I recently watched two popular OTT shows released in April 2023 – Class on Netflix and Jubilee on Prime Video. As I found some similarities and many differences between them, here are my thoughts on Class on Netflix vs. Jubilee on Prime Video.
NETFLIX VS. PRIME VIDEO: THE TRADITIONAL DEBATE
There is no doubt that OTT platforms Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video (both American companies) have been going head-to-head in the content competition for the last few years. This is especially true when it comes to investing in foreign-language content that appeals to an international audience. India, with its strong legacy of storytelling, established filmmaking industry and vast pool of talent, is a great place to find world-class content that fits the bill. Right from Netflix’s ‘Sacred Games’ to Prime Video’s ‘Made in Heaven’, Indian shows on these platforms have garnered global attention and accolades aplenty.
Yet, some fundamental differences have always set them apart. Netflix is older than its counterpart by a number of years and has undergone numerous transitions to reach the position it enjoys today. When Netflix burst upon the Indian TV scene in 2016, the average consumer of English-language television was starved of access to good content in India. At the time, one had to resort to piracy through illegal torrents or catching re-runs of 90s favourites like F.R.I.E.N.D.S on the few English TV channels available. Everything changed with the ‘Netflix and chill’ era.
From 2016 till about 2021, Netflix invested in releasing a wide variety of shows to attract as widespread an audience as it could. However, its higher price point and local competitors who catered more to the masses ensured that it remained the favoured platform for a few as opposed to many. Over the last year, the threat of losing customers and dropping viewership rates have led Netflix awry in their choice of quality content. Now, they follow arbitrary policies like cancelling excellent shows such as ‘1899’ after just one season, instead betting big on brainless reality TV content like ‘Indian Matchmaking’, or simply rehashing its older content as in the case of ‘Class’ which is a copy of its own Spanish hit TV serial ‘Elite’.
Prime Video, on the other hand, has always been accessible to people who have an Amazon Prime membership – a marketing gimmick that has served this e-commerce behemoth well. Hence, though it offers greater value for money in the long run, it is still not quite ‘massy’ in its appeal, unlike the MX apps and Sony Livs. Yet backed by Amazon’s big spending power, Prime Video has the ability to attract the strongest storytellers from the Indian talent pool. Prime’s TV shows like Mirzapur, Paatal Lok and Panchayat, are the ones that pack the real punch.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that these two shows released around the same time – Class on Netflix vs. Jubilee on Prime Video, are poles apart? The former, though not bad, pales in comparison to the latter and here are my thoughts on why:
Most people look at the story of a show while judging it, but as a writer I prefer to judge the script. After all, a great story can be taken to even greater heights or completely butchered depending on how the script relays it.
Having established that, let’s do a summary of the two shows:
Class: Three kids from an urban slum in Delhi are given a scholarship to attend the city’s most elite school, when their own government school burns down in a mishap. The story unfolds in the backdrop of these three misfits attempting to adjust to a world run by rich, entitled brats and their ruthless parents. This involves alcohol and drugs, theft, lying, cheating, lots of sex and a gruesome murder.
Jubilee: Set in the post-independence era Hindi film industry of the late 40s and early 50s, this show captures the political and social events of the time, when one didn’t need any ‘backing’ to rise to fame. It was also a time when the Punjabis, who migrated to Mumbai in droves post-Partition, began taking over the industry which was previously under the sway of Bengalis, and the studio system (where actors were bound to act in the films produced by a single film studio) died out. This too involves alcohol and drugs, theft, lying, cheating, lots of sex and a gruesome murder.
The murder in each show is the catalyst for the story, yet it isn’t the main aspect of either one. I personally felt that the murder in Class was a misplaced one. It made a solid story about class distinctions in everyday scenarios, into a far-fetched and unbelievable one instead. In Jubilee, on the other hand, the murder is quite believably tied into the story (as it is the precursor to a Partition crime) and ingeniously used to prove a larger point about ethics, at the end of the show.
