Director: Soumik Sen
Just days before it was to be released the Censors demanded that the makers of Cheat India attach the word ‘Why’ to its title, presumably because the original title sounded a lot like a call to action, a command. And come on, you can’t have a film actively encouraging the populace to swindle our great nation, can you?
Why Cheat India, on the other hand, sounds too generic, and punctuation wise it’s off. Is it asking a question – as in why do we, Indians, tend to cheat? That’s a tricky one; we could be here all day. No, I suspect, that like movie critics, the Censors too might have been bored out of their skull watching this film. The new title, therefore, could be an expression of frustration – as if questioning the need for this film – “Why, Cheat India???”
But jokes aside, the movie, directed by Soumik Sen, has an interesting premise. Emraan Hashmi, who has had some practice playing all manner of cheaters and fradusters, stars as Rakesh Singh aka Rocky, a shrewd fellow who runs a scam helping wealthy candidates land seats in medical and engineering colleges by recruiting smarter students to take their entrance exams for them. He’s a messiah for desperate parents and students who know that a medical or engineering degree is a shot at a better life, and a Robin Hood-like figure for the brilliant but poor toppers who have loans to be paid off, parents to support, and sisters to be wed. Everybody wins in Rocky’s unique business plan.
Everybody but the audience. Why Cheat India fast becomes a slog. The themes are relevant, but the writing is flat; the screenplay lacks urgency. The film opens in the 90s and to be honest it feels like it was made then. There is melodrama, dialoguebaazi, and old-school plotting. None of that would’ve been a problem if it wasn’t so darn unremarkable. The supporting players – there are many – aren’t especially memorable, and a last minute twist feels unconvincing. The second half moves more briskly but the plot becomes especially harebrained when Rocky widens his net to crack the MBA entrance exam.
It’s a shame you leave the cinema bored and underwhelmed because there was potential here to make a smart film about our flawed education system – one that encourages mugging and rote learning over understanding; one that values a degree over real aptitude. A system that drives students and their parents to seek dangerous, unhealthy shortcuts. Some of that is addressed but it’s not really what the film is about.
Hashmi, who is also one of the producers, plays his part with required flair. He’s very good in anti-hero roles, but this film can’t seem to decide how to peg him. He spends the bulk of his time on screen exploiting the education system, but also gets to deliver an impassioned monologue skewering the corruption within that very system. Of the remaining ensemble, only Snighadeep Chatterjee as Sattu, one of the bright young students who falls under Rocky’s spell, and Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sattu’s sister Nupur, make an impression.
I was also never fully convinced about the ease with which Rocky repeatedly pulled off these big scams. But I suppose that’s creative liberty. This fim takes a lot of those. I’m going with two out of five for Why Cheat India. If anyone’s having trouble sleeping, we might have found a cure.
Rating: 2 / 5