Class has opened up various discussion around Indian societies and its gen z.
Last Updated: 02.12 PM, Feb 17, 2023
The Netflix series Class has been making the right waves. It has opened up various discussions and questioned the very root of Indian societies. We at OTTplay caught up with the director of the show Ashim Ahluwalia and spoke about his adaptation of the reality-based crime series Elite, to fit in with the Indian audiences.
Excerpts from the interview…
What inspired you to recreate Elite, a Spanish series, for the Indian audiences?
I hadn't seen Elite. I just wanted to make something about teenagers for a long time. I was just interested in rebellious teens. I was like that and so I wanted to work on it. I never got a script like that till one day, I was asked if I would look at adapting this Spanish series. I found the series very juice but it's not my vibe. It was glossy and not how I would make it. As I watched it though, I realised that it could be amazing in India. It's almost written for India. In Spain, you almost can't tell the difference between the rich and poor kids. There's not that much gap or intensity. I just saw this as a source novel. When you do an adaptation of a classic like Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet, you take it as a plot and rework it completely for India. That's what happened. The original idea wasn't to make Elite in India. I thought it could really be something if taken into a local space and make it into much about us. I also wanted to understand the kids' motivation; why they do what they do.
What went into the research? People have questioned if the show is closer to reality, if schools like the one showed exist and what actually happens there, happens in real life too?
100% authentic. If you look at any International school, there are many which are very expensive and look exactly like the one in Class. I know that because I spent a lot of time researching in those schools. It doesn't mean that it happens in those specific schools but this environment, world and luxury schools 100% exist. You can go online and look it up.
The world of this kids - we spent a lot of time researching and hanging out with kids who just graduated from this school. Our research team got in touch with kids of such schools who just came out of Delhi. All of them were showing us their messages on groups and telling us about the scandals. A lot of stuff we used is from real life. It's combined with fiction but all of this is actually from the school. Nothing is made up as such.
To be honest, I find the reaction a bit strange because just two years ago, there was a huge scandal in Delhi with the chat about boys talking about all kinds of things they would do to girls at schools. It became a huge thing. There's been MMS videos. So, when someone says this doesn't happen in India, I get a little puzzled. Research. It has happened many times, in public domains even. When someone says that, then it's like okay, we either pretend it doesn't happen or that it happens in real life but shouldn't be shown on a platform. It could be something like that. You live in India and know what happens. You can't tell me that this doesn't happen. Forget about schools, we know about rich kids running over people and doing things. Those stories are all there in the public domain. Nothing on this show is worse than what we've already seen on the news.
Nobody has really come out in the open with such a story. It takes guts but also, at any point, did you feel that if you show a certain scene, what would the repercussions be?
Not really. I realised that everybody in India has an opinion. Someone has a take on everything. There will always be someone who will find things offensive. I'm a maker. I think am I being authentic and respectful to my subject matter rather than thinking is there going to be one uncle somewhere who will be angry or what if my neighbour doesn't like it. That way, I can't make anything. Honestly speaking, you could make an animation show for kids and somebody could get offended. The reality for me is that I don't think like that. I don't think if somebody's going to get upset or not. I also don't think about whether someone is going to like it or not. I just think that the first audience for my work is me. Do I watch it? Do I think it's respectful, authentic, telling a true story or exploitation? I have to be ethical and honest to what I'm making. I feel if I like it, then it could resonate with the audience and so I make it. That's just how I think. I don't second-guess because then you wouldn't make anything.
When you got the script, was Delhi always on your mind?
I was sure about Delhi. It speaks to you when you talk about inequality and the gap. There's inequality in every Indian city but there's this spacial segregation in Delhi - about how the poor live in a certain area and rich live in another. It's all very separated. There's gated communities. You have different communities living in different areas. This was the right place, where people have their own individuality and they're not on top of each other. In Mumbai, even if you're a millionaire, you still have to go through the slums every morning whether you like it or not. You don't have that choice. With Delhi, there's the clear separation. I have my bubble and if you come into it, there's questions. It can be between communities, classes, caste or anything. The idea that everyone is in their bubble was immediately felt like a Delhi story. It's most organic there.
How did you help the kids break the ice when shooting bold scenes?
With the kind of material. I'm not a stranger to such scenes. I found it real to do. It can't be swept off under the carpet. It is real. The point is to get the younger actors to be comfortable. It's extremely important that there's a safe environment on sets. We had workshops and an intimacy co-ordinator. I was sure that I wanted to shoot it aesthetically and that there would be no nudity. The intent was to not make it an explotational, voyeuristic chore. I was very clear about that. Even if there's sexual material, it has to be for the price of the storytelling and point of view of the character. It can't be one of those things that you skim through to see nude scenes. I was very clear about that. They understood that angle and knew it was part of the story. By the time we shot it, everybody was also friends. They were all buddies. Now, they have become very good friends but even then, there was a lot of comfort. They knew each other. There was a safe environment. People wouldn't stand around. We would clear the set and be respectful. We even collaborated on how we shoot the scene if somebody was uncomfortable.
The message, "Money can't buy class," is almost in-your-face. Did you have inhibitions during the release with the "Dalit Lives Matter", given how Pathaan also got into controversy? How did you go about from writing to execution of the scene?
These scenes are written from the point of view of the characters. It's not my take. My take is the world of the show rather than an individual character saying something. For me, I felt, what is the politics of these kids; how much do they really know? They don't know that much. They don't even know what caste is. They wouldn't even understand religious difference. They had a very rudimentary understanding of that. If Yashika is asked, she would give a very student, rich girl philosophy on it. It's not going to be authentic but what she thinks. I wrote it very much from her point of view - that she speaks like this. For her, these things are just hashtags and she doesn't care. That really felt very authentic for that character - that they would be like that. I thought that it would come across as Yashika being clueless. That's her point of view. As the show progresses, because everybody has a different point of view, so that's interesting. Every character's view has an opposing point of view through the other character. That's what makes it interesting. If everybody speaks like that, then I would find the show offensive, to be honest. The fact is that you know each one is coming from their point of view as a character.
Elite has nearly six seasons. Is there going to be a second season of Class too?
This has taken me by surprise. It's quite niche and edgy and so, I don't think anybody expected the response. There's not been any conversation about the second season so it's very much up in the air there.
Is Class going to be your own focus right now or there are some other projects in the pipeline?
I'm working on an International film. I'll start that later this year. There's a film with two female leads. It's a noir-thriller that's very crazy.