Kota, Rajasthan is a place with multiple identities. A bustling town situated 250kms south to the capital city of Jaipur, it has established itself as a premier educational hub of the country. Every year lakhs of students enrol themselves in the numerous coaching centres located across town in attempts to crack the IITJEE. While some consider it a requirement to ‘make it in life’, others find it synonymous to a grim life hopefully not ending in death.
Stories of emotional and mental alienation aren’t unheard of, add to it the parental pressure to succeed; all of these factors combined have earned Kota an infamous reputation. This multifaceted town of coaching institutes training children to survive one of today’s deadliest races is The Viral Fever’s (TVF) new area of interest.
The beauty of ‘Kota Factory’ is that it explores the challenges faced by the students to survive in the ‘coaching hub of India’, let alone work towards the goal they all share—to make it into an IIT. Creating a parallel universe based on this town, the show revolves around Vaibhav, played by Mayur More.
The series very early on transitions to a monochrome scheme as it begins to narrate how the show’s title has quite literally justified Kota’s face value of being a factory which produces successful IITians. As the auto driver ferrying Vaibhav and his father rightly said—“Hum to yahan se hain, jab yeh Kota factory nahi seher hua karta tha”. The camera shifts to an aerial view of the city, whose skyline is dominated by massive billboards of coaching institutes celebrating their toppers. A heartbroken Vaibhav who has failed to secure a seat in the acclaimed Maheshwari classes soon realises how insignificant he is as a person in the grand scheme of things. There is no place for those who do not prove their worth.
After joining classes at Prodigy, an institute he places second on his preferred list, he goes on to befriend Meena, played by Ranjan Raj, and Uday, played by Alam Khan. TVF’s home runs lie in the way their audience relate to the content put up. ‘Kota Factory’ delivers nothing less. Each character in the show will remind you of someone you would find in a place like Kota.
We get a taste of reality right from the first episode with Vaibhav’s father pleading to get his son admitted. “Bacche mein dum hein”—he says, something all parents believe in, but how many manage to keep this fire alive for the next two years?
With over two lakh aspirants coming in each year, and with a system as rigged like this, it really is survival of the fittest.
While Allen, Bansal, Vibrant and Resonance are some of the top names, there are a few too many private institutes, as well, which monetise on this system. All institutes have a batch system, with A1 made of the very best; the promising ones destined to maintain the name of these institutes. ‘Dummy schools’, a Kota creation, are schools students take admission in, but never attend. With the money spent where needed, one can get their entire school curriculum taken care of.
Jeetu bhaiya, played by TVF favourite Jitendra Kumar, is quickly established as the ray of light in the show. His genuine interest in his students’ lives and his pieces of advice allows us to receive his character with a lot of warmth and comfort. Early on, he tells Vaibhav– “Bacche do saal mein Kota se nikal jaate hein. Kota saalon tak bacchon se nahi nikalta”. One might expect a generic motivational speech, but instead, the monologue highlights the trauma these children go through. Every year in, and every year out, Kota produces masses of children trained to think and function a certain way, cutting them off from the real world and where everything else ceases to matter.
One of the most likeable qualities of the show is the realistic portrayal of the environment created in the city right from the beginning. The dialogues, advice offered by various characters, decisions taken by individuals paint a very different picture from what is standard on the big screen these days.
While Vaibhav was one to decide to come to Kota on his own, adjusting to the system was a depressing shock, he had to find his way through. With Jeetu bhaiyya’s advice, and Meena and Uday’s help, he found his feet. A person of Vaibhav’s character, one of determination and brain power is a rare find. A large part of the aspirants is between that of a hardworking Meena and a far too relaxed Uday.
It is this group of people in between that probably have the hardest time fitting in. For people like Meena, Kota has always been the only path to tread on. Since day one, they were ready to put in the work, and do their best to optimise what they have. In a particular scene, when Vaibhav is seen with a cake in his hand, Meena remarks “Tum ameer log kisi bhi din cake kha lete ho kya?” This seemingly humorous scene subtly showcases Kota as a melting pot for students with different economic and social backgrounds.
Uday represents those forced to come to Kota; the ones with no interest in what they are doing. In the season finale, Uday has a monologue in which he calls himself a ‘nalayak’, or a fool. He considers himself a failure, and someone who will never be his parents’ pride. For the ones who wile away time, Kota is heaven-like in the form of small shops, or ‘thelas’ that give them everything—from movies to whatever else they need to have an easy time.
The romance shown is a liberty the show takes. Institutes keep a check tight enough to even prevent people from both genders from walking around together. For the most part, everything from the rivalry between Maheswari and Prodigy, to the terrible hostel life represent real-life Kota. Even the mention of Bihar Tigers has an element of truth behind it. Bihar Tigers is an actual group of students that once aspired to successfully make it out of Kota. Having failed to do so, they stayed back to create an air of fear around them. Now, they do everything from looting to beating up students to death in the mess.
One of the most touching scenes of the series, too, doesn’t shy away from reflecting the pragmatism which has deeply settled in the hearts of all aspirants. Vaibhav finally decides to join Maheshwari classes and has to leave his friends behind. Meena, in all his simplicity, reminds Vaibhav that certain people aren’t meant to be with you throughout and how friendship, unlike revision, is not something one necessarily has to do.
A few minutes before the series draws its curtains, Vaibhav tells an apprehensive student of Maheshwari classes that it only takes 21 days for anyone to form a habit and it wouldn’t be difficult for him to blend in, advise reminiscent of Jeetu bhaiya. The monochrome palette is now slowly filled with colours, albeit for a short while. It reminds viewers that amidst all the struggles and sacrifices maybe not everything is lost, and there is still hope for those who are giving their all here, in Kota, to ultimately make it in life elsewhere.
-Aarohi Sarma and Abhishek Mishra for MTTN
Images: The Viral Fever