Jitendra Kumar as Jeetu Bhaiyya in 'Kota Factory 2'. (Image: Screen grab)
The premise of the show was clear. Reach the engineers who took the JEE exam and will not stop discussing ‘woh bhi kya din thay!’ (what time that was!) on WhatsApp groups, and Facebook high school and college reunion groups. If you were to grade this show for this reason alone, you would give it an A+. But there’s more to the show than just the premise. So here we are, watching not just Season One, but Season Two as well.
A quick recap of the first season. Maheshwari classes churn out the best IIT rankers, and every student who dreams of ‘cracking’ the JEE exam wants to go there. The show follows the trials and tribulations of Vaibhav, Meena and Gupta (the last two are the last names of the lads) as they sweat through the prep for a life-changing exam.
Reality check: In real life, parents send their kids to Kota to study for mostly IIT and medical entrance tests when the tenth grade results are expected. I have seen family froth at the bit to get the kids to the best classes in Kota right when the ‘mock’ exams are held for the tenth grade. And when the exam results are out, trains, planes, automobiles spew thousands of aspirants and parents into the small town.
Back to Season One. Vaibhav, a small-town lad, is already late (he wants to join when he's in the 12th grade) and even though his father boasts, ‘Minister sahab has given a recommendation letter,’ the very suave Mr Maheshwari says, 'That’s why I’m saying no to you in person. He’s come too late.’ Sameer Saxena plays Mr Maheshwari very well, with gold rings on his fingers and the Nehru jacket over crisp kurtas and a Mercedes ride. He exudes the arrogance of big bucks that the business of education brings.
Vaibhav is upset that his dad has had to beg, but their auto rickshaw guy offers gyan, ‘Prodigy Classes may not be Maheshwari, but then all kids who come here and don’t get selected, they weren’t meant to be.’ This rickshaw ride is perhaps the best exposition to our understanding of Kota Factory. ‘This city has become a giant hostel,’ the auto chap says…
Vaibhav is given a crappy class at Prodigy (good students are placed section ‘A’, hopeless mutts in section ‘F’ and everyone else in between), and he is outraged about it. Enough to challenge a teacher, ‘I will be able to solve the paper, and you will put me in a better class’. The aerial shots show Vaibhav walking against the swarm of students going into the institute, and I go, ‘Nice touch there!’ But do people notice subtleties? Of course it derails after that.
The landlady, predictable. The friends, trope worthy: Meena is actually Balmukund Meena who is nerdy and timid; Uday Gupta is brash and has a girl living with him (the girl, Shivangi, is studying for the medical entrance exam and is brash and outspoken). So the two friends (who live in the same building) help Vaibhav access the answers to all the questions from different books by riding out all night from person to person.
This question paper has been set by the supposedly awesome teacher Jeetu Bhaiyya. I thought the questions would be original, not just taken from twenty different books. So I wasn’t too impressed with the mythical Jeetu Bhaiyya. But Jeetu Bhaiyya turns out to be smarter than that. Vaibhav gets to be in the better class simply because Jeetu Bhaiyya recognises his desperate need to be in the class. I want to say ‘Jai ho Jeetu Bhaiyya’ each time the kids (and they’re just kids) are saved from themselves.
Vaibhav, Meena and Uday don't behave like they’ve been toppers even in their little part of the country. If aspirants and their parents are going to see this show, they will be put off by the struggles of these kids. And I think that may be a good thing because we put an inordinate amount of trust in these classes, and believe that working out problems day and night will help you ace exams. The system is flawed and the kids are paying the price.
In Season Two, we follow the same kids and see how they buckle under pressure. One falls ill, another is in denial of his raging hormones, and a third seems to stop caring. Their favourite teacher, too, has to grow as a character. Once hailed as the best teacher, he is now painted as a drug abuser and womanizer because he has shown the temerity to become an education entrepreneur himself. His optimism spills over to the kids who join his coaching class. There’s no mention of how parents actually afford this new class their wards are choosing. It’s a pity they couldn’t write better roles for the girl students. They only have a nerd with glasses and the other who is plagued by self doubt. Stereotype hell.
Season Two also breaks into really brain-numbing songs in every episode, which you fast forward because they’re not doing anything for the narrative but just reiterating it. This season, the villain is Chemistry - the subject. Instead of finding ways to actually deal with the problem of not understanding the subject, their favourite teacher tells them to ignore it, because in the long run, where do engineers use inorganic chemistry, and that they need only to score something like 11% to sail through the exams. Not a fan of chemistry, but this was dissing on a grand scale.
The fifth episode seems to be very hurried and a tad repetitive. As though the show lost steam. What seemed awful when you first saw it - the entire class turning pages in sync - now seems like a gimmick. And the flaws shine bright. A very simple thing: the kids are living in single rooms, and they are never shown trying to cook on hot plates (even instant noodles, a staple for kids living away from home), or make tea or coffee for themselves. All of a sudden, when Vaibhav’s mum comes to take care of him, she’s making them matar paneer...
Even Jeetu Bhaiyya’s shine seems to fade. And you realise that you know nothing about the chap who did not get a ‘rank’ and ends up crying, and you’d rather watch the third season of Sex Education
that has released. Nostalgia in black and white works up to a point. I hope Jitendra Kumar does not get typecast like Chatur of 3 Idiots
, or Tyagi of Paatal Lok
. This show is watchable but would not get an AIR.