Kota Factory Season 2: Binge-Worthy But Something Is Missing
Kota Factory Season 1 was brilliant simply because it was relatable even to non-Kota crowd. Season 2, though more truthful to reality, was too inconvenient for them.
I was a bit surprised at the criticism hurled by professional critics at the second season of TVF’s web series Kota Factory because I binge-watched it and at the end of episode 5, when I tried clicking ‘next’, to my disappointment, I realised it was the finale of the season. This is not to say that the sequel was as good as the pilot. There was definitely a lingering feeling of something important missing from it.
Maybe it was because the show focused too much on developing character arc of its two main protagonists - Vaibhav and Jeetu bhaiya - and forgot about everyone else, especially the three females who received little to no attention even after proving their acting abilities and doing more than justice to their characters in the first season.
Or maybe it was because the show felt perfect in parts but not in its entirety and we know that the whole is greater than the sum of parts. It’s cinematic brilliance shows when scene fades from colour to its quintessential black and white mode as Maheshwari Sir paints a stunningly doomsday scenario and talks to the students as if he is not delivering a lecture at an orientation class but as an army general leading his soldiers into a war.
Similarly, one can’t help appreciate the creative geniuses of the director and writers looking at the final scene where your eyes are fixed at the Big Bang posters of IITJEE Rank 1 holder while the ambulance siren of those who gave into the pressure and commit suicide pierces your ears. There are more such instances but one feels the overall storyline lacking heart and soul.
Perhaps it was because that the show was preachy. No doubt that the TVF team has great talent but they are yet to reach the artistic heights of the likes of Aaron Sorkin, the only playwright and screenwriter I know who can pull off extremely preachy gyaan with such finesse like a magician does his tricks. It didn’t help that the show had to rely only on Jeetu bhaiya alone for all the sermons and whenever the writers found themselves stuck in a narrative corner, they used the clutches that are Jeetu bhaiya‘s motivational speeches to rescue themselves.
Or maybe some people couldn’t relate to it at all, something I had feared when the show was first announced. The Kota crowd may be huge (tens of millions of people by now) but it’s still a niche segment and if you make too realistic a show on the factory that Kota is, people will find it ridiculous, outrageous and even crazy - an experience that is so common to those who have been ‘made’ in that factory but so alien to everyone else who have had the luxury of going to school and living close to their family.
Season 1 was brilliant simply because it was relatable even to non-Kota crowd. Season 2, I am afraid, though more truthful to reality, was too inconvenient for them. The Kota crowd may not love it as much but they will definitely like it, if only for all the doses of nostalgia it serves.
Perhaps most people didn’t like the sequel because it’s brutal in portraying the harsh reality of Kota, especially how transactional relationships become in Kota - the detestable phone call Vaibhav has with his brother, how he secretly wishes his mother to go back home after he is cured of typhoid so he can concentrate on his preparation more, how he proposes not meeting his girlfriend too often as it’s a distraction, how Sarika ma’am leaves Jeetu bhaiya‘s institute for Maheshwari classes for a better offer and so on.
Some would say this is the glorification of IIT preparation and coaching culture but it’s the reality, however inconvenient it may be. Maybe those who are criticising TVF for such ‘glorification’ expect feel good no-brainers like ‘Student of the Year’ or other college campus fairytales but life is truly black and white for those in the Kota Factory (hence the scenes in monochrome).
Or perhaps the professional critics are too harsh in thinking that the students in Kota factory are all living pathetic lives and are victims who need to be saved from the intensity of this level of preparation. I am sure they will be surprised if they talk to those who studied in Kota even after years whether they regret the decision and the answer in most cases would be a resounding no. Maybe it was about time that we also glorified studying hard for a change rather than the usual romanticisation by Bollywood of those who quit their jobs to travel the world and follow their passion.
As Saurabh Khanna, one of the screenwriters at the TVF said about the scripting of Kota Factory:
The popular narrative surrounding Kota and IIT preparation in Indian pop culture is that parents torment their children by pushing them through the process and it’s a one-sided representation. It’s not like everyone is in Kota with a passion other than clearing the exam. There are also studious kids, but people who study aren’t celebrated in the country. We make films on mavericks, but never something like A Beautiful Mind. We have developed this tendency to portray people who study and get nine-to-five jobs as these drones whose passions have been sucked away. It’s like there’s not a story in their life unless they quit their jobs and climb the Himalayas.
Such critics also don’t understand TVF team (half of whom have themselves went to Kota for coaching and are thus able to capture the feel so authentically). It would rather commit to genuineness at the expense of creative liberty than the other way round. This doesn’t mean complete absence of liberty but only about priorities and limits of it (Those who have personally attended scores of classes of the two characters that Jeetu bhaiya and Maheshwari sir are based on would definitely attest to the amount of liberty TVF team has taken in their actual portrayal).
Or perhaps, season 2 isn’t appealing as much as the first one simply because Kota of 2019 doesn’t have the same appeal as the Kota of 2021. It’s no longer an aspirational town where people would keep going to chase their IIT dream. It’s a ghost city today. One can blame the Covid-19 pandemic for it but the era of big badass coaching factories was coming asunder anyway and moving online with the rise of Byju’s, Unacademy et al., who also host many famous Kota teachers as well.
The model of teaching all subjects under one roof from the best talent has been under challenge in Kota for years. When Bansal Classes fell apart, Allen saved the day for Kota. Today, there is no one to save that model.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s just another case of web series writers not able to live up to the success of their pilot season. As they say, the simplest explanation is usually the best one. This genre is still in its infancy and talent pool is still focused mostly on movies and concentrated in big production houses. It will take time before a sustained success comes along. In the meantime, one should celebrate TVF which is still the only popular media house that is consistent in churning out most relatable and sensible content for India’s youth.
From an amateurish entertainment outlet (it used to have Qtiyapa in its name!) in 2011 focusing chiefly on mocking the then wildly popular (and weirdly aspirational for country’s youth at that time) MTV show Roadies, it has come a long way in 2021 - the most successful transition from being a YouTube channel to a legit mainstream cinema company with OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime competing for its content.
It was MTV that had rejected TVF founder Arunabh Kumar’s tv show proposal for ‘being too intelligent which India’s youth are not ready for’. No points for guessing why MTV was the focus of mockery for TVF in the beginning! In 2015, ‘Pitchers’ came that not only went viral with the masses but also received critical acclaim. TVF has delivered one hit after another since then.
The ‘me too’ controversy in 2016 that hit Arunabh with as many as 50 women coming forward to accuse him of sexual harassment of one form or another almost destroyed TVF but he stepped down as CEO while continuing to effectively run the company from behind the curtains. Thankfully, the alleged transgressions of the man credited with ushering in the web series era in India didn’t damage the TVF property or careers of host of talented folks working there, thanks to whom we are able to consume web series like Kota Factory and Panchayat today.
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