Sanjiv Jaiswal’s Pranaam fatuously claims in its opening credits to be a tribute to classic Indian films. Instead, the 119-minute movie turns out to be a rehash of the worst of the 1980s and the ’90s.

We are back in Uttar Pradesh, depicted as nearly always as a land of corruption and criminality. Abhimanyu Singh is Gyanu, the lynchpin of a gang that leaks examination papers. When an honest administrator (Vikram Gokhale) is brought in to set matters right, there are casualties, including Indian Administrative Service aspirant Ajay (Rajeev Khandelwal) and his girlfriend, Manjari (Sameksha).

Ajay is the only son of a peon (SM Zaheer) who has spent a lifetime saluting government officials. Ajay is bright enough to crack the civil service examination, but loses his way after he gets embroiled with Gyanu and Gyanu’s political bosses.

Atul Kulkarni shows up as Rajpal, a grubby-handed police officer who plays the situation to his advantage. Kulkarni is a gifted actor who hasn’t had a decent role in a while. His Rajpal briefly enlivens the scene with his tendency to make gnomic pronouncements about the ways of the world.

Pranaam doffs its hat to Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva from 1989, among other films, but quite never finds its own voice. Nearly every moment is familiar from countless movies about corruption in educational institutions, the police force, and politics. Rajeev Khandelwal, the television actor and anchor who hasn’t succeeded yet in charming the big screen, is far too old to play a college student and never convincing as the idealist who swaps his textbooks for guns. The amateurish staging and tacky melodrama ensure that Pranaam ends up without anything resembling a high score, let alone grace marks.

Pranaam (2019).