‘School Of Lies’ Review: A Confused Show That Wants To Talk About The Cycle Of Neglect & Abuse


When it comes to portraying an individual’s school or college life, Bollywood (or the Hindi film industry) has rarely gotten it right. The educational institutions in Mohabbatein and Student of the Year could’ve existed in a totally different realm where 27-year-olds passed off as college-goers. Even though 3 Idiots and Chhichhore had a healthy balance of comedic shenanigans and tackling real issues like suicide, it still had 30-year-olds playing college students. Taare Zameen Par was probably the closest that Bollywood came to accurately representing the highs and lows of growing up through India’s dated education system. When this subgenre shifted to the OTT and YouTube spaces, most of the shows got high on nostalgia, while the rest overdosed on edginess. Although School of Lies features age-appropriate casting and focuses on topics that are hugely relevant, it deviates from it all by trying too hard to be a murder mystery, thereby forgetting to stick to the landing.

Set in the fictional Dalton Town, School of Lies opens with two senior students, TK and Vikram, arriving at the River Isaac boarding school in the dead of night. They are spotted by Murli and given how they react to his presence; it’s evident that they’ve done something shady. The following day we learn that a young student called Shakti has gone missing, which brings the efficiency of the housemaster, Sam, as well as the seniors of Rajpath House, under heavy scrutiny. Shakti’s estranged parents, Trisha and Anirudh, are called in by SHO Varun Rawat so that they can understand the reason for the kid’s disappearance. And while all this is going on, we see Shakti having a merry time exploring the forests with his friend, Chanchal, and making plans about leaving the school forever. In addition to that, TK, Vikram, Sam Sir, and Bhola (the gardener) are hiding a plethora of secrets that, if unearthed, can lead to the shutdown of the entire institution.

Since this has happened before with a show called Bombay Begums, where Indians were all riled up due to the depiction of school students, I won’t be surprised if it happens again with School of Lies because it implicitly and explicitly highlights sex, drugs, and abuse. But before you go and start posting context-less tweets and alarming India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, hear me out. Despite the fictional nature of the setting, the show was shot in Ooty, and given its North Indian population, showrunner Avinash Arun Dhaware is trying to evoke the feeling of being in Dehradun. Now, if you Google cases of sexual abuse and murder in and around boarding schools, Dehradun is going to show up multiple times, with the most recent case happening in 2020. So, even though it’s unfortunate, I’ve got to set the record straight that the narrative on display is not unrealistic at all. My issue is that writers Nishant Agarwala, Ishani Banerjee, Shoaib Nazeer, and Dhaware try to mix two different subjects without giving either of them enough time to marinate.

To be fair, School of Lies looks great, and that’s definitely in large part due to Avinash’s expertise as a cinematographer. I mean, he’s the man behind the camera in Paatal Lok, Madaari, Drishyam, and Masaan! Clearly, a lot of effort has been put into the various types of uniforms, the lived-in feel of the dorms, and the casting of some of the best actors. And given the projects that Avinash has worked on, he probably has an idea of how to deal with societal problems while keeping things intimate and personal. But the hurdle that he runs into is that the two main topics (the disappearance and the exploitation) don’t have a bearing on each other. The writers try to link it all to parental neglect. However, when they nonchalantly throw queerness into the mix, the show veers into problematic and stereotypical territories. If the show had stuck to bad parenting and depression in children, I might have said that the intent should be appreciated. I can’t say that anymore due to the way queer characters have been handled.

By the way, School of Lies also tries to pull off a non-linear narrative as they did for Geralt and Ciri in The Witcher. The reason is obvious. The showrunners have prioritized the mystery and the build-up to Shakti’s fate over its central theme about the endless cycle of neglect and abuse, thereby dampening the impact of its final moments. If you look at it leniently, you can say that the underwhelming conclusion is the whole point, and the writers are saying that there’s no great triumphant solution to these issues that are plaguing the nation. But then we’ll be giving them too much credit for their hackneyed attempt at subverting expectations. So, instead, I’ll just dump all the applause on the actors, who have done a stupendous job of keeping me engaged. Aryan Singh Ahlawat and Varin Roopani confidently shoulder most of the weight of the show. Next in line are Aamir Bashir and Nimrat Kaur, who continue to prove that they are incapable of giving bad performances. The same can be said about Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Hemant Kher, Nitin Goel, and Vijay Dogra, as they deliver such measured performances. Vir Pachisia, Parthiv Shetty, Adrija Sinha, Divyansh Dwivedi, and the rest of the child actors are all amazing. Jitendra Joshi and Sonali Kulkarni’s appearances are technically extended cameos, and as usual, they’re fantastic. To be honest, everyone who appears on the screen for even a second makes the most of it and knocks it out of the park.

Here’s the kicker, though: Mohan Kapur plays a character who is a sexual abuser. Ironically enough, Mohan Kapur, the actor, was accused of allegedly harassing a minor all the way back in November 2022. So, you can say that the makers of School of Lies had about 3–4 months to make amends. Yet, he is such a prominent presence in the show. It’s true that those who had been accused during the Me-Too movement have already been forgiven by big studios and even bigger stars. Why should Kapur’s treatment be any different, right? And much like the show, I’m going to conclude this review on this abrupt and uncomfortable note and let you think about the sickening state of the Hindi entertainment industry.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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