School Of Lies Review: Assiduously Crafted Series Packs A Massive Punch

School Of Lies Review: Assiduously Crafted Series Packs A Massive Punch

A still from School Of Lies. (courtesy: YouTube)

An unwaveringly engaging storyline, sharply delineated characters with clear arcs, a clutch of solid performances and consistently evocative atmospherics are four firm pillars on which School of Lies, an eight-episode series created, directed and shot by Avinash Arun Dhaware, stands.

The Disney+Hotstar show is set in an elite school in the hills where life unfolds at its own pace and rhythm. While the idyllic surroundings determine how matters play out here, they also hide shockingly sordid secrets.

The school is witness to enormous upheavals as boys, both pre-teens and teenagers, grapple with the consequences of suppressed aggression, the nagging urge for freedom in a milieu designed to rein them in, and a web of dark lies.

Scripted by Ishani Banerjee (who is also one of the creators of the show) and Nishant Agarwala, School of Lies amends the notion that a family, or a school, is a safe space for youngsters to express themselves without the fear of failure or rebuke.

Indeed, the innocence of childhood, barring rare exceptions, is conspicuous by its absence in the school where School of Lies is located. It is a place where the line of command, based on seniority and enforced on near-military lines, is inviolable.

Neither the families that the boys belong to nor the boarding school that they study and live in give them the protection that they need when push comes to shove. The ethical issues that they encounter stem not only from within themselves but also from their immediate environs. Here, protectors are only one error of judgment away from turning into predators, where an ambience of apparent well-being is often threatened by an air of toxicity.

The imposing school building and broken (or insensitive) families loom over the lives of boys thrown into the deep end by circumstances and struggling to figure out the dimensions and upshots of right and wrong. With their vulnerabilities accentuated, they reach points of no return that, when things go out of hand, return to haunt them.

The script focuses on a handful of the boys – and a girl, played by Adrija Sinha, seen recently in Sirf Ek Banda Kaafi Hai – who run into grave trouble not entirely of their own making. Their unstable pasts and the regimen-driven present combine to push them into a corner.

At the River Issac School of Education (RISE), located in the fictional Dalton Town, the serenity that prevails on the surface conceals unsettling tensions and misgivings. These erupt abruptly when a 12-year-old Class 7 boy, Shakti Salgaonkar (Vir Pachisia), goes missing from the school campus.

Sam (Aamir Bashir), the school’s mathematics teacher and the housemaster of Rajpat House, to which Shakti belongs, instantly comes under a cloud as do a couple of 17-year-old boys who are especially close to him – Vikram Singh (Varin Roopani) and Tarun Kaushik (Aryan Singh Ahlawat).

The school authorities seek to close ranks in order to safeguard the reputation of the institution. Sam, on his part, insists that the incident is an internal matter that should be handled discreetly and without involving the police.

But the school’s student counsellor Nandita Mehra (Nimrit Kaur) begins to talk to the students as she searches for details, the Dalton Town police station SHO Varun Rawat (Hemant Kher) swings into action and begins a probe, and the missing boy’s mother, Trisha Pandey (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), arrives in town.

As the story progresses and facts come to light, the inner worlds of the key characters are revealed bit by bit. These details, in turn, expose disquieting realities about their lives, their tumultuous upbringing, the false moves that they have made, and the reverses they have suffered as a result of rash acts.

School of Lies narrates a sprawling tale that encompasses a vast range of people, including the school gardener Bhola (Nitin Goel) and his son Chanchal (Divyansh Dwivedi), who develops a special bond of friendship with Shakti. Although the plot is dense with information, the show never feels overwrought.

The tone and tenor of School of Lies are superbly orchestrated. The storytelling is layered and restrained, which ensures that the emotional crescendos, when they do come, make the maximum impact. With Aamir Bashir, Nimrat Kaur, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Hemant Kher (as the cop whose investigation makes parts of the series assume the form of a police procedural) delivering wonderfully well-modulated performances, School of Lies rarely, if ever, falters.

The repercussions of unhappy (or confused) states of mind, the contradictions between studied external posturing and raging inner turmoil, and friendships tested and scalding betrayals are effectively plaited into the larger portrait of lacerated lives.

The younger actors playing the schoolboys are terrific. The director handles them with great skill and they respond to the demands of their complex roles without missing a trick. Especially striking is Vir Pachisia as the precocious and problematic Shakti Salgaonkar. The two actors who play his closest pals – Divyansh Dwivedi and Parthiv Shetty (as Murli, Shakti’s bunkmate in the dorm) – are impressive, too.

Varin Roopani and Aryan Singh Ahlawat, playing Vikram and TK, deliver standout performances in demanding roles that straddle a range of complex emotions. Roopani, in particular, demonstrates commendable maturity in the way he holds his own in scenes with Aamir Bashir, Nimrat Kaur and Sonali Kulkarni (in a cameo as the troubled boy’s single mother).

School of Lies is a sensitive, affecting and assiduously crafted series that packs a massive punch.

Cast:

Nimrat Kaur, Aamir Bashir, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Hemant Kher

Director:

Avinash Arun Dhaware

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