Rejctx review: Goldie Behl's series has noble intentions, but comes across as Student of The Year on steroids
Rejctx tries to position itself as a groundbreakingly young web series, but falls short of convincing viewers of the adolescent internal conflicts by a mile.
Goldie Behl's ZEE5 Original show Rejctx is a coming-of-age campus show that addresses various concerns — body-shaming, gender fluidity, and dysfunctional familie to name a few. With a noble premise and a motley group of high-school students, Behl's show held a lot of promise. Sadly, however, Rejctx comes across as little more than Student of the Year on steroids.
Rejctx introduces its key players— Aarav Sharma (Ahmed Masi Wali), the rich kid with an influential father and an ailing mother; Kiara Tiwary (Anisha Victor), the computer genius coding apps and making Virtual Reality games with a blink of an eye; Sehmat Ali (Saadhika Syal), the Muslim fencing champion struggling with gender identity; Maddy (Ayush Khurrana), the basketball champ with a penchant for receiving blowjobs; Parnomitra Ray (Ridhi Khakhar), the Regina George (what is a high-school show without a li'll bit of Mean Girls reference!) of the school; Misha (Pooja Shetty), the hair-brained selfie-taker made fun of by her peers for her English accent; Harry (Prabhneet Singh), the wisecracking troublemaker; and Steve, the primary antagonist and Parnomitra's boyfriend.
Rejctx begins at an underground music competition. Eight months into the new school, the students have formed a band and are ready to show off their talent at the music fest. All is well till Aarav goes completely incognito. To top that off, a dead body with a noose around its neck drops from nowhere on the stage. The mystery thickens — but before it can completely dissolve you into its suspense, you are plunged back to the first day of their school, where the enthusiastic vice-principal (Sumeet Vyas) is introducing the freshers to the Jefferson World School.
Parallel narratives are creative choices that makers take in order to tell their story in the most effective manner possible. In this case, though, this creative choice interferes with the narrative itself. We are informed that Kiara is not fond of Aarav, as she continually tries to jeopardise his stay at the school. We are also told that Parnomitra does not indulge with this Indian crowd and often talks down to her peers. However, in the parallel storyline, we witness that these students have formed a bond so strong that they have even founded a band together. If the motive of the story is to chart out how these mortal enemies become dear friends, then by presenting the viewers with the resolution, i.e, them being friends right at the get-go, defeats the purpose of the intrigue.
On their first day in school, Vyas urges all the new entrants to sign up as a member of the students' council. He announces that it is an extremely prestigious position, and students ought to participate in a three-part competition to get selected into the council. Thus begins the Student of the Year rehash, with students taking turns to display their talents and thwart others' attempt to do so at the tournament. You wonder why none of the non-Indian students (except for our Thai antagonist Steve) gets a moment under the spotlight. You wonder why they only serve to cheer and clap the heroes and heroines of their class, who flail their arms like a certain Shah Rukh Khan and waltz around with a violin stuck under the chin. Further, one's eligibility at the coveted council depends upon the number of likes one amasses while showcasing their skills. In a drama that claims to address problems of social media pressure, of impossible standards of beauty, (especially when social media platforms are experimenting with hiding the number of likes on posts altogether,) then, basing an entire competition on "likes" and up-votes seems to contradict with the premise itself.
We have come a long way from the Mohabbatein days, when the only problem students were projected to be facing were limitations against interacting/engaging with the other sex. With shows such as 13 Reasons Why and Sex Education, there has been a genuine attempt at exploring the psyche of middle and high-schoolers and the toxic culture of gossip, bullying and social media trolling inside the high-school ecosystem. Rejctx tries to position itself as a groundbreaking web series aimed at decoding the complexities and struggles of adolescents, but falls short of convincing viewers of their internal conflicts by a mile, at least in the first two episodes that have been aired. Furthermore, no explanation is provided to address why these privileged kids studying in an IV league institution are "rejects".
The acting also fails to create an impression. Barring Vyas and Kubbra Sait, who essays the role of the student counsellor, the acting is quite sub-par. When Aarav talks about his ailing mother or Kiara reveals to Misha and Sehmat that her parents have been blind to her academic achievements, forcing her to lose weight instead, we are hardly invested in their hardships. Neither is the mystery of the missing Aarav given time to breathe or flourish, the director only too hasty to intersperse it with candyfloss and bubblegum conversations.
The jarring background score does little in the form of aiding the story. During the orientation scene, when Vyas' vice-principal is introducing the students to their new school, Harry and Maddy play a remixed version of all their teachers' catchphrases as a prank on the mic, cutting Vyas' monologue short. In this scene, the background score indicating the build-up is so loud that it becomes nearly impossible to discern the background music from the cacophonous prank. Only when Vyas' pitch-perfect expression changes from gloating to flummoxed to dismayed, do we realise that a prank has indeed been played.
Oscillating between being a hard-hitting high-school drama and a 90s popcorn flick, the only thing going for Rejctx is Aishwarya Meshram and Poonam Sharma's incredible production design. The magnificent Jefferson World School is created as a delectable delight, an institution that serves its privileges only to the select few. Evan Malik and Rahul Jayakrishnan's camera captures the opulent school to perfection, from its sprawling basketball fields to the enormous lecture halls.
Despite being touted as a musical, though, there's nothing to write home about in Sneha Khanwalkar's music. In fact, when the students cheer for the Aarav's apparently "breathtaking" guitar-strumming abilities, you wonder if your auditory faculties are compromised.
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