Overall, I felt Class showed promise in the basic kernel of its story, but its wishy-washy script, characters that constantly changed personality traits and a general tendency to go overboard put me off. Jubilee had a tightly written script which explored many layered themes with wonderfully fleshed out characters, all of which made it a win.
The directors of both shows – Ashim Ahluwalia for Class and Vikramaditya Motwane for Jubilee, are equally accomplished doyens in their field, with a number of commercial and critical successes under their belt.
Perhaps the direction is the saving grace for Class as it’s a very stylish show. The mood lighting, cinematography that captures Delhi’s oldest and poorest parts as beautifully as it does its wealthy and newer ones, and excellent music are some of the best narrative tools the show uses to get its message across.
Jubilee’s direction is also really strong. One sees it especially in the expert handling of the on and off-screen recreation of an era gone by.
I think the biggest difference between both shows was in the level of its performances. Class consisted largely of newcomers; a deliberate decision taken by the show’s director. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as most, if not all, of the newcomers are either wooden or tend to overact. The senior actors fare better but they don’t have as much screen space as the younger lot. It almost seems as if the team compromised by prioritising good looks over acting talent while picking the actors.
Jubilee, on the other hand, is a brilliant masterclass in acting. Each character is so fitted to their role that you cannot imagine them playing any other. It’s quite difficult to step into the shoes of established superstars of yesteryears because of the inevitable comparisons that are sure to be drawn. Yet, all of them do it with aplomb! Aparshakti Khurana as the unlikely superstar Madan Kumar, Sidhant Gupta as the angry young Punjabi refugee Jay Khanna, Wamiqa Gabbi as the courtesan turned filmstar Niloufer, Prosenjit Chatterjee as the forward-thinking studio boss Srikant Roy, Shweta Basu Prasad as Madan Kumar’s wife Ratna Das, and Nandish Singh Sandhu as the haunting (and oh-so-good looking!) Jamshed Khan, were particularly excellent.
BACKGROUND SCORE AND EFFECTS
This is another aspect on which both shows score quite high, in my opinion. The background score (and in the case of Jubilee, some playback singing too) works really well in furthering the narratives of both shows. In Class, it shows the edginess of today’s youth and in Jubilee, it brings back the magic of times past. Personally, I’ve always loved old Bollywood songs and so Jubilee’s tracks stayed with me well after I finished the show.
The cinematography and sets are quite well done. Class does the swanky schools and uber-rich homes as well as the decrepit sights and streets of old Delhi really well. Jubilee recreates the film studios of yore as well as a romantic version of Bombay, which my generation has probably only ever seen in old films really well.
The editing of Class, however, needed to be tighter. I felt the 8 episode series was too long and draggy and could easily have been wrapped up in 5-6 episodes. Jubilee, though a longer show with 10 episodes, is taut and has you riveted throughout.
POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE SEASONS
The success of any show is ultimately determined by its potential to be renewed for future seasons.
Class is based on a recurring series (Elite) which already has a number of seasons under its belt. If it were to follow the same trajectory, therefore, it will be renewed, with more people either disappearing or being murdered without just cause. However, I’m unlikely to watch the next or any future season (unless I really have nothing better to do!).
Jubilee could well have been envisioned as a mini-series. It ends on a sad note but is complete in its message and portrayal. However, I see great potential for it to be turned into a series. I can imagine the series moving along in time and capturing each decade of Hindi cinema and its monumental changes. We can see how Bollywood changed over time, as these characters became older and new ones came in to take their place, or their dynasties proliferated.
On a final note, I was so charmed by Jubilee that I watched Raj Kapoor’s Awara (1951) the next day. To me, Jay Khanna’s angsty character from Jubilee was perfectly in line with Raj from this seminal courtroom drama. I now feel inspired to watch more black-and-white films, which in a way defined our nation and its progress at an important time of history.
Class – 3/5
Now that I’ve said my piece, I’d love to know your thoughts on both the shows. Feel free to disagree with me on any account – it’s always enriching to hear other people’s viewpoints!
This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Zariya Healings.
*This is not a sponsored post.
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