Emraan Hashmi’s Why Cheat India, directed by Soumik Sen, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 3 women, is a well-written drama that deftly illustrates the rot that is the dominant feature of India’s problematic education system.
It’s surprising that a movie set around the commercialisation of education, a phenomenon every Indian student has been a victim of, took this long to be made. Moving around at a frenetic pace, Why Cheat India is largely well-performed, captures the milieu of small-town India with precision, and has a neat plot twist to keep the viewer consistently engaged.
Emraan Hashmi plays Rakesh Singh, or Rocky, a street-smart smooth-talker who preys on financially well-off engineering aspirants who lack intellectual prowess to crack the all-important IITs but can buy their way in. Rocky is that shady guy outside the college campus who arranges for a smart proxy to sit for the entrance exams instead of the original candidate, thereby getting them a seat without them having to take one in the examination hall.
A small fry in the education mafia, his racket works smoothly as every administrative or legal hustle is taken care of monetarily. There’s nobody immune to bribery in India, or so the movie would like you to believe. The film also has some solid punchlines, delivered by an array of interestingly-cast actors. The humour is so authentic and contextual, it sums up a certain section of Tier 2 India with ease, sucking the viewer into a world that’s familiar in a realistic way.
What makes Why Cheat India an extremely effective film is the way it exposes the embarrassingly easy ways to bribe your way into top institutions. Far from taking a moral high-ground, the film looks at the corruption epidemic within the educational system through the morally dubious lens of someone who’s been a victim but has converted his victimhood into a business model.
It gives fascinating insights into how those who run the racket justify their decisions by rationalising their warped worldview. For example, Hashmi is clear that all he could have possible done in a regular salaried job is lead a hand-to-mouth existence and perhaps buy a ‘television set’ with his ‘Diwali bonus.’ That’s not all he wants. He’s unapologetic about his greed and ambition and, like all good-bad-guys, blames the system for making him a white-collar criminal. In his head, he’s hitting back at a system that has reduced the tools of gauging intellectual competency to mere grades.
Emraan Hashmi owns this role, playing the character, what one would, in local slang call jugaadu, as if he was born to.
The actor, who’s mastered the anti-hero roles through several of his movies, is in his element here and adds so much swag and charm to his character, you almost fall for his dark rhetoric, fraudulent ideas, and dubious motivations. Part of the performance’s appeal lies in Hashmi’s mischievous persona and the effortless manner in which he’s able to exude a brazen sense of confidence.
However, despite a tightly written script that moves along crisply, Why Cheat India falls victim to the ‘add-a-love-story-syndrome’, an entirely unnecessary subplot, which could’ve been minimised, if not entirely avoided. While the narrative largely brims with a sense of urgency, the love story, between Hashmi and Shreya Dhanwanthary, slows down the pace, and the film oddly goes off into Vishesh Films territory, with songs reminiscent of tacky movies of 90s Bollywood. The background score could’ve been toned down by a decibel or two as well.
It’s baffling that producers Tanuj Garg and Atul Kasbekar would feel the pressure to incorporate a romantic track in a film that can do without one. Sure, there’s a payoff in the end, but the treatment of the love story feels more like a decision made to tick off a commercial box than an authentic creative choice.
It also appears that the film kind of goes off the rails in its final act, with Hashmi giving a preachy speech about how messed up the system is, as his defence. The makers try their best to preempt the audience’s “oh don’t get emo man” reaction by projecting this on the public prosecutor, but it just doesn’t work.
Barring this and certain logical loopholes, Why Cheat India does a decent job in exposing not only a systemic failure but also a hardened mindset that doesn’t see a problem in its own dehumanising tendencies.
It’s a middle-class, Indian mindset which is so badly conditioned to view engineering and medical vocations as an escape from a certain way of life that in the bargain, it forgets to value life itself.