Director: Soumendra Padhi
Writers: Abhishek Yadav, Soumendra Padhi
Cast: Alizeh Agnihotri, Sahil Mehta, Prasanna Bisht, Zeyn Shaw, Ronit Roy, Juhi Babbar, Shilpa Shukla
Duration: 115 mins
Available in: Theatres
Farrey stars Alizeh Agnihotri – niece of Salman Khan and daughter of Atul Agnihotri – as a board-topping genius who gets lured into a cheating racket at an elite private school. The stakes are familiar for this teenaged protagonist, Niyati. On one hand, she has been selected for an Oxford University scholarship; her future is bright and limitless. On the other hand, Niyati wants – needs – money to expand the orphanage she lives in; her past is unwavering. The kindly warden (a cleverly cast Ronit Roy) is a father figure, and it breaks his heart to see the girls being transferred to an aftercare home when they turn 18 years old. Niyati can’t wait years to be a success story, so the burning desire to earn cash is stoked by her rich friends at Winston International. The scheming becomes scamming. The dark side beckons.
Farrey is directed by Soumendra Padhi, the creator of Jamtara - Sabka Number Aayega, a similarly themed two-season series that exists at the intersection of restless youth and reckless ambition. The film starts off shakily. You can sense the storytelling is trying hard to accommodate its star-kid launch-vehicle status. Some of the compromises are visible – there’s a happy orphanage song, a funky party song, a principal who asks Niyati to think Oxford not IIT (“don’t be a rat in this race”), fancy Delhi mansions that look like glossy real-estate ads. The rich-poor gap is straight out of Eighties’ Bollywood, at least in terms of visual language. The broad strokes colour the character arcs. The details are simplistic.
But once the stage is set, Farrey comes into its own. The cheating parts in the classrooms are constructed with the right mix of suspense and narrative tension. Niyati is smart, but she’s also nervous and guilty by association; her teenage conscience is very much a young beast, vulnerable and yet to evolve. Agnihotri does a fine job of playing someone whose academic brilliance is at odds with her emotional intelligence. To the actress’ credit, Niyati never comes across as sorted and confident. There are times when she isn’t even sure of her own motives. She is driven by a curious cocktail of empathy and social identity, when she agrees to help affluent friends like Chhavi (Prasanna Bisht) and Prateek (Zeyn Shaw, extending his elite-brat role from Class). She resents them for exploiting her weakness, but she also wants to belong.
Most of all, I like that Farrey investigates the viewers’ relationship with this genre. We tend to watch such stories through the lens of three templates. First, as a heist drama. Young-adult settings usually run the risk of having teens think and act like grown-ups; the plotting tends to be too foolproof, too stylish. The ideas tend to be too cool. But there’s no such issue here. The students are never fully in control of their unsophisticated plans. They get caught not once but twice; there are no easy exit routes. The moment we expect the movie to take over, life happens. There are sequences that are nearly dull for how they get diffused, but it’s a necessary flaw.
The second template is that of an eat-the-rich thriller. The upper-class brats tend to be demonized so that their downfall is satisfying. They’re either Mean Girls or Rude Boys. But the performances here (by Bisht as Chhavi, in particular) make it difficult to judge these kids. Their First World Problems aren’t trivialized. Their peer pressure stems from a different space. For instance, we see Chhavi’s demanding dad (Arbaaz Khan) all of twice in the film, but he’s smiling and rewarding her in both scenes. The script resists the temptation of portraying him as a typically toxic parent. She is desperate to impress him and follow in her Stanford-admitted brother’s footsteps. As a result, she isn’t presented as a bad person so much as an entitled person resorting to bad things. In her eyes, by penciling in the answers herself and not ‘buying’ a seat abroad, she’s making it on her own merit. She befriends Niyati for selfish reasons of course, but it’s never too evident. Moreover, the film stops short of teaching Chhavi and her gang a lesson. Karma doesn’t always work that way; the powerful often get away with murder.
This is directly connected to the third template: Class rage. The trope of a disenfranchised character gaming the system that is rigged against them is an attractive one. There’s always some sort of “sexy” resolution at the end – either the system is beaten or the greedy clients are. By hook or by crook, this figure has to win. But in Farrey, this person is not the protagonist: Akash (Sahil Mehta) is the second low-income scholarship student, from the same class bracket as Niyati, and he almost operates as her alter-ego. Through him, the film shows us the real-world futility of a conventional rags-to-rage character. Akash comes unhinged over time, and it’s Niyati who dignifies the film with a sobering view of Indian society. He warns her about socializing with them, but then can’t help himself from turning into a bitter victim.
There’s a point in Farrey when things go so wrong – the betrayal is so bleak – that we immediately expect Niyati to change shades and take revenge. It always happens. But the second half is surprising for how pragmatic it remains, despite all the narrative drama (which somehow reaches an exam hall in Australia). There is no space for grand themes like comeuppance, heroism, table-turning and slick downfalls. This doesn’t make for the most exciting viewing experience, because it’s anticlimactic – and the execution looks a bit hurried. But it’s the correct angle. Just as Niyati’s warden never disowns her after expressing his disappointment; a few days later, he flashes a warm smile. The film recognizes that only those like her pay the price for their mistakes. They can’t always afford to hold filmy grudges and fight back in style. They won’t always have a rich blind Colonel (a la Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman) to bat for them in an assembly hall. Their stories don’t need to have scintillating, monologue-fueled endings. Instead, all that’s left is a series of quiet new beginnings.