Farrey Runtime: 154 minutes
Cinematic classrooms are so awash with growing up angst and coming of age pangs that Soumendra Padhi’s Winston International is refreshingly welcome. Padhi, best known for helming Jamtara: Sabka Number Aayega on Netflix, has a feel for youthful scams which he puts to use in the Hindi remake of Thai thriller Bad Genius (2017).
The director and his co-writer Abhishek Yadav, plant the brilliantly wayward Niyati (Alizeh Agnihotri) in an orphanage run by a kind couple (Ronit B Roy, Juhi Babbar Soni) where integrity and moral values are on the daily menu.
It’s when Niyati, the all-India topper, and the equally underprivileged but brilliant Akash (Sahil Mehta) win scholarships to an elitist school that the lure of the wrong is strong. Papa at the orphanage is a wee bit worried that the school is a world so different from theirs. Little does he know just how different it’s going to be. Niyati is dazzled by the lifestyle of ultra-rich classmate Chhavi (Prasanna Bisht) – her array of phones, cars, her bungalow, even her clothes.
Niyati is a naughty rule-breaker and what starts as helping Chhavi give the correct answer grows into a full-blown cheating scam. Veering away from the usual broken heart romances and cliches about class chasms, Padhi spotlights the elaborate lengths to which Niyati goes with the exam hall heist, enticed into helping the rich kids get scores that please their parents.
Clashes between generations too, are avoided. They are simply passing moments in the backdrop, the aspirations of Chhavi’s rich dad (Arbaaz Khan) no different from the expectations of Akash’s lower income mother who does laundry for the rich. In both extremes, it’s the dream of the young that’s throttled. Chhavi’s dad can’t wait to send her to Stanford, following in the footsteps of her brilliant brother, and get her into the family business. Never mind if her heart’s set on interior designing. When Akash (and Niyati) win coveted all-expenses paid scholarships to Oxford, his distraught mother can only retort, “Four more years of study? And when are you going to help me with the laundry?”
On the minus side is that it’s a rather sloppy and far-fetched idea that Niyati and Akash execute in Sydney. And Akash, who begins by being more straightforward, does an unbelievable about-turn even slipping into blackmail.
But the good news is that the theme, the handling and the performances are all first rate. The confidence is evident when first-timer Alizeh Agnihotri gamely deglamourises herself as Niyati (except for one party song) and makes up for it by showing early chops as an actor. Watch her in the confession scene with Papa. The other kids, rich and poor, are well cast too.
Shilpa Shukla who gets her upper crust school in the spotlight by opening its doors to toppers like Niyati and Akash, sits well behind the desk of the principal. Her line to Niyati, ‘Jo kamayi jaa sakti hai, usay churane ki zaroorat nahi hai’ gives an understanding dimension to her dignity.
Both Juhi Babbar and Ronit Roy make a heartwarming couple. For Ronit Roy 2.0 this is one of his best roles with several moments where he speaks with disappointed eyes or takes off his shirt to make a point.
And yes, ‘Ghar pe party hai’ will have a long shelf life on the playlist of party songs.
Farrey – Watch Or Not?: An easy answer. Substantial, modestly-budgeted cinema with fresh and lovely faces is what we need in the theatres right now.