Why Cheat India Review: Emraan turns Robin Hood of the academic world!

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.

Why indeed?

This review was first published on rediff.com 

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Uri review: Personal or patriotism?

In the final few minutes of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda, Nana Patekar sneaks in Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit’s bedroom and indiscriminately opens fire. In retaliation, Kapoor’s furious older brother Jackie Shroff storms inside Nana’s house and burns him alive.

The same ‘Ghar Mein Ghus Ke Marega‘ sentiment of retribution drives Uri-The Surgical Strike, except the backdrop is military not mafia.

Director Aditya Dhar focuses on the events of September 2016 wherein 19 jawans lost their lives in a brazen terror attack on the Indian military town of Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting the Indian government to conduct a surgical strike on terrorist launchpads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

To make its tactical premise more personal (read filmi), Dhar weaves the operation around an undaunted, indestructible para commando Vihaan Singh Shergill (Vicky Kaushal).

Right at the onset, his gallantry is on full display, as he and his troops annihilate a large group of north east insurgents in a visually arresting ambush.

The golden light of blazing explosives plays off against the midnight blues and shadowy greens of army fatigues even as an atmosphere of urgency, unpredictability and disorder challenges their acute presence of mind.

What the kinetic set piece really establishes is that Shergill is an asset to the Indian armed forces whose request for premature retirement to tend to his Alzheimer-stricken mother (Swaroop Sampat) is denied with a desk job. Serve the country he must under all circumstances, because as the prime minister sagaciously explains, “Woh bhi maa hai.”

Shergill makes peace with his new job profile but the look of longing, as he watches his band of brothers (Mohit Raina pitching in as the dashing, daredevil brother-in-law) hit the field, suggests he’s feeling terribly left out. He spots the same disenchantment in Kirti Kulhari’s air force pilot.

Kaushal plays the sort of uncommunicative character who won’t let us inside his head yet demand we buy into his willful resolves at a moment’s notice. And the actor does a mighty good job of lending his pent-up turmoil heft and headstrongness, reserving rare shows of warmth for his mother, sister, niece and comrades.

There’s a slowly erupting quality to his manners whether he’s accusing the house nurse (Yami Gautam, earnest and underused) of espionage or ordering his unit to cast off their cell phones until the mission is accomplished. It’s a mild indication of the ferocity he’s capable of and unhesitatingly unleashes in scenes of torture and execution. All of which is cut loose after a family member is martyred in the aforementioned terror attack.

At once, Shergill announces his decision to lead the approaching surgical strike guaranteeing the task’s sure shot success as well his fellowmen’s safety. What ensues though is neither surprising nor stimulating.

If one half of Uri is a prelude to the strike, the other is a tedious game of Call of Duty.  In between the political face of Uri‘s soft propaganda throws up familiar faces in the form of actors bearing uncanny resemblances to then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval (Paresh Rawal) and, of course, PM Narendra Damodardas Modi (Rajit Kapoor’s Modi is more contemplative than grandstander) though the jingoism is not as excessive as the trailer brandished.

Rawal, Kapoor and a set of skillful supporting actors contain its tone, but the underlying message remains the same — offence is the best defence. To make sense of this aggression, Rawal cites an example of Munich‘s Operation Wrath of God.

Uri‘s ideals resonate with that of Parmanu‘s, both conveying the BJP-led government’s audacious, PR-friendly policies to reinforce India’s individuality over who cares what the US, UN think?

Movies, their motives and time of release make me wonder if we’ll ever be able to see India as India and not a reflection of its governments. 

Although Uri doesn’t go berserk bashing Pakistan like, say a Gadar, the enemy lines are drawn loud and clear, undoing all the good Raazi did.

Unko Kashmir chahiye, humko unka sarr,” screams Shergill to motivate his company. Across the border, an official sneers, “Actors and singers ban kar diye jayenge” at India’s tendency to boycott Pakistani entertainers and artists on such occasions. Suddenly, Rakesh Bedi shows up in an amusing cameo that belches as actively as it spouts Urdu, not too different from Chashme Buddoor‘s Omi all grown up yet still so sneaky.

Split into multiple chapters, Dhar’s storytelling aspires for the stylish, adrenalin-pumping space of Tony Scott/Michael Bay action movies high on men in uniform, nerd with a breakthrough gadget, bureaucratic power play, swooping choppers, high-scale spectacle and a snazzy background score (Shashwat Sachdev scores a winner).

In fits and starts, Uri achieves it too.

