Why Cheat India Movie Review - No, seriously... Why?
This is a film that attempts to combine strong commentary, with a high-paced, heist thriller, with belaboured twists and turns, while trying to balance all of it.
Why Cheat India
U/A: Drama Satire
Director: Soumik Sen
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Shreya Dhanwanthary
The 'curse of the second half' in Hindi pictures is simply so severe, especially when it comes to films with well-known faces, that even as I find myself really enjoying a movie, there's a radar at the back of the brain constantly cautioning one to only hope that the post-interval portions even live up to the first half — by half. If so, then as an audience, you're pretty much through.
Is this movie an exception in that regard? Well, it eventually starts descending to such levels of random, thoughtless spinning of the yarn that by the end of it you're not even too sure it's the same film that you had started with in the first place. And hell yeah, it begins really well, what with highlighting the academic strains of being a teenaged 'padhaku' kid, Sattu (the boy's so brilliantly cast), in a lower-middle class family in Lucknow, coaxed into cracking a coveted engineering entrance exam (they don't call it IIT for some reason). For, how else does the father who's invested all his money into his child's supposed dream see his pension scheme through?
The film shines much-needed light on a common Indian teenaged nightmare, as sincerely presented in stand-up comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath's rather under-rated Amazon Prime series, Laakhon Mein Ek (2018). While sticking to searing realism — getting its time-setting, the year 1998 right, down to baggy trousers, and Force 10 type sneakers — the filmmakers manage to give the hero, Emraan Hashmi, a filmy sort of entry, smartly slipping in a soothing ballad, as well. Well done!
Hashmi plays a one-man racketeer who sneaks in smart kids, with counterfeit hall tickets, to max entrance tests on behalf of rich children, sitting at home, paying their way to top colleges as a result. You sort of know where the film might be going with this. And, maybe, that's the problem. Proxy contestants at overcrowded competitive exams for key educational institutions, where even well-prepared students wait for Godot to get in, is a huge multi-crore, organised industry, involving a system wholly corrupted, from top to bottom. Technology would have plugged some of the holes already; one's unaware to what extent.
If you haven't heard as much about this underworld, one should legitimately blame the news media for it — particularly in the case of the 2013 Vyapam (Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board) Scam, for instance, where close to 40 people, most of them whistleblowers, have mysteriously died, while the investigations are still on (or not quite) —but largely under-reported in the mainstream press.
And I thought this is what the film could be about — unearthing an earth-shaking scandal that should ideally knock you off your head. But, no, this is a film that attempts to combine strong commentary on the education/examination system, with a high-paced, heist thriller, with belaboured twists and turns, while trying to balance all of it with the urban slickness and high-life that Hashmi's inevitably romantically inclined, unscrupulous characters aspire for, and achieve, in his typical capers.
Watch Why Cheat India Trailer
So whatever fault you may find in the film possibly exists in the story/script to start with. And perhaps the reason is Hashmi himself, for he can't help but get on the big screen with strong baggage of the sort of flicks that have made him the star he is. The audience is obviously to blame for it, and the fact that Hashmi remains still an under-rated actor, because he is hardly commercially lauded for parts where he wholly goes off the beaten path — Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai (2012), I'm told, tanked; Danis Tanovic's Tigers (2018) went straight to OTT (Zee 5), both being his career's best works.
And so he goes back to being himself: the trademarked flawed hero, who eventually justifies his wily actions as a natural outcome of a multiple-choice, rote-learning system that gives very few kids a choice beyond acing it to get ahead. How a scamster like his character is the solution still, and not the issue, is beyond me. Have to say though, what the audience will empathise with is the fact that far too few fine courses/colleges exist for far too many desi children: a progressively massive problem staring us in the face and an even uglier future. This affects everyone. To be fair, the government is just as clueless on how to deal with it as this totally confusing 'pop-con' pic.
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