'A jumbo mess of warped notions and random ambition, Why Cheat India trivialises education and shows sympathy for deceit,' says Sukanya Verma.
Emraan Hashmi has the gift of the gab. He has made a career out of playing crooked characters and unapologetically defending their lack of ethics in a manner so persuasive you won't notice the glibness until you start thinking about it.
Why Cheat India milks this attribute to make him look like some kind of modern-day Robin Hood of the academic world.
Quite apt too considering Soumik Sen's feebly directed commentary on academic frauds is not so much an exploration as it is a justification for all that is corrupting India's faulty education system that opens with this 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'.
Although I seriously doubt if Tyson would agree forging degrees is the right way to go about reducing the intense pressure on students to perform or address the problematic nature of parental ambitions.
Why Cheat India cosmetically points out what is wrong with the system in its early few scenes set in late 1990s Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh.
A teenager (an earnest, anxious Singdhadeep Chatterjee) hailing from a modest, standard small-town background -- where the guy must top and girl (a compelling Shreya Dhanwanthary) must marry -- sits for an engineering entrance exam in a classroom full of hopefuls desperate to succeed as the camera captures their superstitious faith in religion and rings.
Being treated like livestock reared for a purpose they may not necessarily seek is a sad state to be. And all those woeful statistics Why Cheat India cites at its end attest it is the fate met by an overwhelming percentage of young men and women in the country. Not to say this haphazard film gives any insight of their stress, shame or surrender.
Instead, you have a bunch of needy nerds lured into unethical tactics for big bucks by an 'akalamand se nakalmand' peddling scamster Rocky (Hashmi) whose nine-to-five officergoer attire betrays his typical hero, baddie bashing instincts.
Drugs and decadence are flimsily tossed side effects of its inconsistent narrative that travels all across UP to indicate the extent of Rocky's network.
When not smugly propagating how poor, brilliant minds making money out of rich chumps is social service or directing snark at one of the nation's most hallowed institutions, Why Cheat India wanders off to introduce Hashmi's cinematic staples -- a complicated love life, an imminent lip lock and lilting melodies. Director Soumik Sen throws in some daddy issues for variation.
Most of it serves no purpose. If anything, it just makes the terribly choppy editing all the more conspicuous. Ditto for the tonal shifts, which jump from Ashutosh Gowarikar to Abbas Mustan without a moment's notice.
In smarter fare, the climatic twist might actually work, but in this bumbling, digressive mishmash, it is plain gimmick.
There are some bright spots. The actors are spunky. The milieu feels authentic. But the script is all over the place and lacks nuance or coherence to balance its problems with its purpose and air any real grievance.
There is neither poignancy nor humour to the proceedings to distinguish it as a study or satire.
A jumbo mess of warped notions and random ambition, Why Cheat India trivialises education and shows sympathy for deceit.