The Mugging Game:
In India, if a middle-class kid gets good marks in school, parents and extended family start dreaming of IIT, medicine, or these days, an MBA degree, as a ticket to financial success. They have heard of campus placements and six-figure salaries, chances of migrating to the US and becoming the next Sundar Pichai.
When there are lakhs of aspirants for a small number of seats, the competition is tough, and that’s where the coaching class ‘industry’ comes in. The first season of Kota Factory (2019)—shot, for some reason in black and white, focused on the nondescript town of Kota in Rajasthan, that has become a ‘factory’ for students hoping to crack the entrance tests for elite engineering (and medical) colleges, with IIT being the golden key that promises to open the gates of opportunity.
Kota Factory captured a bunch of teenagers, trying to live up to the hopes and ambitions of their parents who have spent large sums of money on a coaching class to help their sons—and a few daughters—to ace the joint entrance exams (JEE). The pressure is so intense, one mark less could slide a student down several rungs in the ladder. The series was a success, perhaps because who does not remember the nightmare of exams? Years after their student days, many people still wake up from the terror of entering an exam hall and going blank.
Teachers in these coaching classes, couldn’t care less about the well being of the students they teach, the more kids their institute pushes into top colleges, the more students they can attract for astronomical fees. Then there is the popular Jeetu Bhaiya (Jitendra Kumar), who does not just teach the kids, but makes them “feel.” He tells them not to dream but to aim, because dreams are just seen, aims are meant to be achieved.
Kota Factory Season 2, is more of the same, picking up the characters and the plot from where it left off. Vaibhav (Mayur More), Balmukund Meena (Ranjan Raj), Uday (Alam Khan), Vartika (Revathi Pillai) return to the struggle of studying for the dreaded JEE.
Jeetu Bhaiya has left Prodigy Classes and started his own institute that he calls Aimers. He looks for other teachers who would help the kids allay their fears and lighten the burden of expectations placed on their shoulders.
Director Raghav Subbu makes the viewer care about these kids, who weep in secret because they are terrified of failure, of going back home without topping the JEE, of being forced to apply to an ordinary engineering college, and dashing the hopes of their parents. When Vaibhav gets a panicked call from the mother of his friend, who is not answering his phone, both assume for a moment that the boy has committed suicide because he could not cope any more.
The second season lacks the humour, warmth or the urgency of the first, but the actors still make the viewer’s heart go out to the characters as they navigate too soon the problems of harsh study schedules, love, sex and a future they did not pick for themselves.
(This piece first appeared in www.seniorstoday.in)