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Setters Is About Waylaid Go-getters




Starring  Aftab Shidasani, Shreyas Talpade,Pavan malhotra,  Vijay Raaz

Directed  by Ashwini  Chaudhary

Rating: *** ½(3 and a half stars)

Welcome  to  the  murky world  of academic fixers. If you are not an Indian and reading this, then let me  quickly tell you  North India has a tradition of proxy examinees.Bright doppelgangers who  fill in for not so-bright examinees at examinations, answer their  papers and go home with some tidy money.

We saw a far less in-your-face film recently Cheat India about imposter  examinees. In Setters director   Ashwini  Chaudhary goes  the  other way. He  abandons  the subtle strain, grabs the theme by its shoulders and shakes it  violently.

Setters  is designed like  an Oceans 11  kind of caper where  the stakes are  not just a heist  idea, but the education system  of  India. AftabShivdasani, seen  after quite a while, furnishes his cop’s act with a  uniformed   gravity. ShreyasTalpade , looking like  a cross between  a lost child and lust prop,  is  Shivdasani’s former  colleague (who once had a thing for Shivdasani’s wife, we are told) now running  a booming  examination racket for a certain Bhaiyaji(PavanMalhotra, menacing and in-control)  in  Varanasi.

Does  all this  sound confusing? It is!  But it also whips the  curtain  off the entire  sheen of civility that  the  holy city of Varanasi  wears  like  a cocky cloak.

 This, then,  is  Martin Scorcese’s The Departedon a different trip. The screenplay(by Ashwini Chaudhary, Vikas Manui)  bustles  with characters bursting at the seams  with an  unharnessed  energy. The  sense of   misguided zeal is never  lost on the plot. However  the  powerful array of actors  like Vijay Raaz (as achikhan weaver making  false thumb prints for examinees’ fingerprint examination) and Jameel Khan (as a prison menace  out to  nab  the ‘setters’  with his own brand of  contumacious  lawlessness)  are  never quite sure where the  plot is taking them.

The  storytelling  suffers  from a surfeit  of rudderless adrenaline. The powerful strokes in the storytelling are lost in  the  willful surrender to  a universal chaos  . There are  too many characters  lurking  in the plot from various  corners  . They seem  to know they are planted  in  the  plot  with the larger  purpose of cracking open the scourge  of  unscrupulous practices in  the Indian education system. The realization doesn’t assuage the  sense of a broken promise.

Setters makes  the  near-fatal  mistake  of treating the  crass  culture of   proxy examinees as an organized crime,  which it is not. That apart,such substitution  by  imposter examinees  is  far too  anarchically  portrayed  to  follow ground rules.Rather  than  move in a cohesive pattern  this  film presents  us with a string of episodes where we are left to judge  the illicit trade  of  a sold-out education  system  for what it is.

In parts, though, Setters  exudes  a powerful  force that  doesn’t quite  exert itself  throughout the film. A sequence where  a member of AftabShivdasani’s  squad(Jameel Khan) threatens Bhaiji by saying  he would like to crush him where his  passion for both men and women  would  be crushed, is  so uniquely strong, you wish the rest  of  the dialogues and  situations   in the script didn’t let down  the film’s  gutsy intentions to expose malafide practices in the academic world.

 There  is a eunuch-like  character  in the film who  doesn’t utter a word, only serves paan(and  a lot else,  it is  suggested)  to  Bhaijji. The  emasculated citizen’s  smothered scream could be seen as a  befitting metaphor  of  the common man’s failure to stand  up  for what he feels to be right.

But then  again, this could be  a wildly  profound reading  of a film that wants  to  be mischievous  enough to be India’s Oceans 11.It succeeds  in being that, and then some more.

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