Setters Review: A choppy crime-comedy that fails on most fronts
Dull performances slow down Ashwini Chaudhary's film on the cheating mafia
Setters is a Neeraj Pandey movie directed by someone else (Ashwini Chaudhary), one that features Shreyas Talpade and Aftab Shivdasani in place of Akshay Kumar and Manoj Bajpayee. The film looks into the insidious exam-setting scam in the capital cities of Northern India. But unlike the Emraan Hashmi-starrer Why Cheat India — which preferred to go the slithery anti-hero way — this one settles for a more or less balanced approach, pitting cop against criminal while staying away from the doldrums of social commentary.
Director: Ashwini Chaudhary
Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Aftab Shivdasani
We begin with an elaborate heist sequence on the streets of Mumbai. Apurva (Shreyas) is a UP-born scamster who leaks public sector exam papers to willing customers. He has a litany of recruits under his thumb: working in teams, they break into closely-watched transport vehicles, copy questionnaires, sneak out unscathed, and scoot off on motorbikes to deliver the answer scripts in hand. This is Swiggy for the middle-class soul, a pricey gift card to white-collar eminence.
Apurva, we learn, works for Bhaiyaji (Pavan Malhotra, one of the most menacing screen actors we have), and is called back to Varanasi to lead a proxy racket for his boss. Closing in on their gang is honest copper Aditya (Aftab). More oddballs join the chase, on both sides, and Apurva eventually splits with Bhaiyaji. This creates a total of three final teams — police, gangster, and indie defector — as they hustle, scam, and manipulate their way to the finish.
Decent research has gone into the swindling scenes. A chicken farmer, played by Vijay Raaz, doubles as a finger-print forger. We check in with a portly tech-supplier (‘Bluetooth Baba’) who gimmicks pendants and rings with audio-visual connectivity. There is also some old school palm-greasing happening at every step. Yet the film never manages to thrill or engage, as dull performances further slow down a poorly-paced script. Shreyas, a Maharastrian, tries hard to work the Banarasi accent (he routinely ends sentences with an emphatic "Samjhe.."), while Aftab — making a comeback to Hindi films after three years — remains unchanged in his one-note South Bombay-ness.
As a crime comedy set in the North, there's an obvious Anurag Kashyap hangover plaguing this film: a second-half chase scene plays out in Dev D’s Paharganj, and the same hotel where Dev used to lodged is employed in a scene. Several Anurag Kashyap regulars — Jameel Khan, Pankaj Jha, Pavan Malhotra, Zeishan Quadri, Anil Charanjeet — appear in the film, but fail to lift it into something more grimy and fun.
The ending draws a chuckle, exposing the perviousness of Indian systems, which is not limited to test centres alone. Not that this film cares to comment, but perhaps we really need to examine the examiners. And watch the watchmen. Raftaar’s lyrics in the spunky Kartoontein propose as much: “Parishram karoon ya phir sajjan banun // gaali ek jann ko doon ya saare system ko doon...”