Hindi movies often mix up class and caste, which is a more complicated issue that is mostly unique to Indian culture.
Ashim Ahluwalia’s version of the Netflix original Spanish show Elite is called Class, which is a good name for it because it’s about class wars on a school campus, like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). But since it’s 2023, more than 30 years later, it’s the Netflix version of Mansoor Khan’s cult classic.
So, that movie goes from being sweet to being edgy. Xavier School, which was a convent, becomes Hampton International, a world-class campus with a rich board of directors. “Pehla Nasha” turns into “Pehla Orgasm,” and a figure of Pooja Bedi lifts her skirt for a totally different reason.
I’m not upset as long as I can chew on a new idea that has grown. Class could have become a definitive cult classic for Gen-Z because it has good actors, relatable characters, and a keen eye for going beyond the obvious.
However, it relies too much on the Netflix algorithm or the check boxes of inclusivity to be able to make its own voice heard.
The thing that stands out the most is the main point it’s trying to make. Is the show really about class warfare or the struggle of Gen-Z to find themselves? It makes sense that all the characters are dealing with the same problems and have the same bad habits.
But to say that people from different classes all face the same problems is to miss the point that the movie was trying to make and build on. The show is a non-linear whodunit, but it tries so hard to hide who did it that it loses sight of the point it was trying to make.
If the plan was always to blur the lines between the two classes, it should have been tried from the start.
For example, why are there a Dalit and a Kashmiri Muslim among the three scholarship students at an elite school?
Couldn’t we have been more open-minded and had a rich Muslim and an OBC tycoon to even things out?
The problem again comes down to the artist bending to the platform: check a few boxes about representation, add sex and drugs, kill someone, and end each episode with a cliffhanger.
Sure, a platform like Netflix lets people in India watch things that mainstream Hindi cinema has largely kept hidden or avoided up until now. But to use the same platform to swear by a different method is kind of counterproductive.
Still, the formula works well when Ahluwalia’s finer touches are added. The show is very easy to watch all at once, features new actors with a lot of potential, and touches on issues that are both important now and will always be.
It asks if a Delhi ka ameer launda (yes, one of those “tu janta nahi mera baap kaun hai” types) is more independent than a Muslim girl who wears a hijab and isn’t allowed to mix with people outside of her religion because she comes from a patriarchal family.
It also asks how long it takes for a spoiled brat to rise above his upbringing. In one scene, he protects a Kashmiri Muslim girl who looks like his sister, and in the next, he uses a hockey stick to beat up his sister’s Dalit boyfriend.
But its view on sexuality is its most interesting part. A student from a “lower class” becomes the most irresistible, drool-worthy thing on campus because of his sculpted body, cocky charm, success on TikTok, and, most importantly, because he’s different from the “ameer baap ke ladke.” He is treated as an object throughout the show, but he is also very important to the plot.
Also, it’s interesting to see that four of the main six male characters try out their sexuality. Two of them have a full-fledged arc, and their parents from different classes react to their coming out in the same way, but in different ways: The “lower-class” ones force their son to get married right away, while the “higher-class” ones tell him “it’s just a phase.”
Two other important male characters are shown to be attracted to both men and women, and another is hinted to be gay but not out.
Zeyn Shaw, Anjali Sivaraman, Moses Koul, and Cwaayal Singh stand out among all the actors. Watch out for these explosive actors, because they’re the ones who bring life to a show whose algorithm-driven approach could have made it too boring to watch. The movie’s music is also meant to be something to “vibe” to instead of something with its own voice.
The costumes and set design showed the difference in class, but the writing needed to be sharper and more nuanced to make the most of them. We needed more lines like a cop saying, “Tu Valmiki hai? Par tu toh gora hai”. It’s not just a #Burn, it’s really bad.
When we talk about cops, the fact that each episode of Delhi Police has a new suspect being questioned and that they pay too much attention to campus politics shows how voyeuristic investigations have become. When asked if the board gave her the job as a favour to a friend, the school principal says, “Does gossip help?”
Again, Class asks a question and leaves the answer up to the audience. Yes, we have all watched shows like these that pretend to be gossip. But it doesn’t matter if we end up getting a lot more than that.
Ashim Ahluwalia has shown that he can do it. If Netflix India would just let him be.