Director Ashwini Chaudhary feels the industry will swing healthy between bigness and rich content. By Asmita Sarkar
India has been hit by some of the worst scandals related to education and employment in the past decade. The Vyapam scandal and Bihar school examination cheating in 2016 were only a few that caught the attention of the national imagination. Every day there are multiple students and parents who are scammed by “setters” or agents who assure a seat in exchange of lakhs of rupees. National award winning writer-director Ashwini Chaudhary’s next film Setters, starring Aftab Shivdasani, Shreyas Talpade, and a large ensemble cast, based on true life events, will expose the networks that work behind the scenes in India.
“I was a journalist before coming into films. For a while I had been thinking of making a film about the education and employment scenario in our country. I met the people who were producing the film, Lovely Films, and they had done their research and had ideas about the subject. The chapters in the film are in public domain and its based on real life. They deal with both education and employment mafia across the country,” he said, keeping the particular cases under wraps since the film is still in the process of being made.
“It’s a socio-political film because of the subject. It concerns the people of the country and nothing is detached from politics. In that sense, we’re not trying to make a political statement but raise an issue, which concerns an entire generation like students who are appearing for competitive exams,” he said.
The film will try to be an eye-opener but the director believes that people are aware of the problem though it is brushed under the carpet because of how desperate lakhs of people for getting a government job or become a doctor or an engineer. “This subject has not been explored before on the screen. Students and parents are in touch with the mafia some way or the other. When we were students we also knew about them. Times have changed and technology has come in and their method of working has changed. While people know about the issue nobody has talked about it before the way we are trying to do. We're trying to expose the mafia and their modus operandi and their whole chain,” he said.
They met victims, who are students and parents, investigative agencies who are trying to track down such mafia, and the mafia as well, while doing research for the film. Surprisingly, coaching centres all fall into the ambit and the film will touch upon the role of these coaching centres in the chain of events. Shivdasani had added, “The biggest curse the country has been facing for the last two decades is commercialisation of education. Examinations have virtually become a multi-crore industry today. The malpractice has grown to gigantic proportions. While India needs to combat the prevailing malpractices in education system on its own, it will do no harm to glance around, observe as to how education has improved globally. India, too, like fellow educationally-advanced nations must put into practice the adage that investment in education pays the highest returns.”
Shreyas Talpade added, “Today the mafia has extended its tentacles everywhere. From establishing new universities, framing the curriculum to control examinations to pilfering with coaching systems and fudging grades, the mafia strikes at the very roots of talent creation. The burgeoning power of the mafia poses a petrifying threat to New India who have flooded the country with bogus doctors, illiterate teachers, crippled sanitation and a degraded environment. Unless the establishment is freed from its noxious grip by backing honest officials and eliminating the loopholes, the very soul of the nation will be endangered.”
Chaudhary believes that print media has been instrumental in exposing the mafia but nobody in the film space has explore this topic so far so as a director I found it exciting. The film will be a realistic thriller on the lines of Catch me if you can, according to the versatile director, who's also made lighthearted films like Jodi Breakers.
“These days content has become important and for filmmakers like us, who are not big in the perception of the industry, the set-up has been difficult lately. But in the last 4-5 years, the audience doesn’t care if there is not Salman or Shah Rukh, if the content excites them they will watch it. So we chose an ensemble cast with 18 interesting and fine actors,” he said. “Earlier, multiplexes in cities had engineered this push towards better content, but now good cinema in smaller cities is being equally appreciated," he said. "It's a good sign and shows the change in taste of the audience. Star-driven films will work in the future as well though but content driven cinema has carved out a space for itself and will continue to do so,” said the director.