Netflix series Class dives deep into caste discrimination and privilege in the guise of a murder mystery
Netflix’s newest release Class is making noise on social media for all the right reasons. Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia and created by Ashim along with Gul Dharmani and Kabir Mehta, the eight-episode series is adapted from the hit Spanish Netflix series Elite, created by Carlos Montero and Darío Madrona.
The premise of the series is the same as Elite. Three students from a working-class background — Dheeraj Valmiki (Piyush Khati), Saba Manzoor (Madhyama Segal) and Balli Sehrawat (Cwaayal Singh) — are admitted to Hampton International, where the rich kids go, when their previous school is gutted in a fire. What follows is a clash between the privileged students and the new entrants, leading to a murder. Adapted for the Indian audience, Class is based in Delhi’s overpopulated bylanes and the luxurious bungalows, driving home the stark disparity in the socio-economic status of the rich and the poor. Here are the highlights from the series that could very well contend with the likes of Euphoria and Elite.
The murder mystery
At the heart of the story is the murder of one of the show’s lead characters. The first episode starts off with Dheeraj being accused of the murder of his classmate, with the events leading to the incident being reconstructed through flashbacks. What Class does well is at keeping the stakes high at all times as the police investigate the case and question the witnesses. The flashbacks show the three new students trying to find their feet in an elite school while their privileged peers make things difficult for them. The eighth and final episode shows the murder unfolding as the students attend the Founder’s Day function.
Friendships between the two stratas
Things are, however, not all bad for the three newbies Dheeraj, Saba and Balli as they start making friends. Suhani Ahuja (Anjali Sivaraman), the daughter of an influential businessman, is attracted to Dheeraj and the two become friends. Suhani’s brother Veer (Zeyn Shaw) also begins a friendship with Saba while Saba’s brother Faruq (Chintan Rachchh) becomes involved with another Hampton student, Dhruv (Chayan Chopra). Balli, on the other hand, gets involved in a relationship with two students simultaneously. Suhani also comes close to Dheeraj’s older Neeraj, who protests caste-based discrimination. While most of the friendships start off with an agenda, some bloom into close bonds while the others fall apart.
Class, caste and queerness
‘A dead Dalit is more valuable than an alive one’ is one of the many dialogues that doesn’t mince words to highlight the caste-based discrimination existing in educational institutions in India. Class lives up to its title and looks deep into the differences between the privileged and the poor. From the get-go, the three scholarship students are shown their place as the Hampton elites make fun of their accent, culture, upbringing and even their caste.
While completing an assignment, Suhani records Dheeraj’s father, who despite being an alcoholic, reminisces about how upper-caste people felt threatened when he and his wife named their kids Neeraj and Dheeraj, names usually associated with the upper castes. The recording, when shown at school, doesn’t lead to the students understanding caste discrimination; they take it a step further by attacking Dheeraj with casteist slurs. A major portion of the web series looks at caste discrimination through the rage of Neeraj, who is tired of being looked down upon and wants to take on the system. His revolutionary attitude lands him in jail instead.
On the other hand, Saba’s brother Faruq and another Hampton student Dhruv get into a relationship. When they are caught by the police, Dhruv pays off the cops to stop them from beating up Faruq and tries to make him believe that the situation for them is better in cities. The statement is far from the truth as Dhruv’s own parents brush aside his sexuality as a ‘phase’.
Saba Manzoor is a relief
A definite favourite, other than Balli’s six packs, has to be Saba Manzoor, played by the brilliant Madhyama Segal. There is a lot to unpack when it comes to Saba. A Kashmiri Muslim, Saba lies about her background from fear of being judged and targeted. Standing up against all odds, Saba keeps her integrity intact and seldom lets her guard down. Her only weakness turns out to be Veer, who develops a bond with Saba, which angers his girlfriend Yashika (Ayesha Kanga). The girls have another thing to compete about, the Hampton Gold, a scholarship that could change Saba’s life. Even though things don’t always go as planned, Saba holds her head high while finding her way into the world of the rich and privileged without getting sucked into their habits.