Kota Factory captures the manic state that many IIT aspirants find themselves in during their quest for cracking the JEE
Kota Factory follows the lives and struggles of IIT aspirants and how they straddle the daunting task of preparing for the JEE while keeping up with the challenges of being a teenager
India’s peculiar obsession with cracking competitive exams to get enrolled in premier educational institutes has inspired many films and shows. After all, the desperate circus surrounding college admissions and the manic preparations naturally packs enough drama to deliver as ‘material’.
Some of these films have delved into the back-breaking journey of these teens on the cusp of adulthood, others rationalised the futility of the very exercise. Then there are those that have pinned parental pressure for compelling some to consider an academic path that hardly weighs in with their interest or aptitude, leading to disaster. Kota Factory, however, casts its lens on those students who’re entirely committed to their goal of cracking the JEE Main (the entrance exam for getting enrolled into the IITs) and are willing to make any and all sacrifices required in this pursuit. The series also translates this journey without underlined dramatic turns or glib dialoguebaazi and yet, manages to keep one hooked to the proceedings.
The first season introduced us to the show’s lead Vaibhav Pandey (Mayur More) who moves from his hometown Itarsi to the coaching class capital of Kota to prepare for JEE. Initially uncertain of his abilities and tentative about every move, Vaibhav sought comfort and courage by leaning on his flatmates-turned-friends Meena (Ranjan Raj) and Uday (Alam Khan), who alternately egg him on and suggest hacks to negotiate every obstacle he encounters. The studious teen also finds himself a favourite female in Vartika (Revathi Pillai), who happens to be one of his peers. But his first love hardly seems to temper his academic resolve and he gets selected to join the coaching class of his dreams.
Having joined a new coaching class and moved to a new PG, this season finds Vaibhav among new classmates who seem just as driven but hardly sociable. He does find a replacement for his best friend Meena but is soon joined by his former flatmates who happen to join a new coaching class helmed by their favourite teacher Jeetu Bhaiya (Jeetendra Kumar). What follows, is a series of misadventures where Vaibhav and his besties get through life one day at a time as they prepare themselves for the ultimate test of their abilities. This season seems to drag its feet initially but gets rolling soon enough if you stay with the show without giving up on it for lack of startling revelations or elaborate obstacles in the storyline.
From Dead Poet’s Society to School of Rock to The Karate Kid, the most compelling teachers in films and shows have forever taken pride in bending the rules and often found the allotted syllabus to be restrictive if not insufficient to cover the subject. Kota Factory’s Jeetu Bhaiya is no Mr. Miyagi and his teaching methods can hardly be slotted as revolutionary let alone unconventional. But this plain-speaking tutor continues to dazzle his pupils with fundas that they seem to grasp almost with mechanical ease. In a scene, he informs his students that their dream of acing the JEE may never come true. While this left some befuddled, he followed it up by saying that they shouldn’t consider it as a dream, to begin with, as dreams rarely come true. Instead, they should rather call it their aim which they are more likely to achieve.
While many may describe this show as one about determined students who’re willing to go the distance to fulfill their academic goals, it’s also a deep dive into the various kinds of teachers that we’ve all encountered during our academic life. We’re introduced to teachers who pull through by doing the bare minimum -- running through the syllabus without bothering about whether their efforts seem to drive home the message. Then there are those who are actually effective and deploy methodologies that make complex concepts seem less daunting. But the best of the lot, as we come to realise in the course of this show, are only those who attend to each query of every student and are also able to read those concerns that some pupils may not always voice.
More makes for a compelling lead and manages to convey Vaibhav’s mental state elaborately. Kumar, who’s swiftly becoming one of the most popular stars on streaming platforms (following last year’s sleeper hit Panchayat) slips into the skin of Jeetu bhaiya, a teacher who, unlike most, makes his students ‘feel’ the material. The supporting cast, including Raj, Khan, Channa, and Pillai reprise their respective character with the same enthusiasm.
The fact that his show is in black and white may drive away some viewers who may dismiss it as a superficial attempt at arthouse. But the makers seem to have taken a deliberate call to metaphorically hint at the state and situation that the characters in this show find themselves in and once you invest yourself in the show and the lives of its lead characters, it’s possible that you may forget if not ignore the limited range of hue on canvas.
Kota Factory shines largely for its writing which manages to light up every scene and situation. And while the dialogue may not capture life-altering epiphanies, it does touch a necessary nerve. What could’ve been curbed, however, include those scenes which seem to be deliberately added almost like an afterthought to convey a certain message. For instance, to dilute and destigmatise failure, there’s a scene featuring one of the JEE toppers who seems just as heartbroken as those who didn’t even make the cut only since he didn’t get the rank he had hoped for. The message is obvious but it didn’t need to be underlined and italicised.
The true test of any film or show is to be able to effectively translate the circumstances experienced by those in it across the screen. And on that front, Kota Factory offers an immersive ride and one is able to closely follow every character’s mind and heart in every frame. While the show makes no deliberate attempt to delve into this, one may also question an education system that encourages pupils to hole themselves up during their prime and test the limits of their faculties only to prove that they’re worthy of seeking education from an institute of choice. Food for thought?