Jamtara director Soumendra Padhi’s exam-hall heist thriller Farrey can be summed up between two ironies. To begin with, it is to its original source material — the 2017 Thai thriller Bad Genius — what its elite-crowd sidekicks are to its underdog protagonists. They both reap the rewards of the unseen brilliance of their lesser-known benefactors.
If the year that’s on its way out — the year of redemption for mainstream Indian big-films — is any indication, grand plots starring dependable box-office pied pipers are the order of the day. In Farrey, we have a campaigner of the “content-driven” movement that seems to have been set in motion by the emergence of OTT storytelling — from the house of Salman Khan no less.
It opens with the street-smart protagonist writing an exam for a client in return for extra pocket cash in a scene that deftly establishes her personality type without aiming too high. She is one of the 20-odd girl children at a Delhi orphanage that is run by a couple (Ronit Roy and Juhi Babbar Soni) that is straight out of a Rajshri Productions project. After Niyati, our protagonist, tops the all-India class 10 board examination and is accepted into a prestigious school from the Student of the Year universe, she ends up befriending the reigning rich biatch bunch.
Like capitalist opportunists, the callous bunch soon (with some help from our social climber protagonist) realises how they can tap into their new friend’s bottomless academic gifts with their bottomless cash coffers. You know what’s coming (even if you haven’t seen Bad Genius) but there’s a certain relish and unapologetic flair in the way it comes and lands. Not even Ronit Roy in the sanskaariest role of his life (as the salt-of-the-earth foster father-slash-warden) — and Shilpa Shukla (the cool but moralistic principal) as the polar opposite of her breakout performance in Chak De! India (2007), with their 2000s-era platitudes and uptight insistence on upstandingness, can weigh down the Faustian pact these hustling Gen-Z types have entered into. Imagine — it takes a gorgeous Sydney sunset to get them their own moment under the sun.
The other delicious irony of Farrey is the casting of Alizeh Agnihotri as the underprivileged orphanage prodigy staring wide-eyed at the obscene excess of resources at her rich BFF’s house. It’s pleasantly disarming to see Salman Khan’s niece bring a confident physical energy to her first acting role. Among other things that this star kid is lucky for is the fact that this character allows her to be seen as de-glam (as much as I detest that term), unyielding and insecure — all of which someone of her station is less likely to be perceived as.
Farrey is also enjoyable thanks in no small part to its characterisation that stresses on the greys, reminiscent of the ambiguity that the OTT style of storytelling again has brought to keep long-form content engaging. Sahil Mehta of Tabbar and Good Luck Jerry, who plays Akash, the other scholarship student at Winston High, powers his performance with the down-and-outer’s angst. Zeyn Shaw (Class), who you have to try very hard to see as a high-schooler, essays the harmless young charmer but without the annoying awareness of sex appeal that actors sometimes exude. In fact, it’s the absence of any dependence on romantic tension that keeps Farrey crisp and economical.
Despite flagging a bit towards the conclusion and requiring the odd suspension of disbelief in its high-stakes heist moments, the film succeeds in scoring what it has probably set out to. If its inspiration gets straight A’s, Farrey scores a fine distinction.