Why Cheat India, the makers tell us, is a hybrid of fact and fiction. This blend – maybe we should call it faction – seems to have become Bollywood’s favourite genre. Think of Uri, Padman, Sanju, Raazi, Raid and so many others. These films want both – the authenticity and heft of fact with the dramatic possibilities of fiction. It’s tough to do and many directors topple. In Why Cheat India, Soumik Sen manages to stay standing for some time. Subtlety is not his strength but in his own, heavy-handed way, Soumik creates a reasonably engaging first hour.  Ultimately however, he can’t resist the lure of full-blown, blaring background music, suspense via split screens and giving his star Emraan Hashmi a speech from the pulpit about how the system forces him to be corrupt.  Throughout, Emraan, who is also co-producer, maintains his signature look – you know that slightly smug, satisfied expression of a player who is basically a good man doing bad things.

Sab maya hai sabne khaaya hai is Rakesh Singh’s justification for the cheating network that he sets up across the country. Rocky, as he likes to call himself, is a failed medical student who becomes the Robin Hood of India’s horrific coaching class culture – he gets dumb rich kids to pay smart poor kids money to sit for entrance exams for them.  It’s a win-win for everyone. Soumik, who also wrote the screenplay, sets up nicely the workings of the soul-crushing education factory in small-town India – Kota, the capital of coaching classes, frantic parents who take loans to put their kids through these classes, the anxious children who memorize textbooks and occasionally slit their wrists or hang from the ceiling fan. In this grinder, Rocky isn’t a bad guy but a saviour.

The scam itself is so simplistic and yet so confusing that I lost track of what was going on – sex workers, drugs, goons, guns, random romantic ballads – it’s all there

The narrative moves briskly, the characters are engaging and the dialogue, by Juhi Saklani, Mishkka Shekhawat and Soumik, is designed to deliver punches. So Rocky tells his star cheater Sattu, akalmand toh tum ho nakalman ban sakte ho ki nahi? And my favorite: mujhe hero banne ki koi iccha nahi hai, villain banne ka bilkul time nahin hai. Khiladi hoon khel raha hoon. Sattu’s wide-eyed innocence also keeps us emotionally hooked. Snigdhadeep Chatterjee nails the small town sweetness. Soumik gets the details right – the overbearing father, the grandma in the courtyard, the affectionate sister who dreams of more. Watch out for Rocky’s cheerfully foolish sidekick Bablu, played by Manuj Sharma. He’s fun.

And then, the film shifts track to Mumbai and multi-crore MBA scams. Characters are walking in swanky corridors in slow motion. Rocky gets a Mercedes. Sattu’s sister Nupur, played by Shreya Dhanwanthary, who had a lovely, unassuming presence in the first half, reappears as a slick city girl. And of course we get the required Emraan Hashmi kissing scene. This shift is bumpy and frankly, boring. At one point, Rocky even gives us the great Gordon Gekko line from Wall Street: Greed is Good. The scam itself is so simplistic and yet so confusing that I lost track of what was going on – sex workers, drugs, goons, guns, random romantic ballads – it’s all there.

Why Cheat India can’t decide if Rocky is a hero or villain. I don’t have a problem with that. What’s harder to take is the inconsistent tonality and the convoluted second act. Every time you think the film has reached a climax, Soumik tacks on another end. Because Why Cheat India wants to both celebrate and punish Rocky. But that, like the hybrid of fact and fiction, needed far more imagination and audacity. I’m going with two and a half stars.

Rating:   star
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