But this deadpan take on warfare is devoid of the elements of tension, personality and depth, making it superficial and soulless. A good deal of its 138 minutes is spent in planning a covert attack or ‘Uri ka badla‘ across jargon and technicalities that do little to keep the viewer interested. Nothing in Uri spells beyond a news report.

It’s absurd how all of its tribute to army folk boils down to mostly Kaushal’s bravado. The battalion trailing behind him has the significance of action figures. Barring his brief camaraderie around the BFF cum brother-in-law, Uri portrays Kaushal as some kind of superhero who single-handedly won the war. Revenge over personal loss is hardly patriotism. It’s just run-of-the-mill revenge.

Despite slick visuals and solid acting, Uri fails to make this distinction.

Rating: 2.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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I loved Kader Khan. I spoke Kader Khan.

Kader Khan did not just write catchy lines. He created a language immediately recognised by its metaphors and dramatic punch-lines.

When a man is as well versed in languages as he was and has experienced life’s many extremes as he had, eloquence is a natural response. And, beyond question, Kader Khan’s fluid expressions and witty rhythm evoked the deepest sighs and loudest laughs.

The impact was doubly good when he appeared on screen to mouth some of that wit or wisdom in his inimitable baritone that could growl or grovel as per a character’s requirement. It is a testament to Kader Khan’s incredible flexibility how easily he switched from businessman to beggar. He could be horribly intimidating, impossibly silly, achingly human and, sometimes, all at once. I was drawn to his magic and magnetism even when I didn’t know he was behind it.

Oblivious to his achievement as the dialogue writer of campus movies like Jawaani Diwani and Khel Khel Mein, I lapped up every bit of cheer and catchphrases he tossed my way through Satte Pe Satta‘s buck up slogan Chain Kulli Ki Main Kulli Ki Chain, the Kacha Paapad Pakka Pappad tongue twister in Yaarana or Sharaabi‘s Moochein Ho Toh Nathulalji Jaisi Ho Warna Na Ho fixation.

Listen carefully enough and you might hear Kader Khan booming in Amitach Bachchan’s voice. I know I did — years later — when I revisited the Big B’s emotional speech right before the poignant Muqaddar Ka Sikandar melody, O Saathi Re.

‘Footpath ki god thi, bhook aur gareebi ka saaya. Main tha, meri tanhayi thi. Thokre thi. Zamaane ki dudhkar thi. Logon ki gaaliyan thi. Aise main ek humdard mila. Usse meri haalat pe rahem aaya. Pyaar se usne mere sarr pe haath rakha. Main ro pada…’

The unmistakable heartache in those lines, harking back to memories of his own impoverished childhood, never fails to brings a lump in my throat.

When not giving Bachchan some of the most whistle-worthy dialogues of his career from Anthony Gonsalves to Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, Kader Khan got busy making his mark before the camera.

Back when the Kabul-born actor was still doing theatre, his towering confidence and oratory prowess caught Dilip Kumar’s eye, who recommended him for a small role in his under production Sagina and later, Bairaag.

A decade later, the star writer would return the favour by giving Yusufsaab some fiery patriotism to spout at Anupam Kher’s villainous Dr Dang during Karma‘s iconic slap scene: ‘Mujhe khushi hai tumhe Hindustani thappad ka andaaz ho gaya.’

My earliest memories of Kader Khan are in peripheral roles — Kamal Haasan’s long-lost daddy in Sanam Teri Kasam and Amjad Khan’s tickled driver in Yaarana. But it was his muhahaha-ing turn as the evil sorcerer Mantrik in Pataal Bhairavi, a remake of the superhit 1951 Telugu fantasy, that turned me into a fan for life.

His droll face is virtually unrecognisable under all that fierce facial hair as he fiddles with his beard, wields his staff, chants mumbo jumbo and cuts off his arm in one stroke to summon power-doling goddesses. Kader Khan has a blast balancing Mantrik’s ferocity and foolishness against an overwhelmingly garish setting. My fascination for Mantrik refuses to dismiss Pataal Bhairavi as guilty pleasure or childhood nostalgia. Truth be told, Mantrik Origins occupies top spot in the wish list of movies I’d love to see made.

Pataal Bhairavi is one of the many Jeetendra-Amjad Khan-Shakti Kapoor campy combo meals Kader Khan served up in the 1980s. Yet, the actor’s willingness to acknowledge the farce and play it up for laughs gave his comedy its goofy brand — the one thing that the remakes could never repeat nor recreate. Take Himmatwala and its no-holds-barred volubility for instance — ‘Mere ghamand ke sheeshe ko tod kar sachai ke aaine mein meri surat dikha di.’

