“Intimate,” the adjective Netflix uses to describe the second season, sits lightly on the series that continues to address teenage warriors engaged in an unequal battle to surmount the IIT JEE, the reigning deity of competitive exams.
The immersive camera work — one of the highlights of the first season — provides an insight into the vulnerabilities of these kids, grappling with hormonal surge and gravitational pull in equal measure. From a distance, it also reminds us of the dangers of coaching factories turning them into machines.
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Of course, the top angle shot has lost some of its shine, but it continues to give us a sense of the bigger picture where the fame and material gains don’t necessarily come from Bollywood or cricket. An IIT ranker’s face can also be on a poster, an auto or a hoarding at the city crossing.
The performances are once again relatable, capturing the joys, sorrows, and anguish of a large chunk of this generation that spends four-five years of their lives in getting past some competitive exam, or the other where the success ratio is below one percent.
It is this substantial block, along with those who crossed the rubicon and are seeking a dash of nostalgia, that is being tapped by OTT platforms; these stories are told so much so, that cracking the exam code has almost become a genre in itself.
Even the characterisation seems to be based on a kind of census of students who throng Kota. The central character Vaibhav Pandey (Mayur More is consistently watchable) comes from a middle-class background. Among the close ‘friends’, Uday Gupta (Alam Khan is winsome but tends to get repetitive) hails from an elite background, while Balmaukund Meena (Ranjan Raj) is somebody who hasn’t tasted a cake for seven years.
- Creators: Arunabh Kumar, Saurabh Khanna and Raghav Subbu
- Cast: Mayur More, Ranjan Raj, Jitendra Kumar, Alam Khan, Ehsaas Channa, Revathi Pillai
- No. of episodes: 5
- Storyline: In a city of coaching centres known to train India’s finest collegiate minds, an earnest but unexceptional student and his friends navigate campus life
It is no longer just Lakhon Main Ek, only recently we watched Aspirants by the same production house that has put together Kota Factory. The good thing is that these shows are not largely judgmental. They can’t be brushed off as hangovers of 3 Idiots where three protagonists take the narrative forward, nor do they look at it as a rat race and the participants as geeks. Instead, drawing from real life, they open a window to the good, bad, and ugly part of this huge exercise where a beautiful mind brushes shoulders with restless and restful ones, where coaching institutes are not painted villains, but part of a larger unemployment malaise that ails the country.
Part of the reason is many of these creative enterprises are supported by business groups who have interests in the education sector. The surrogate advertising that had become an irritant in Aspirants and the first season of Kota Factory is thankfully minimised here. Though the focus is still on Jeetu Bhaiyya, we also get to see other teachers in shades that are not necessarily black.
However, like the idea of angry young men, the syllabus of studious young men also demands constant upgradation. In its second season, the Factory falls into a pattern, which is not always a good thing for a creative enterprise.
For all his earnestness, Jitendra Kumar’s Jeetu Bhaiyya’s advice is threatening to enter a danger zone where the audience might say, “No, not gain!” Just like only physics can’t help you sail through the IIT test, one actor can’t solve all queries in the audience’s mind.
Though Raj shone brightly in the first season, with eyes and body language that capture both the dreams and the reality of a large section of this generation, his character doesn’t get more substantial material to play with. The female characters get some flesh but apart from the effusive Ehsaas Channa, the rest fail to leave a mark.
There are phases when the series sounds like a ready reckoner for IIT preparation or a witty counselling session for students. Like the study material, it seems the writers have created lucid chapters on issues that concern the teenage audience preparing for the competition. From self-love to self-annihilation to a skewed sex ratio in the IITs, every issue is tossed and ticked. Some of them hit the right note but some pan out as perfunctory. The mental mess, the inner demons, the unsaid don’t come through enough.
As a third season seems to be on the cards, one can’t help but quote Jeetu Bhaiyya says: A little bit of cheating is okay, but it should not become a habit.
(The second season of Kota Factory is currently streaming on Netflix)