Cast: Aftab Shivdasani, Shreyas Talpade, Pavan Malohotra, Vijay Raaz
Director: Ashwini Chaudhary
Present day India may be ostensibly “shining” and “prospering”, but It would be compete ignorance on our part to turn a blind eye to the complex and broken education system that helps us produce fewer brilliant students in our country. This was the subject of a film Why Cheat India that we saw just a couple of months back in which a sly con man takes full advantage of a faulty academic world where only the smartest survive. This week, Ashwini Chaudhary’s Setters has a similar theme, but focuses more on a cat-and-mouse game between law enforcers and law breakers.
Chaudhary sets the film in Varanasi and other cities like Jaipur as well as in Delhi and Mumbai to lead us into the grave complexity of such an evil that is more evident only when one looks at it closely. Hence, from rigging examinations to forging certificates, the nexus between goondas, cops and even political leaders is a smooth operation that exploits the failings of an education system fraught with problems. It also tells us how easy it is to find paid proxies, or lay one’s hand on leaked question papers that are solved by experts and sent across to the students appearing for the exams at the centres.
Apoorva Choudhary (Shreyas Talpade) is the driving force behind a gang that specialises in aiding and helping students clear the Railways entrance exam question paper with the help of toppers from the earlier years who solve the papers for them. For the men controlling and masterminding the game, the crime works well with the modus operandi — a foolproof system that helps them do anything and everything to justify the loads of money they earn from the parents of candidates appearing for entrance examinations to medicine, engineering or banking. Spread across various locations in the city, this deceitful system has several men to ensure that there are no glitches and hindrances coming in the way. Apoorva, being most dependable, is his boss Bhaiyyaji’s (Pavan Malhotra) favourite, and has all the makings of the next leader to make way for Bhaiyyaji, who nurtures political ambitions.
But all is not so effortlessly smooth and unproblematic: The superintendent of police, Aditya Singh (Aftab Shivdasani), who happens to be Apoorva’s school friend heads a special investigation team on a mission to crack the mystery of the exam fixing that everyone seems to be aware of but doesn’t know how to catch the perpetrators of the crime red handed. Things begin to be slightly lopsided in Singh’s favour as three of his lieutenants — Abdul Karim Ansari (Jameel Khan), Diwankar Mani (Anil Charanjeett) and Isha Shastri (Sonnalli Seygall) are roped in to solve the menace. Of course, the wily and the wicked are always smarter and every clever move that the quartet comprising cops make is gets the response of an equally shrewd counter.
A thriller that moves from one city to another, Setters is a term that possibly every Indian — particularly North Indians — would be able to identify with. While crimes of a certain kind that befit the socio-cultural and economic backdrop and placing are comprehended by all those belonging to that particular class, for the Northerners, the word “setting” would instantly ring a bell to denote, “fixing”, “brokering”, “mediating”, “connecting”, “interceding” and such negotiating middlemen. When the crime gang arranges brilliant students in place of weak students to appear in the examinations, the racket unearths the job of several others too who willy-nilly become embroiled in a neat network of enablers that also supply hi-tech gadgets and swish devices to guarantee an uncomplicated chain of facilitators.
Setters lovingly portrays this exciting and harrowing era of young ambitious small-towners who would rather confront the challenges of a fiercely competitive market with an easy way out — pay the swindler who exchanges huge loads of cash but warrants a sure fire entry into professional colleges. And it doesn’t bother them even if they have to navigate a world of risk for money seems to have the power to buy anything.
Despite exposing the clear interconnection between the powers that be and the authorities in colleges and institutions, the plight of the vulnerable lot of students is not dealt with — something that the earlier film focused on. Not that one gets to see yet another side to the issue — instead, as the film progresses it gets messier with poor writing and the unexplained motives of the lead role-players.
But that doesn’t make it any better. The film never becomes the thriller it is set out to be, and uses many characters and situations that merely come and go without giving us an insight into their real motives. Malhotra, who is a fine actor, is shown to be a devout bhakt and engineers the operation, seems to be clueless about whether to ape Marlon Brando or our Amrish Puri. With some great performances to his credit in the past, it would have helped him had he been his own self. Shivdasani is simply boring. Some good actors like Vijay Raaz, Manu Rishi, Jameel Khan and Anil Charanjeett try their best to breathe life into some bad writing, but with no proper graph to propel the story forward, their roles suffer too.
Wish there was more to the story or its writing that would have made the 125 minute film worth the time and effort!