A few months ago, I stumbled across a trailer for an Indian teen drama. Initially, I was just going to ignore it but its similarities to one of Netflix’s best teen dramas, Elite, intrigued me. I looked it up and found that it was INDEED an Indian adaptation of Elite, which got me quite excited. I had little to no expectations going in,, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I ended up enjoying it. It’s been a month and a half since CLA$$ came out on Netflix and it has started to lose its appeal for Netflix’s audience , but the show conveyed an important message about our society that’s worth commenting on.
But I feel I should warn you, this is not a review of the show, but a discussion on the themes it touches upon. If you have any strong opinions on CLA$$ or don’t agree with what I’m talking about, it’s all fine. I just ask that you leave your personal opinions outside for this discussion.
CLA$$ is, in brief, a story about how two different sections of society clash when put together. Dheeraj, Balli and Saba, three students from the suburbs of Delhi, are offered scholarships at Hampton International School, the best and most expensive school in Delhi, after the building of their government school burns down. There, they clash with the “rich kids of Delhi” (that is literally what they call themselves)-the sibling duo Veer and Suhani, and their friends. While the show touches upon numerous themes such as casteism, teenage substance use, sexuality and parental neglect, the one I want to talk about is probably the most prominent theme - privilege. Class very cleverly shows how all the rich students experience privilege in some way or another, even if they don’t realise it.
Veer and his girlfriend Yashika are the most obvious displays of privilege and elitism. Both of them openly and vehemently show their disapproval of the scholarship students and go out of their way to harass them. Yashika says “Putting up stories or posts for these lives matter, those lives matter is fine for clout, but the reality is just not that simple”. This very clearly shows the bubble these kids live in. They have no idea about the actuality most of the country lives in. Not only are they unaware of it, they choose to remain ignorant. It’s sad to see, since they do have the resources it takes to actually help people. People like them are more often than not seen using these resources to bully and belittle young teens instead of helping them while having no regard for the effect it has on them. They believe their parents' money will always be there to fall back on and will always save them. But worst of all, they believe they can do no harm.
While Veer and Yashika are the more obvious examples, the subtler examples show up in Veer’s best friend Dhruv and sister Suhani. Suhani is probably the only character who actively seeks to be friends with the scholarship students, getting close to Dheeraj. A project requires classmates to make videos about each other, and Suhani submits a video on Dheeraj. The video features his alcoholic father talking about how he and his wife were chased out of their village for disobeying their caste rules and came to the city to give a better life for their children. When Dheeraj is inevitably bullied badly for this video after it is shown, Suhani insensitively tries to console him by saying, “people here make fun of you because you’re poor, they don’t care about your caste.” Despite interacting with people who’ve faced caste discrimination and seeing their struggles, this issue still seems like a fantasy to Suhani. She isn’t able to see that it is a real, serious threat that affects Dheeraj and his family. Though she prides herself on being better than her family, she is still just as ignorant about the ground realities of the so-called minorities.
Dhruv is another interesting example of privilege. His character arc consists of him exploring his sexuality, leading to a relationship with Saba’s gay brother, Faruq. A steamy rave party ends in a police raid where both are caught. Faruq is beaten black and blue by the police and Dhruv has to pay money to get him out. Faruq tells Dhruv that this isn’t the first time this has happened to him, nor will it be the last, warning Dhruv that a relationship will only end up hurting both of them. A few days later, Dhruv still insists on a relationship, naively claiming people have become more accepting. Faruq fittingly replies by pointing to his bruises that still haven’t healed. Dhruv is also just as shielded and protected from the ruthless society as his friends are.
An interesting fact to note is about how discrimination works across different classes. When Saba tells Faruq “not to indulge in such amusements”, she comes from a place of fear. She’s scared that her brother might be harassed and beaten for being gay. Her reservations come from a place of fear, not from a place of hate. Dhruv’s parents, however, despite being “upper class”, do not accept him. Dhruv’s father turns violent and his mother insists on his sexuality being “a phase”. Just because you may be “upper class” doesn’t always mean you will be free from facing prejudice.
Class shows us the ways privilege really works. It’s not an obvious or loud effect, but peeks through subtly in the way we interact with people and situations drastically different from our own. Here’s probably where I’m going to seem a bit contradictory - being privileged is not a bad thing. Yes, we definitely have our own struggles that are valid and deserve to be addressed, but growing up shielded from such issues can maybe rid us of one trauma we might otherwise end up with. What’s not okay is being ignorant. We need to educate ourselves, listen to those affected and do our best to uplift those that require it. Most importantly, we must sit back and let those with lived experiences speak. It’s a daunting task, but with small steps in the right direction, we might all just end up becoming more empathetic human beings.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on for long enough. Go watch CLA$$!