Trust the pandemic to flip our feelings about everything, even academics. I spent the last one and a half years working from home—as did lakhs of students attending online classes in some dingy corner of their room. A cousin of mine, who’s in 12th, will finish her entire high school without setting foot inside a class. So when Vaibhav (Mayur More) walks up to Maheshwari Classes in Kota Factory season 2, on a bright day with lots of open air, I was oddly moved. “Hey,” I thought, “attending coaching classes wasn’t all that bad!”
Turning assumptions on a dime is perhaps why this show has struck a chord. The first season, which dropped on YouTube in 2019, spurned cynical portrayals of the IIT-engineering race. You’ll remember what Jeetu Bhaiya (Jitendra Kumar) told Vaibhav when they met at Prodigy Classes. “IIT mein Chatur nahi jate, sirf Rancho jate hain,” he had said, invoking the movie 3 Idiots. “Chaturs don’t make it to IIT, only Ranchos do.” But why IIT? This is the question that greets us in season 2.
Vaibhav, of course, is in no mood for a discussion. He’s just made it to the place he thinks will catapult him to the toughest technical university in the country. The numbers are stacked against him: of the lakhs who sit for JEE, only a few thousands make the cut. The odds are only marginally better for the kids at Kota, long-held as the preparation mecca of India. Vaibhav—the colour literally draining from his face—sinks back into a grey resolve. It’s a long road, and miles to go before he leaps.
Vaibhav isn’t alone in the scaling of forbidding heights. Jeetu Bhaiya, his mentor and guide, is shown at a similar crossroads. He’s still an angelic figure to the kids, looking into a concave mirror and finding a metaphor for fixing your aim in life. But Kota Factory also tests him out, putting him out of Prodigy and en route to start his own institute. New to fund-raising, the all-wise Jeetu Bhaiya hesitates before ringing up a friend in the states. It’s a memorable scene—complete with a great cameo—and Jitendra plays it as a counterpoint to his witty, one-track character.
The supporting cast fares just as well. Alam Khan is a worthy fan favourite as Uday, a privileged – but smart – slacker who grounds proceedings and rightly calls himself the ‘Krishna’ of this show. A comic bit with Meena (Ranjan Raj) builds into a mature exploration of masturbation and late puberty. The female characters have a more defined voice this time, a welcome but somewhat corrective move after the male-heavy environs of the debut season. Revathi Pillai is strikingly natural as Vartika, Vaibhav’s romantic interest, yet her own track as an under-confident student doesn’t add up to much.
Director Raghav Subbu has helmed all episodes of Kota Factory so far. He and the writers crack several notable ploys to keep the narrative chugging along. The menial labour of exam preparation is often replaced by some clever quest: Vaibhav cutting classes at Maheshwari, Jeetu Bhaiya struggling, his students helping out with billboards and websites. Not all of it works, however. The stretch with Vaibhav falling sick and getting nursed back to health by his mom is sweet but sentimental (Uday, recognising this, ends the piece on a joke).
What the makers do avoid is attaching themselves to one polemic. The show, though in monochrome, never trades in binaries. The good is offered up with the bad. The teachers at Maheshwari are revealed to be competent researchers but inadequate instructors. The institute’s head–persuasively played by Sameer Saxena–is a more complicated villain than he first appears to be. I won’t reveal further; there’s an emotional slide in the end that’s worth checking out on your own. But I’ll say this: with season 2, Kota Factory tests the domain of a mentor and his charge. This is Whiplash with a heart.
Series: Kota Factory Season 2
Director: Raghav Subbu
Cast: Mayur More, Jitendra Kumar, Ranjan Raj, Alam Khan, Ahsaas Channa, Revathi Pillai
Streaming on: Netflix