective, covering only a niche section of the society. Also the screenplay has too many highs and lows. When there are highs, you are well off, but the lows are way too low and you are put off. Also there are back stories completely unconvincing. This inconsistency in the narrative structure sums up eventually as a thorn in the flesh.
Performances wise, Emraan Hashmi does get into the character and makes his presence effective. Here, he is right in his comfort zone as the street-smart crook; he gives Rocky a lot of swag and just a hint of melancholy to temper the wickedness, entertaining his fans with rapt dialogs and mesmerizing expressions throughout. He is confident in his character and really shows that he cares for his first production venture.
Debutante Shreya Dhanwanthary also is also very good here. She excels in the Plain Jane look as well as the girl in a corporate set-up. Her transition, screen presence and character graph is given an interesting turn in the final half. Her on-screen brother, Snigdhadeep Chatterjee, is also well cast in the role of a naive student and brings out the tensions, pains, troubles of a teenager well. On the whole, ‘Why Cheat India’ is a novel yet disappointing film let down by its uneven writing and poor execution.
Directed – Soumik Sen
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 121 minutes