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A Robin Hood For These Times

Saturday, January 19, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Why Cheat India
Director:
Soumik Sen
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Shreya Dhanwantary, Snigdhadeep Chatterjee and others
Rating: * * 1/2

Why Cheat India starts with a quote from American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “When students cheat on exams it's because our school system values grades more than students value learning.”

This is the crux of India’s education system that Soumik Sen’s film attempts to highlight, but what it ends up saying is that a man who uses his sharp mind to subvert it, but not to fight it, is a modern-day Robin Hood; he takes from rich engineering or medical college aspirants and gives to bright but poor kids for writing their papers for them.

The sad fact also is that with reservations, capitation fee, indifferent teachers and hopelessly outdated rote-leaning methods and other hurdles in the way of a student, any parent with money would hire a crook like Rakesh Singh (Emraan Hashmi) to get their kid into a coveted professional college by any means; to widen the chances for a bright kid and even more if he was a duffer. For most of middle class, small town India, the aspirations for a better life are pinned on the son, while the daughter is just a dowry burden.

Rakesh or “Rocky bhaiya” as admiring young men call him, failed at the entrance exams himself, much to the disgust of his father, but had the guts and smarts to set up huge education scam. There are obliging cops and ministers on his payroll to get him out of jams. He knows everything about everyone, what emotional key will open what potential asset, and, as he says quoting a distant Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good.” One of his recruits is Sattu (Snigdhadeep Chatterjee), who passed the engineering entrance exam by swotting non-stop, and sees the value in making big bucks before he graduates by impersonating other students. His story ends badly, not because it should have, but because of the director.

The film, starts in grungy UP towns in the 1990s and comes up to present-day Mumbai, where, Rocky expands his racket to the much-in-demand MBA courses, and meets up again with Sattu’s sister Nupur (Shreya Dhanwanthary), who managed to make to a career in Mumbai on her own, 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.

Emraan Hashmi (also co-producer) is right in his comfort zone as the canny crook; he gives Rocky a lot of swag and just a hint of melancholy to temper the wickedness. The unevenly written and choppily edited film, that actually wants to make a hero out of Rocky, could have done without that phony moralistic high ground; it could have probably been more honest and watchable as an irreverent satire. The problems with India’s education system are far deeper that what Why Cheat India can even get at. The extent of the rot is conveyed through a list of statistics at the end of the film, but the plot itself is merrily cynical, with the attitude that everybody is corrupt if the price is right. And our society seems to admire the enterprising cheat more that his (or her) victim. Therein lies the great Indian tragedy.

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