Queer Love and Class

Dhruv and Faruq’s forbidden romance is one of the most heartwarming stories in Ashim Ahluwalia’s Class
Queer Love and Class
Queer Love and Class

The first time Chintan Rachchh and Chayan Chopra kissed, it lasted for about a minute and ended with a question. “Yaar Chayan,” said Rachchh, “Tu daadi karke kyu nahi aaya aaj? (Chayan, why didn’t you shave today?)” Such are the issues that one must tackle while bringing to life a queer love story. 

Rachchh and Chopra play Dhruv and Faruq in the Netflix series Class, one of the few shows from India to showcase homosexuality and romance, particularly in a young adult context. Based on the Spanish series Elite and helmed by series director Ashim Ahluwalia, Class is a pulpy drama that follows what happens when three students from underprivileged families find themselves in Hampton, a school for the ultra-rich in Delhi. Faruq (Rachchh) is a Kashmiri Muslim from a poor family who dreams of making it big. Dhruv (Chopra) is a Hampton insider — his mother is the principal and his father is the swimming coach — who struggles with the high expectations his parents have of him. They meet because Faruq has a side hustle as a drug peddler and Dhruv turns to marijuana for solace. In no time, their relationship has hurtled into taboo territory, flouting conventions for being homosexual and cutting across boundaries of class, region and religion. “I don’t want to write a manifesto or preach on any particular topic, but just reflect how we all live in a more realistic manner,” Ahluwalia said. His aim with Class was to explore how identity plays into our everyday lives. 

Dhruv and Faruq’s love story is one of the subplots that shows how the personal and political are often inextricable. The way people respond to the two boys being gay has everything to do with the position they occupy in the social hierarchy. Ultimately, this queer love story is perhaps the most heartwarming and heartbreaking of the many narrative strands in Class. Much of the credit goes to the two actors who share great chemistry whether they’re bantering or making out. Ahluwalia said, when talking about Dhruv and Faruq, that Rachchh and Chopra were “just as I had imagined those characters”. “I didn’t have second options for either – I knew it was them,” he said.

Chintan Rachchh and Chayan Chopra in Class

As part of their prep, the cast of Class had acting workshops. At one of these workshops, Rachchh and Chopra were told to team up for a “meditative exercise”. The actors began by mirroring each other’s gestures, gazing into the other’s eyes, touching hands, and after some time, they were told to kiss. “Out of impulse, we did it,” said Rachchh. “Yeh pehli baar tha jab maine kisi ladke ko kiss kiya tha (This was the first time I’d kissed a boy).” That’s the kiss that ended with him grumbling about Chopra’s stubble. 

For Rachchh, the hurdles to creating plausible chemistry were quite literally bean-sized. Intimacy coordinator Aastha Khanna was always present and she’d insist Chopra and Rachchh chewed gum before filming romantic scenes. Rachchh was a “fruitarian” at the time and sporting foul breath was the least of his concerns. Chopra, on the other hand, often had rajma-chawal and sliced onions for lunch, before shooting. “Tu do chewing gum khayega (You’ll need two chewing gums today),” Rachchh would tell Chopra on those days. 

The two men attribute part of the easy sensuality of their scenes to their off-screen friendship. “We talk openly and that’s what I think we were able to translate on-screen as well…the comfort,” said Chopra. “Arey yaar, aaj kiss karna hai… chalo karte hai (We have to kiss today…okay, let’s do it),” they’d say and get on with the business of acting like they were in love with another. 

Chintan Rachchh and Chayan Chopra in Class

The actors remember the note the cast was given by the directorial team: “Aankho se bol, shabdo se nahi (Use your eyes, not words).” To this end, Chopra spoke to gay friends to get under the skin of Dhruv’s character whose parents struggle to accept their son’s homosexuality. Rachchh had to work on his diction and carriage for Faruq. He also had to learn to smoke. During a chemistry test in which he had to smoke, episode director Gul Dharmani said to Rachchh, “Beta bahot achha kar rahe ho. Ek cheez hai, tumhe smoking nahi aati kya? Yeh phoo phoo kya kar rahe ho? (You’re doing well, but do you not know how to smoke? Why are you huffing and puffing?)” Rachchh was given herbal cigarettes to smoke and the actor said it was like inhaling burning leaves. 

When Class dropped on Netflix, Chopra admitted to worrying about the public response, but so far, his family and friends have been appreciative. His mother’s response, much to his surprise, was, “It’s come out very cute, yaar.” Fan edits of Faruq and Dhruv on Instagram with Arijit Singh’s songs playing in the background have only added to her fondness. Rachchh too is basking in his new-found recognition. Recently, he was on Marine Drive when a man approached Rachchh, showed him a scene from Class and asked, “This is you?” The actor’s parents haven’t watched the series yet and he expects they’ll feel some discomfort when they get around to watching it. “Ladka ya ladki toh alag baat hai (whether it’s a guy or a girl is secondary), but if I’m kissing, they might be a little awkward,” he said. 

The stigma surrounding queer love is a key part of Dhruv and Faruq’s story in Class — Faruq, for instance, is scarred by the memory of the homophobia that an uncle faced — but the actors tried to keep that toxic negativity at a distance from their performances. The importance of acceptance and understanding how one’s sexuality is an integral part of one’s personhood is something to which Chopra hopes more people will open up. “We experientially know it,” he said while talking about comprehending the role that sexuality plays in our lives. “It's not just an intellectual thought. We understand that these things are important to us.” Rachchh said they wanted to show Dhruv and Faruq’s relationship as one that transcended labels. “Yeh sab thape nahi the hamare (We didn’t give it any labels),” he said. “Hum toh bas do log the jo pyaar mein the (We were just playing two people in love).” 

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