Every time you remake or adapt an original, the pressure isn’t just about doing justice to the first, but also about convincing the audience that this adaptation is worth a watch, despite knowing the plot lines and twists from the original. Those who have watched Elite on Netflix, the Spanish drama about the rich eating the poor, are already aware of the background of Class. Ashim Ahluwalia’s Indian rendition is far more layered and refined in that context. It dives deep into the socio-economic differences between the two worlds that go beyond their pin codes. In India, the two contrasting worlds showcased aren’t exactly black and white, it’s the grey where you can find the grime. Weaving subjects like caste, religion and communalism in a storyline like this almost fit naturally, because it, unfortunately, mirrors the current state of the society which is ironically supposed to be modern and evolved. What makes the punch in the gut even more powerful is the lack of sugarcoating with which these topics have been approached. While the plot of Class is identical to that of its international version, it’s the individual stories of the characters and their arcs that make it intriguing and interesting. For those who haven’t watched either, this a story of 3 misfits who enter a school way above their parents’ pay grade and how it makes them pay eventually—Let’s unpack!
Class Act By The Cast
The first and the most pivotal step towards making Class was getting an ensemble cast that could deliver the same bold performance the OG series was known for—casting director Panchami Ghavri certainly delivered. Gufateh Pirzada as Neeraj Kumar Valmiki is raw, edgy, flawed yet vulnerable. He wears his identity as a Dalit man with pride while trying to beat the system at its own game. This is much unlike his younger brother Dheeraj Kumar Valmiki, (Piyush Khati) who is torn between his reality and aspiration for a different life. Suhani, the rich-but-tormented heiress portrayed by Anjali Sivaraman is the complicated link between the two brothers, who further entangles their lives. Her performance as someone who is struggling with mental health issues while trapped in a difficult battle with substance abuse is convincing. Her brother on the flip side is a complete contradiction—Veer Ahuja played by Zeyn Shaw is bad, boisterous and a representation of all things that can go wrong with power and privilege. Veer is obnoxious about his wealth and doesn’t even care to create a facade that would make him appear as if he cares—this is until he meets Saba Manzoor, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who eventually becomes his moral compass for identifying what’s right (Madhyama Segal).
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Pulling his strings from the other end is his girlfriend Yahsika Mehta, the 2023 version of Blair Waldorf but even more tone-deaf. Yashika, the former daddy’s princess struggling to clutch her pearls played by Ayesha Kanga is the perfect example of the disconnection between real and reel. Then comes the complicated and toxic trio of Koel Kalra (Naina Bhan) the Queen-B, Balli Sehrawat (Cwayaal Singh) the desperate prince and Sharan Gurjral (Moses Koul) the lost puppet. It’s their sexual games and unhinged manipulation that further engage the viewer in the drama. Amidst these dangerously wicked characters, a sweet love story between Dhruv Sanghvi (Chayan Chopra) and Faruq Manzoor (Chintan Rach) blooms in an almost hopeless place. To credit them some more, none of these actors come with influential last names or big projects to validate their talent and yet their performances were earnest enough to keep the viewers engaged.
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Big Bold And Bigot
The bullies and mean girls of the show don’t hold back when it comes to referencing people from the lower castes and minority religions as sewage cleaners and terrorists—but even the characters that are supposedly woke and empathetic, romanticise poverty. In a scene where Suhani goes to Dheeraj’s house for an assignment and describes his almost-in-shambles abode as, “a sick mood” shows how far from reality she is. In another instance, she thinks telling him that his classmates hate him because he is poor and not because of his caste identity, makes her even worse than the kids who are openly fowl-mouthed. Throughout the 8 episodes, the makers of Class have tried to incorporate issues that we are otherwise expected to be hush about. Whether it’s drawing a parallel between the conditions of Palestine and Kashmir or how easy it is to frame people already riddled by the problems of caste, irrespective of their involvement in a crime.
One may think that bigotry is brewed in places where there’s a lack of education but Class makes a clever point about how the real prejudice is rooted in the ivory towers. Yashika in a scene rightly admits that for the rich, the problems of the poor and marginalised are mere trending hashtags and nothing really invades their entitled bubble. The poor are constantly reminded of their identity, thinly veiled threats to stay within the lines drawn for them —while the rich conveniently remain unfazed by it all. Even when it comes to highlighting the stigma around homosexuality—the treatment received by people of different classes and religions is completely polarising. When Dhruv and Faruq are caught in the act by the cops, one is left off the hook with a warning and a slap and the other is beaten to a pulp—no prize for guessing who is who.
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Two of the female protagonists are reeling from two very different addictions in the show. Suhani, a troubled teenager burdened under family pressure is constantly seen leaning on unprescribed medications. Yashika, another girl neglected by her family is seen building a falsely-scary image on social media. Even after a mental breakdown, she is seen smiling and posing in front of the camera in the next minute, unmasking the dark reality of what we see and what we perceive. Dhruv is constantly found looking for an escape in marijuana, the weight of his family’s expectations sitting heavy on him. The show sheds light on how parental trauma can aggravate identity crises for children, especially in the homes of the wealthy. Body image issues, confused sexual identities, anxiety, depression and trauma have been traced as the triggering reasons behind the provocative personalities of these kids, giving the viewers more than just a few brats on the block.
Overall, Class is riveting, relevant and refreshing in terms of execution and performance. Although Elite did lose its plot post-season 2, it will be interesting to see if this Indian adaptation takes a life of its own in terms of stories and twist. As for the multiple relation(ships) we’re definitely rooting for Saba-Veer and Faruq-Dhruv to be endgame, unlike the original.
For more on what to watch next, tap here.