An Incredible Story Of Innocence Destroyed
‘School Of Lies’ is a thriller set within the pictorial beauty of a hill station
One does not easily come across films located in a posh public school whose very appearance immediately creates an ambience of luxury, affluence and high livelihood. ‘School of Lies’ fits neatly into this description.
The River Isaac School of Education or RISE, a public school named after its founder River Isaac, is located in a fictitious hill town called Dalton Town. Events within this school begin to spiral dramatically when one of the boys, 12-year-old Sachin Salgaonkar (Vir Pachisia), goes missing.
Has he been kidnapped? Or, has he run away? The school headmaster Mr. Deka is furious when he learns of this, quite late, from the boy’s house master Mr. Sam (Ameer Bashir).
Sachin Salgaonkar does not return, like he did once earlier, and the police must be informed. Salgaonkar’s distraught and angry mother comes rushing to find out what happened to her son.
Two senior boys, Vikram Singh (Varin Roopani) and his close friend T. K. (Aryan Singh Ahlawat) feel guilty as they are in charge of the juniors of the house Sachin Salgaonkar belongs to. They try desperately to look for Salgaonkar, but they are already stuffed with wrong-doings of their own. These two are perched precariously in their final year with plans of getting admitted to elite schools of higher learning, but are now trapped in other problems.
The narrative is extremely complex but Avinash Arun, Nishant Agarwala and Ishani Banerjee have taken great care to ease the knots. The film underscores director Avinash Arun’s command over a child’s psyche, never mind his caste, status or even age.
Arun has already proved this with his Marathi language film ‘Killa’ which won the National Award. He has also directed ‘Patal Lok’ and ‘Unpaused’, though he is a cinematographer having graduated from the FTII.
Through time leaps which are a bit difficult to digest, the script has with great success fleshed out each character that matters. This is one, rare eight-part web series focused on the happenings in an elite public school.
It gives us an insight into the family backgrounds of the boys. Sachin Salgaonkar, the boy who has fled and not been kidnapped, comes from a broken family. His mother Trisha (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) lives with her partner, and has a baby to take care of.
By her own admission, she has sent the boy off to a boarding school because “I wanted to fuck.” But she is truly worried about her missing boy and visits the police morgue every day to look for him, in vain.
Vikram Singh’s mother is a single parent with another young son. The father, suggested to be in the Defense services, shot himself at home, and the terrible memories haunt Singh all the time though he does not show it.
Singh is honest enough to refuse to apply for a scholarship open to sons of martyrs because his father is not a martyr. His relationship with his mother is volatile and the mother (Sukanya Kulkarni) does not know why her older son always takes potshots at her.
Nandita Mehra (Nimrat Kaur) is the career counselor at RISE, but the boys do not quite open up to her and she is puzzled about this. When she shares her problems with the boys with their House Master Sam (Aamir Bashir), he clams up at once, confusing her all the more.
Mehra tries her best to reach out to the students but she has problems of her own. She has a paralytic father to take care of, this leaves her no room to have a family of her own. She rejects the love of a close friend though she likes him very much.
Sam, on the other hand, has his own scandalous story which is in a restrained manner, shown quite tellingly. It offers an insight into what possibly goes on behind the walls of a reputed and elite public school. Here, apart from a police search uncovering drugs, cigarettes and so on, the issues run much deeper, with serious consequences on the boys of different ages.
The parallel story follows Sachin Salgaonkar’s adventures with Chanchal (Divaynsh Dwivedi), the son of the school’s gardener Bhola (Nitin Goel). he is a shady character with a criminal record, and uncovers the story of how and why Salgaonkar goes missing and even Chanchal is not discovered by his father.
The bond between Salgaonkar and Chanchal sheds light on the lack of any schism between children based on caste, class, status and education. Chanchal is a naughty boy, fed up with being bashed up by his father. His mother has run away and he wants to go up to the monk who lives on the Blue Mountain and live there.
Salgaonkar is ready to go along but not to the monk. The camaraderie between Salgaonkar and Chanchal even in that short period transcends the close bond between Salgaonkar and his bunk mate, Murli. Murli is heart-broken when his friend goes missing without confiding in him.
The scene on the broken bridge where Chanchal leaps to the other side while Sachin Salgaonkar is urged to follow him though he is terribly scared, is a beautiful sidebar that adds insight into boyhood at that age. Another beautiful touch is when Chanchal fries an egg from the chicken coop which is his hiding place for Salgaonkar.
Salgaonkar throws it away as it is tasteless without salt and pepper. When a chicken comes and pecks at it Sachin says, “She does not even know that she is eating her own baby.” This is an insight into how children look at incidents adults do not even notice.
The “Ghost Alley” inside the boarding school is a place everyone avoids because it is said to be haunted. When something brutally violent happens in this alley and no one gets to know about it.
Vikram Singh’s girlfriend Pritha (Adrija Sinha) is the only girl in this boys’ school by virtue of her father Mr. Roy’s links to higher institutes of learning after the boys graduate from RISE. She keeps trying to make him confide in her but he does not, till she disappears from his life.
Her performance is outstanding even in that brief cameo. In fact, the acting, especially by the kids, is outstanding. Varin Roopani as Vikram Singh expresses the hesitancy, the nervous anger he takes out through buying weed from Bhola, and smoking up now and then.
The lack of comfort he experiences with his own mother, his simmering anger directed at himself and at the people who somehow wronged him, comes across beautifully. Young Ahlawat as T.K is equally controlled, mature and good. The engagement created by his parental family towards the climax jars, as one of the several closures to an extremely well-made psychological thriller.
The other question is why does the script give such a short shrift to Chanchal, the wronged boy forced to live with an abusive father? Does it not amount to a kind of playing to the gallery to the rich and the famous?
The film is shot entirely on location at Ooty's Lovedale School, which offers a beautiful setting for the story. it complements the foreground of the elite school with its wide playfields, beautiful dorm and contrasts it with the cruel, brutal and negative happenings that take place behind the long corridors of the school and beyond in the forests, the hen coop, the tiny room where children with their mouths masked are waiting to be trafficked across the India-Nepal border.
The adult actors too are exceptionally good and make the story appear convincing. The music is quite low key and lyrical in impact. The cinematography by Avinash Arun and the editing by Monisha R Baldawa, seem to be competing in a race, and both are winners.
I especially loved the scene where Nandita, walks into the police station as if in a daze and is accosted by the public relations official from the school. The scene goes into slow motion, and the people in the background in the police station go slightly out of focus, while Nandita stands out in relief. It is a beautiful way cinematography and editing go hand-in-hand to visually express the shocked woman’s mental state.
‘School of Lies’ is a thriller set within the pictorial beauty of a hill station. It explores, what happens to growing children when elders go wrong. Congrats to the entire team. It is a not-to-be-missed series that can be watched on Disney-Hotstar.