Ashim Ahluwalia on the Success of "CLA$$" the Next Season of the Teen-Drama Series, and More


The director of the Netflix series ‘Class’ talks about the conception of the show, working with debutants, and his upcoming projects

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Classhas become the talk of the town. Known for his dark and edgy movies like John & Jane, Miss Lovely and Daddy, he seemed like an unexpected choice to helm a teen-drama. But in an exclusive interview with The Hindu, the director opens up about why he took on the Indian adaptation of Elite, and his vision for the future of the show.

Ashim makes it known very early in the interview that he has always wanted to work on a project that portrayed teenage angst. “Initially, I wanted to make a feature film about rebellious teenagers because of the emotional churn that happens at that age,” he says over a telephone call. But when he was approached with the proposal to adapt Elite to the Indian audience, he grabbed the opportunity. While it was different from the genres that he usually handles, exploring the gap between the haves and the have-nots in a school, that works as a microcosm of the world, interested him.

Having studied at Cathedral, one of Mumbai’s premier schools, he says he had his experiences at the back of his mind while working on Class. “That was a starting point,” he shares.

The director feels strongly about his decision to not tweak the plot of the original show. “The story is not in the plot, but rather in the telling of it,” he says. “You may know the plot but the interactions, dynamics and motivations of the characters in an Indian city is what the show is all about,” Ashim shares and expresses interest in conveying the psychology of the character above all else. “I saw it [ Elite] as a source novel.”

Though Ashim has explored Mumbai in most of his previous works, he explains the logic of setting Class in the country’s capital, Delhi. “In Mumbai, even if you are a billionaire, you will have to drive through a slum to get to work,” he says, elaborating that it is impossible to live in a physical bubble in the city. “I wanted to feature a city where everybody is segregated physically, and Delhi was one place that gave me the physical separation between classes.”

The director says he was also very particular about the casting. “I did not want any famous actor in the show; they come with a lot of baggage. I wanted to build a world that is completely new.” He is also of the belief that having familiar faces might have distracted the audience from his narration. “I wanted viewers to suspend belief and get close to the characters.” The casting directors scouted for actors between the ages of 18-25 years for close to six months in most of the metropolitan cities in India.

Having to work with a lot of debutants, Ashim took to rigorous workshops to train them in acting.

However, he still perceives himself as an independent filmmaker. “I worked on this [ Class] like I would work on any other independent film.” According to him, that gave the show a “very directorial take and a cinematic point of view.”

The director says a lot of thought went into lighting the sets. “I already knew the visual look of the project while I was writing it, and was very clear about the kind of lenses we would be using,” he exclaims. “A lot of time was spent on the kind of lighting each house we featured in the show. We lit Saba’s house with tubelights, and Neeraj’s with bulbs,” he adds, claiming that the look became a part of the larger social environment of the kids. “We had five DoPs but you cannot tell,” he snickers.

While Netflix has not yet confirmed a renewal of the show, the director seems to have a vision for it already. “I would lose the link to the original show and let these characters live the way they have been living so far; that way, this could become something completely different”

Even though Class has enjoyed a mostly favourable reception among the audience, Ashim is keen to go back to independent films. “I don’t want to be the teen-drama guy; I want to explore the unexplored,” he says.

The director claims that the future for independent filmmakers in India is complicated because of the lack of theatrical reception of their work and the dominance of streaming platforms. He believes that platforms should give agency to young independent filmmakers with a voice to create quality content. “ Paatal Lok is a case in point,” he says.

Ashim is currently working on an international sci-fi film and a thriller set in Mumbai with two female leads that explores the question of what it means to be a woman in the modern world.