Emraan Hashmi
Emraan Hashmi

SHATTERING stereotypes may be a little easier than breaking a long-held image, especially
if you are a Hindi film actor. But Emraan Hashmi, who was once tagged as Bollywood’s
‘serial kisser’, has been making honest efforts to set himself free from that long-standing
image and venture into brand new territories.

Last seen in powerful international drama Tiger (2018), Emraan has now started picking up
roles, which utilise his acting calibre to the full and do not necessarily resort to skin-show or lip-locks to titillate the audience.

His latest release Cheat India exposes fraud in the education system and sees him star in a
never-seen-before avatar. Aside from playing the lead role, the versatile actor has also produced the Soumik Sen-directed film, which makes some eye-opening revelations.

Eastern Eye’s Mohnish Singh in Mumbai caught up with Emraan to talk about Cheat India
and what kind of changes he believes his film can make to the ailing education system of
the country. The actor spoke from the heart and was clearly passionate about the subject matter of Cheat India.

We see you in a completely different avatar in the superb trailer of Cheat India. What made you sign this film in the first place?

When the director (Soumik Sen) approached me with the script, I loved it and thought the
main issue it addresses is something, which needs to be brought to the forefront. I was extremely surprised at how the director and writer had handled such a relevant issue that everyone knows about. The director has made such a great and daring film around it. The film has commercial trappings also, like four songs and all the elements that made it a palatable Bollywood masala film. So, that was really heartening and I ended up doing this film.

You are not only the actor, but also turned producer for this project. What made you take this plunge?

I wanted to get into production from a long time. So, when I heard the script of this film, I
decided it should be my first film as a producer, because it had everything. I am very proud of it.

The Cheat India trailer is so mass-friendly and you seem to be at a totally different level in the film. Do you think the movie would fare really well at the box-office, keeping in mind the response the trailer has generated?

I am very happy with the response for the trailer. After 15 years of experience in the industry, I am talking like a wise man, but what really matters to me is the journey, not box-office numbers. The box-office numbers are important for producers and people who have invested in the film as they want some return on their revenue. But it is taking up a particular subject, a problem in our country with a no-holds-barred approach and tells everyone that this is how screwed up our system is; this is how middlemen are jacking up fees, and how flawed and regressive our education system is, that matters.

Tell us more.
As long as the issue is brought to the forefront and it becomes a conversation starter among people along with good entertainment, I am happy. I do not know about my performance and how people are going to react to it, but I did this film and I felt I’d never played a character like that before. So, I am very happy to get such a role.

We have seen many con films before, but Cheat India brings up something which we knew existed, but no filmmaker ever tried to make a film on it. Why, according to you, has everyone been shying away from this subject for so many years?

Because five years ago something like this would have not been made. They would have
felt it’s ‘arty’ in nature and would be unsure about investing in it. They would wonder since
there is no action in it or no sex despite Emraan Hashmi in it – who will watch the movie? These would be the main concerns. But I think in the past four years things have changed drastically. Films, which were considered arty back then are commercial films now. They have become commercially viable. It is great to see more filmmakers coming forward and making movies like this.

It is an important subject.

This issue is something which affects students, parents, future parents, education faculties, our schools and ministers. Everyone is somewhere touched by this. It is very important that this issue is highlighted. There are a lot of students and parents who do not know scams like this exist in our education system. So through this film, people will get to know the reality. I am happy that finally the matter is coming to the forefront. Better late than never.

Were you aware of these scams and cheating rackets in the education system before the script was brought to you?

Yes, since my school days. Not about cheating rackets per say, but about leaks. Exam paper leaks have happened in my class too. When it happened, a lot of students had bought the leaked question papers. Even I tried to push my father to buy it and was slapped on my face, (laughs). He just slapped me, but did not shout at me. There were 15-20 students from my class who had bought the paper a day before the exam. But it was the wrong paper.

What happened?

All students were crying in the class as they had not prepared for the examination at all. Some middleman messed with them. So it was back then when I came to know about all this. But now this has become so common. We get to hear about so many paper-leaks these days. Every state has had the problem of student impersonation, proxy examiners, paper-leaks and all kinds of job placements that have been fudged. Teachers’ appointment letters have been manipulated. Ours is a fractured education system.

Do you think your film is going to create some sort of awareness among students and parents about these issues, which are ailing the Indian education system?

You are very optimistic to say that, but things are not going to improve overnight. Even after making a real hue and cry, have the roads in Mumbai improved? No, right? It has been happening for years. We are just reiterating things, which have been said many times before. Having said that, I hope things change soon. This movie puts a stamp on what happens. We have shown you in two hours, not in detail tough, but yes, we have touched pretty much everything that happens in our education system.

Cheat India seems to be a hard-hitting, message- driven film. So, can we say you are driving your focus towards such kind of movies now?

I love these kind of films. I love movies that are entertaining as well as bring a message to society. I do not say I won’t explore other genres. Even with other genres, I will still do things my way. I cannot do a typical masala film. If it is an action film, it has to be a different kind. I cannot do action when one guy is hitting, 10 others are flying in the air. I will probably do other types of films side by side, but yes, I love doing message-driven films. They entertain you and at the same time, they make you think what is going on around.