“Don’t worry. Nothing can go wrong, okay?” When a character says that, you can expect that something will surely go wrong.
In the Netflix series Class, the Indian adaptation (by Ashim Ahluwalia, Raghav Kakkar and Kashyap Kapoor) of the Spanish series Elite (2018), a fine balance is not upset but shattered, when three new students gain a scholarship to Hampton International School.
The series begins with an investigation into a death. In flashbacks, a story unfolds from various points of view and gradually gets pieced together.
The incredibly privileged, spoilt and arrogant kids at “Delhi’s best school” are aghast that their elite environs are being polluted by the new, lower-class entrants.
After a fire destroys their school, Ahuja Builders help relocate the students to other educational institutes. Dheeraj Kumar Valmiki (Piyush Khati), Saba Manzoor (Madhyama Segal) and Balli Sehrawat (Cwaayal Singh) find themselves at Hampton, whose students live in farmhouses, arrive in chauffeur-driven supercars and suffer from first-world problems that revolve around intoxicants, debauchery, wealth acquisition and keeping up appearances. Ahuja’s own children, the troubled Suhani (Anjali Sivaraman) and heir apparent Veer (Zeyn Shaw), go to the same school.
Saba, Balli and Dheeraj find their own individual coping mechanisms. Saba impresses with her academic abilities and simplicity. Hustler Balli plays up his self-confidence and physicality. Dheeraj faces the greatest struggle as he quickly falls for the complex and damaged Suhani.
The lives of Koel Kalra (Naina Bhan), Sharan Gujral (Moses Koul), Yashika Mehta (Ayesha Kanga) and Dhruv Sanghvi (Chayan Chopra) see a churn when the designer borders of their insulated worlds become porous to these three teenagers.
The focus is largely on five families: Dheeraj and his alcoholic father and brother, the loose cannon Neeraj (Gurfateh Pirzada), the Ahujas, Saba and her brother Faruq (Chintan Rachchh) and their trauma-tinged history, the Kalras, who are business partners with Ahuja. and the Sanghvis, where Mrs Shanghvi is the rather inappropriate headmistress.
Class, culture and values collide in the school and have far-reaching effects when they crash into the dysfunctional private lives of the students and their families. Secrets come tumbling out of closets, friends become foes, jilted lovers become vengeful and violence is always just a hashtag away. Unforgiving social media and chat rooms add to the shame and fear pushes these teenagers to make even more questionable decisions.
The series avoids preaching or over-compensating on the side of the less privileged. One of the strengths of Class is that every character is flawed, each one’s values are shaky and the viewer cannot easily attach empathy to any group or individual.
Series director Ashim Ahluwalia creates an immersive world of haves and have-nots, of entrenched prejudices embedded in Indian culture – whether about community, class, caste or sexuality. The colour palette – glossy and cool for the wealthy homes, saturated and grittier for the less well-to-do spaces, along with the music, production design and cinematography work with the easy-breezy dialogue apposite to Gen-Z. Kudos to the sound design team, especially, for working in ambient sounds, background classroom chatter and party moods.
As complex as the children’s lives is, their parents and the Delhi policemen, who are investigating a murder that rocks Hampton International, are archetypes.
Kabir Mehta and Gul Dharmani direct the eight-episode series which, besides a repetition of Suhani’s flip flops and Koel’s kinks in episodes five and six, seamlessly adapts to a heady, vivid, often outrageous, Delhi milieu.
Full marks to the young actors at the forefront of this crime drama, who give their roles a truly lived-in feel, parts they hopefully will reprise in forthcoming seasons.