The man turned wordplay into an art form. 

I didn’t always remember his dialogues verbatim but their essence and metric style, always so unique in its imagery and playfulness, stuck to me. I’d play my own private game of crunchy quips and comical barbs — the Kader Khanisms I’d call them — as an ode to the master insulter and hyperbolic philosopher.

Long before Chandler Bing used humour as a defence mechanism, there was Kader Khan’s henpecked husband in interchangeable family dramas like Biwi Ho Toh Aisi and Ghar Ho Toh Aisa.

There is nothing memorable about its outdated ideas of feminism any more, but are worth watching purely for Kader Khan’s Mr Bennet-like ripostes to bully Bindu’s ‘Secretary, Follow Me’ tyranny in one and breaking-the-fourth-wall antics to complain about grouchy Reeta Bhaduri in another. The latter reminds me of the legend’s wizardry in double roles.

Be it Ghar Ho Toh Aisa, where his Air India Maharaja-inspired avatar of the not-quite deceased daddy pops out of a photo frame to lecture his meek son on developing a spine, Main Khiladi Tu Anari‘s constable-commissioner twin brothers banter or Hum‘s comical confusion of chalk and cheese lookalikes to name a few, the actor ensured there was nothing identical about his portrayal.

His self-parodying, itchy-skinned stage actor in Hum is in complete contrast to the arrogant armyman and steals the scene every time he gives into the nagging irritation. How synonymous ‘khujli‘ is with this scene is something I would realise years later after I got married and my husband remarked, “Aye Kader” every time I scratched my humidity-accustomed Mumbaikar-going-mad-in-Delhi’s dry weather-skin in abandon.

Once Kader Khan graduated from sidekick and relinquished the meanie, his funny side was perennially up in a spate of David Dhawan entertainers pairing him as the worrying papa or penny-pincher father-in-law.

Aankhen, Coolie No 1, Judwaa, Mr and Mrs Khiladi, Raja Babu, Saajan Chale Sasural and Haseena Maan Jayegi owe a great deal of their spunk to the unrivalled Kader Khan touch. Of these, his chemistry with Govinda, of course, is most prolific and successful. Their impeccable comic timing and spirited reciprocity brought the house down in numerous comedies.

Dulhe Raja, though helmed by Harmesh Malhotra and not Dhawan, is my utmost favourite. The duo’s hilarious quarrel over their food business coupled with a pitch perfect Johnny Lever creates a new ‘misaal‘ in Bollywood comedy.

Having said that, my favourite moment between the two is a sweet scene from Hero No 1.

Govinda is a millionaire’s son masquerading as a domestic help at his ladylove’s home to win over her eccentric family. At midnight, there is a knock on the kitchen window. It is his father, Kader Khan, dressed up as a watchman holding a birthday cake for his darling son. After all, who understands ‘baap ki baapta‘ better than Kader Khan? A bashful smile accompanies the old man’s admission, ‘Teri bahut yaad aa rahi thi.’ ‘How sweet,’ chirps Govinda. As do you. And for those few seconds, the screen is filled with warm fuzzies, the kind you don’t expect in a movie whose song goes ‘Main tujhko bhaga laaya hoon tere ghar se tere baap ke darr se.

Kader Khan the clown often overshadowed the intensity and sentimentality powering his hard-hitting work in Angaar where he plays a fictional version of the underworld don Karim Lala. One look at him wolfing down cups and cups of heem cream befitting of his ‘Yam Hain Hum‘ entitlement in Taqdeerwala makes me wonder if that is such a bad thing.

I grew up on peak Kader Khan and avidly consumed his swaggering show of cunning and mockery, sarcasm and stupidity as he took centre stage in movies designed to showcase just that: Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri and Hum Hain Kamaal Ke.

As we entered the new millennium, tastes changed. And like all creative mediums, comedy too moved in a more real, terse direction. Kader Khan’s disability-of-the-day shenanigans in one of his final significant roles, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi act as a fond reminder of all the laughter he provided us in the decades before.

It is true he wasn’t celebrated and rewarded in the manner he deserved to. But the bravado in his words is mightier than the bitterness. I dare not feel bad for the man who once recommended ‘Sukh mein hanste ho toh dukh mein kehkahe lagao. Zindagi ka andaaz badal jayega.’

I loved Kader Khan. I spoke Kader Khan. I hope he can relish all the heem creem where he has left to regale next.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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