A still from Farrey. (courtesy: YouTube)
A bunch of super rich students hung up on grades that are beyond their capabilities pull a poor little topper-girl into a cheating racket that spirals out of control in Farrey, a teen drama that oscillates between the whippy and the wobbly.
Co-produced by Salman Khan Films and directed by Soumendra Padhi (Budhia Singh: Born to Run), the frenetic but frequently frivolous Farrey struggles to keep monotony at bay despite the infectious verve that a cast of enthusiastic young actors brings to the game.
The film skims the surface of the issues it tackles - inequities of the higher secondary education, iniquities at the heart of tutorial practices, the hypocrisies of school administrators and the yawning gap between the moneyed and the marginalized.
Farrey (which means chits, the kind that exam candidates use to help each other cheat) does not, however, flunk the test. It blends elements of a thriller with the conventions of a campus drama with a fair bit of flair. It does well not to shoehorn romance or juvenile jaunts - the staples of the teen genre - into its narrative.
The spotlight is squarely on boys and girls from across the class divide trying their darndest to tide over the challenges that examinations pose. For every question they have multiple choices, but those that want high scores have only option before them - finding the answers that elude them.
Parts of Farrey are as flimsy as chits. Its purpose is right. It points to the pitfalls of pushing one's luck too far, but it is riddled with holes that could put giant canyons in the shade.
Farrey provides no great insights into the clash between need and greed, probity and dishonesty and rich and poor as it follows a group of youngsters who think nothing of making a mockery of the examination system.
The makers assert that the film is inspired from "true events" but dichotomously point out in the opening credits that its screenplay has been adapted from the 2017 Thai film Bad Genius. It can either be a story drawn from real incidents or a tale adapted from another film (which, on its part, may have been based on fact).
At no point does Farrey feel totally real. Facile melodramatic flourishes draw attention away from the nitty-gritties of school tests and the tribulations of students out to crack them through illegitimate means. The racket kicks off in the precincts of a Delhi school and then assumes the dimensions of a high-stakes international fraud.
Niyati Singh (debutante Alizeh), an academically brilliant girl raised in an orphanage, earns a scholarship to study in an elite school. The warden of the girl's shelter (Ronit Roy) showers fatherly love on her. His wife (Juhi Babbar Soni), too, treats Niyati like her own daughter.
Niyati's success thrills the couple no end but also sets them thinking about how to fund her higher studies when an Oxford scholarship is within striking distance. The girl overhears a conversation between the warden and his wife. It makes her aware of the problems that lie ahead.
On a whim, she helps a wealthy classmate, Chhavi (Prasanna Bisht), cheat. The latter secures top marks. Others in her class, including Prateek (Zeyn Shaw), turn to her for deliverance. Niyati sees their desperation to earn 80 per cent marks as an opportunity to make some money.
From here on, it is a downward ride for Niyati and her boyfriend Aakash (Sahil Mehta), a classmate who works as a food delivery boy to supplement the family income. His mother, a widow, irons clothes for a living. She isn't too enthused when Aakash announces that he is in with a chance of making it to Oxford.
The social and moral demarcations are pat and predictable. The rich kids are spoilt brats who believe money can buy anything. Their less privileged classmates - Niyati and Aakash - are exceptionally meritorious students who will do everything it takes not to let down their guardians.
Questions of ethics are set aside when the two worlds mingle and the latter are led by circumstances into a gray zone where the lines between right and wrong blur. The transgressions that Niyati readily becomes a part of tend to strain credibility. She does not seem to face any major dilemma as she is sucked into a web of deceptions.
The screenplay, written by Padhi and Abhishek Yadav (Kota Factory), is peppered with stray scenes that show how tough life is for Niyati and Aakash while underscoring the constant pressure that Chhavi is under from her father (Arbaaz Khan in a cameo) who wants her to make it to Stanford University like her elder brother.
Barring Niyati to a certain extent, none of the characters in Farrey is accorded the space that they need to develop into tangible figures. The affluent Chhavi and Prateek live in plush houses and are driven to school in swanky cars - a sharp contrast to the dwellings and lifestyles of Niyati and Aakash - and their worldview is severely blinkered. But that is all that Farrey is able to spell out. The canvas that it creates is rather shallow, if not entirely hollow.
The two most important characters in Niyati's life - her supportive foster parents - also have to make do with sketchy delineation. It would have helped had the screenplay brought out their back stories with greater clarity. One throwaway line here and another tangential one there are simply not enough to tell us where and how the do-gooders began their lives.
Apart from a lecture early in the film staged solely to establish how brilliant Niyati is in comparison to the rest of the class, Farrey shows the students only in examination mode, with Niyati devising foolproof quick fixes for each test.
Alizeh is by far the brightest spot in Farrey. Her role is meaty and she does full justice to it. The three other young actors in the cast - Sahil Mehta, Prasanna Bisht and Zeyn Shaw - have significantly less rounded characters to play but they do lend sustained energy to the film.
An impressive big screen debut and occasional flashes of thematic relevance apart, Farrey is a middling, frayed-at-the-edges exercise that falls short of top marks, if only just.
Alizeh Agnihotri, Sahil Mehta, Prasanna Bisht, Juhi Babbar, Ronit Roy, Zeyn Shaw