Soumik Sen’s drama starring Emraan Hashmi is a rough-at-the-edges but surprisingly perceptive look at the dysfunctional education system in India and the losing battle that millions of students fight to get on the right side of it. Through his unscrupulous, but resourceful protagonist, Sen gives us an insight into the middle class’s obsession with competitive exams as a means for a better life.
The film has one such middle-class student, Sattu (Snighdadeep Chatterjee), a meek student who has spent four years prepping for the all-important engineering entrance exam. His father, a lowly government clerk who has scrimped and saved to fund his son’s education, will not accept failure.
When Sattu passes with a good rank, there is nothing short of a carnival in the small locality where the family lives. Passing a national-level professional exam is not only a ticket to a better life but an achievement in itself. Sattu and his family are feted by the local politician, plied with gifts and made to feel like celebrities.
But for Rakesh Singh (Hashmi), boys like Sattu are merely tools to further his business interests. In a country where many people are looking to game the system, Rakesh runs a racket where he employs intelligent students and pays them to write proxy exams for others. Sattu gladly joins this money-making scheme, but soon gets sucked into a quagmire.
Set in the late 1990s, before social media and the mobile revolution in India, Sen captures the era well – the dreary lives, the aspirations, and the everyday struggles - but also veers away from his story at times. There are songs, a romantic track and a hectic second half that clouds the film’s main message.
But the positives outweigh the negatives. Hashmi is wonderful as Rakesh – measured and effective in a performance that could have gone either way. The film makes no attempt to hide his corrupt nature, but also gives him a chance at redemption by blaming his corruption as the product of a rotten system. Thankfully, Hashmi has the acting chops to pull it off. Debutant Shreya Dhanwanthary, who plays Sattu’s elder sister Nupur, is also wonderfully understated.
“Why Cheat India” might not be the definitive film on the flaws of the Indian education system, but it is effective enough to give audiences a jolt.
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