There’s no doubt about the fact that TVF has dominated the “education drama” genre through its web series, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any new stories to be told about the millions of kids who are striving to break through the layers of societal oppression by scoring high marks. Earlier this year, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Vikrant Massey joined hands to focus on the rat race that is the UPSC exams. They showed how classist the process of becoming an IAS or IPS officer has become and how it’s mercilessly eating away at the most formative years of an aspirant’s life. However, they also highlighted that, despite the uphill battle, it’s the only way that someone who isn’t deemed upper class or upper caste can make a name for themselves and prove the system wrong for underestimating them. And while 12th Fail was all about hard work, honesty, and determination, Farrey seems to be the antithesis of that film as it is centered around the practice of cheating.
Soumendra Padhi’s Farrey, which he has co-written with Abhishek Yadav, is a remake of the 2017 Thailand crime drama film, Bad Genius, directed by Baz Poonpiriya. It tells the story of Niyati, who lives in an orphanage run by Shailesh and his wife, Zoya. The couple-plus-wardens barely make ends meet as they try to hold onto the girls who have grown up there, instead of allowing them to go elsewhere where they are certain to be married off to some guy. So, the concept of the world running on money isn’t lost on Niyati. But instead of using that knowledge in a positive way, she utilizes her superior intellect to help others pass exams and earn money on the side. Therefore, even though Niyati continues to excel, academically speaking, her soul continues to erode with each act of deception. Things go into overdrive when Niyati enrolls in a posh school in Delhi and befriends Chhavi, Prateek, and their gang, who push her to use her exceptional skills to help them get good marks and gain entry into Stanford. When Niyati and Aakash, the only other student in the school whose background is similar to that of Niyati, are given the offer to go to Oxford for further studies, she has to choose between ambition, money, and friendship.
As someone who has seen various methods of cheating in examinations, it’s safe to say that Farrey definitely understands that the act is nothing short of a heist. The stakes can seem low (because it’s all about a few marks), but the tension of bypassing the invigilator’s attention, finding out innovative methods of carrying answers into the exam hall so that you don’t have to depend on those around you, and figuring out how many sets of questions are out there in the wild can be nerve-wracking. Is it all worth it, though? Well, of course, the knee-jerk answer to that question is, “Honesty is the best policy.” But what if honesty will allow one person to succeed, which in this case is Niyati, while hurting others, which in this case is the orphanage? Then the choice-making process becomes muddled, doesn’t it? Now, since Padhi and Yadav are writing for a somewhat mainstream audience, they don’t really dwell on these complications for too long. Whenever things get way too twisted for the characters, the writers help them wriggle out of it with a convenient reason. Whenever class issues arise, they usually boil it down to the heartlessness of the rich and the compulsion of the poor. And, to be honest, it works for the most part.
Soumendra Padhi does struggle with the simplicity of the premise of Farrey. Yes, at the cost of sounding repetitive, the narrative is interesting and thrilling. But is the 2-hour-and-10-minute-long running time justified? No, I don’t think so. Just to be clear, I am not against long films, and I am not against short films. I think the running time should be proportional to the material that’s in the story, and it’s not in the case of Padhi’s film. Hence, you can sense him struggling quite a lot while shifting from one act to the next, thereby hurting the overall pacing. Keiko Nakahara’s cinematography and Zubin Sheikh’s editing work the best during the cheating sequences. As mentioned before, those exam scenes are crafted like heists, where the tension is so high that you can feel your palms getting sweaty even though you’re not the one in the examination hall. Something about the appearance of the classrooms did seem tacky. I don’t know what classrooms look like nowadays, but if they look like the ones in the movie, then I have to say that schools need to infuse some personality into their classrooms. The only aspect of the film that I’ll unabashedly criticize is the background score by Sidhant Mathur. Farrey actually needed something very subtle and almost inaudible to complement the story, and Mathur’s work was the exact opposite of that.
Farrey’s cast is stellar. Leading from the front, Alizeh Agnihotri knocks it out of the park as the rough-around-the-edges and susceptible-to-greed Niyati. Her character has to code-switch, be a good student, and care about her wardens (because they are like her parents) and her roommates (who are like her sisters). On top of that, she has to exhibit her tremendous grit. And, despite being a newcomer, Alizeh pulls off all these shades with such ease. I am not sure if she is nearly bested by Prasanna Bisht or Sahil Mehta because they are equally great. Much like Niyati, there’s a sense of duality in Chhavi and Aakash, as they don’t always present their true selves in front of everyone. It’s only during moments of extreme duress that you see their true colors, and Bisht and Mehta are phenomenal in those scenes. I know that the horror genre is dead in India (pun totally intended), but if someone does manage to make a good horror film, Bisht and Mehta should be in it. Zeyn Shaw is perfectly annoying, and the same can be said about the supporting cast playing all the rich kids. There’s nothing such as a bad Ronit Roy performance, and I guess he’s going to maintain this impeccable track record for as long as he is in the business. Juhi Babbar and Arbaaz Khan are the weakest links in Farrey. They just aren’t as committed as their young colleagues. Shilpa Shukla, as always, is cool as hell.
I said it while talking about 12th Fail, and I’ll say it again while talking about Farrey: we need mid-to-low-budget movies like these. It’s time for producers to stop blowing their load on bloated “blockbusters” and instead invest their money in good stories that can be bolstered by fantastic actors. Of course, it’ll take some time for audiences (who have been trained to eat action spectacles only) to gravitate towards such movies. But if there’s a constant supply of such stories, I think that Bollywood will change for the better. Talking about producers, the audience at the International Film Festival of India screening of Farrey was made to wait for over 20 minutes for the arrival of its cast, the crew, and, of course, Salman Khan, i.e., the producer of Farrey. When they were asked to wait a few minutes more for Salman to arrive, the audience collectively said, “No.” Hence, the stars, including Salman Khan, had to wait till the movie ended to take the stage. I don’t know what it says about the movie or its cast and crew, but it definitely added some spice to the viewing experience.