The making of ‘Class’, Netflix’s first Indian adaptation of a foreign title
When three new students win a scholarship to the Hampton International School in the Netflix series ‘Class’, the Indian adaptation (by Ashim Ahluwalia, Raghav Kakkar, and Kashyap Kapoor) of the Spanish series ‘Elite’ (2018), a delicate equilibrium is not shaken, but broken. The series opens with a death inquiry. A tale emerges from many points of view via flashbacks and is progressively cobbled together. The series, which stars a remarkable cast of rookies, has received amazing reviews from audiences and has rapidly become a fan favourite. ‘Class’ is also Netflix’s first Indian adaptation of a foreign title.
In conversation with Adgully, Director & Screenwriter Ashim Ahluwalia, and actress and producer Niharika Singh, speak about their series ‘Class’, the response they have received from the audience for the same, and much more.
What motivated you to direct/ produce ‘Class’?
Ashim Ahluwalia: I was keen to do something around rebellious teenagers. I was offered to look at the Spanish show ‘Elite’ for an adaptation and although it wasn’t very similar to what I had made in the past, I thought it could be interesting if I had the creative control to be able to adapt it the way I wanted. Netflix seemed to be a game. I definitely needed our company Future East creatively involved to make it the way it needed to be made.
Niharika Singh: I joined Future East as a director of the company in 2019 and the pandemic hit soon after. It was a difficult time for everyone and I stepped up as a producer when Ashim was approached to direct ‘Class’ by Bodhi Tree Multimedia and Netflix. The Elite adaptation was an exciting prospect since it had various elements that seemed personally relevant and had not been explored on screen so far. Ashim and I have had a decade long professional association and he needed me to be able to creatively produce and build a team of cast and crew that could pull off this very unique vision in this difficult situation.
How has the audience response been so far for ‘Class’?
Niharika Singh: It has been surprisingly overwhelming. The series has been on the top spot in multiple countries around the world since it started streaming. Some people finally feel represented on screen, some love the way the show is made and some can’t relate to it or find it difficult to process. Everybody seems to have a point of view on it which is great. I believe we have a show that will be a benchmark for many years to come.
Ashim Ahluwalia: I’m happy that the audience has been open to such layered storytelling told in an intense, cinematic way. All the characters are flawed and imperfect which is very different from what we are used to seeing in India. Nothing is sanitised in this show.
What all locations have you shot this entire series in?
Niharika Singh: The series is shot all over Delhi NCR with some interiors shot in Mumbai. It wasn’t the easiest job to get very real locations that the project demanded through a global pandemic a multiple lockdowns, but all thanks to our relationships at Future East, we managed somehow. Even the school is shot over multiple locations in Mumbai and Delhi – part of it is even a set – but it all looks seamless now.
Do you think that such a series has a higher connection with the audience?
Ashim Ahluwalia: I’ve been surprised at the enthusiastic response for something so different - of course some people have compared it with the original series and feel like we should have changed the storyline more. I don’t believe that, I wanted to keep the story but change the storytelling style focusing more on the psychology of the characters and the social context - that was what I was interested in.
Niharika Singh: Class seemed to have worked very well. Both ‘Elite’ and ‘Class’ might have a similar skeletal structure, but they are entirely different in the way they’ve been made or approached. The South Asian audience is connecting to ‘Class’ mainly because the grunge, the wealth and the class divide is very relatable and a clear reminder of the society we all are living in. The characters are all different kinds of people that audiences can connect with.
How do you see OTT as a medium?
Niharika Singh: OTT is the medium of the 21st century where we can consume media on our phones, tablets, while we are on the go. It’s perfectly suited to series and long format that can be watched in pieces, but the filmmaking has to be designed like that. It works like a modern blend of advertising, television & cinema.
Ashim Ahluwalia: Streaming allows us to make content that can’t be made for theatrical distribution. The audience is more targeted and niche so the work can be more complex, nuanced. It doesn’t have to hit a mass audience as a Friday release so we can take more risks.
What are the other projects that you are working on?
Niharika Singh: Future East will continue to be a boutique production company focussing on quality series like ‘CLA$$’. Currently we are developing a series for Kids as well as some shows that are in the domestic thriller space. I’m personally also working on a documentary and directing for the first time. We are focusing on producing films and series with other directors besides Ashim as well. Of course, we continue making TV commercials for various brands like Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nivea, Facebook and others.
Ashim Ahluwalia: We are currently also working on an international film with the producers of Cloud Atlas, and developing feature films with Ellipses and Applause entertainment. I’m keen to direct films and series both in India but also internationally, for a global audience.