“Kids leave Kota in two years, but it is years before Kota leaves them”. This dialogue, delivered in chaste Hindi by a character in Kota Factory, amply sums up the impact that Kota, the coaching class capital of India, has on the psyches of impressionable kids. Kota Factory, the latest web series streaming from the furiously dynamic stables of TVF, is a stunning nod to the ethos and pathos that define Kota, the city that specialises in a beyond-astonishing assembly line production of JEE toppers and budding IITians.
We get an inkling of things to come in the first episode, as a rickshaw driver minces no words when he eulogises the lure of Kota thus, “Yahan aake kissi student ka selection hona ho, par yahan aake bhi jiska nahi hua,uska to hona hi nahi tha”. His words convey effortlessly, the significance that Kota holds in the life of aspiring IITians. The narrative portrays, in crisp, 40-minute episodes, the life of students living in Kota, who flock to the city with dreams in their eyes and unshakeable determination to make it past the engineering or medical entrance exams and get admitted to the IIT or medical college they’ve set their hearts on.
To the credit of the writers, Kota Factory does this in a breezy, light-hearted manner, with none of the sense of foreboding that essentially pervades narratives of this genre (remember Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Laakhon Mein Ek, that other web series that had a similar premise?). The narrative is peppered with hilarious dialogues and funny sequences that gratifyingly portray grave situations in a heart-warmingly comical way.
The series opens within the premises of Maheshwari Classes, the top-rated IIT JEE coaching classes in Kota. An ad espousing the virtues of Maheshwari Classes plays on a loop on a large-sized screen strategically hung in the lobby of the classes, where IIT hopefuls are busy filling forms. The ad fills them with the dynamic hope that they too can make it to the hallowed IITs by virtue of their coaching.
The ad, shown in the first few seconds of the first episode of Kota Factory, is the only scene that is in colour in the entire series. From then on, the entire series, all 4 released episodes of it, are shot in stark, no-holds-barred black and white.
The black and white imagery, in itself, lends the series an effect so powerful that it leaves one reeling with the impact of it all. Consummate actress, Kim Hunter, conveyed the power of black and white quite succinctly when she said, “Emotions come through much stronger in black and white. Colour pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” Suffice to say that the black and white shot images touch the very core of the viewer, immediately conveying what the makers of Kota Factory want us to feel – the drab colourless existence of the students who are a slave to the Indian education system and its chains that bind.
Divested of colour, each emotion and nuance in Kota Factory is seen in its natural state –raw, stark and devoid of any artifice or charades. And therein lies its strength. The story lays bare the hope and the despair, the agony and the ecstasy of the students, as they prepare for the IITs/Medical entrance exams, ensconced within the meagre walls of a sparsely decorated PG room. The narrative of Kota Factory will resonate with every soul that has prepared for an excruciating entrance exam in one’s student life. The depth and the complexity of the premise are so beautifully wrought in the black and white images that you almost feel as if you’re watching poetry in motion.
The characters that populate Kota Factory are its strength and asset. There’s Vaibhav Pandey (Mayur More), the young Itarsi lad who shifts bag and baggage to the education factory that is Kota and has to grapple with unpalatable food, salty water and constipation. The poor lad survives on greasy patties and hardly any water until JeetuBhaiya takes matters into his hands.
Jeetu Bhaiya (Jeetendra Kumar) is a friend, mentor and physics teacher to the students of Prodigy Classes. He gives pep talks on demand, motivation to the hapless kids when things get overwhelming and cool tips to crack the JEE. Jeetendra Kumar is so good in his role that we wish we too had a JeetuBhaiya in our lives to steer us in the right direction when the going got tough. Kumar gets to mouth some of the best dialogues of the series, each one worthy of being reproduced here if space and word quota permitted.
Vaibhav makes several close friends by virtue of staying in the same PG. It is a known fact that the key to surviving Kota is to make friends who will stick by you through thick and thin, and our protagonist does the same. There’s Uday (Alam Khan), the chilled out guy who studies only when things come to a head; his girlfriend, Shivani (Ahsaas Channa), the phy/chem scholar who’s preparing for NEET; and Meenal (Urvi Singh), the brightest girl in Vaibhav’s batch.
And ladies and gentlemen, now for the pièce de résistance – Ranjan Raj as Meena, Vaibhav’s closest friend, sounding board, the voice of reason and everything in between. Ranjan Raj is simply brilliant in the role he portrays. He’s naïve, adorably so; studious, in a charming way and not the nauseating over-zealous way of know-it-alls who are omnipresent in every educational institute; caring, in a hilarious way, and oh-so-cute in his mannerisms. His dialogue delivery is on point, natural and spontaneous. Yes, Ranjan Raj is the star of Kota Factory, overshadowing even Jeetendra Kumar’s Jeetu Bhaiya, albeit, by a whisker.
The situations and sequences in Kota Factory are hilarious AF. Vaibhav’s 3-minute monologue takes the cake among these, as he vents his spleen over the monstrosity that is Inorganic Chemistry. Once again, it is JeetuBhaiya who shows them the way to fight the chemistry ogre.JeetuBhaiya is the one beacon of hope in the otherwise bleak environs of Vaibhav and his friends’ lives. That is also where Kota Factory scores over other similar shows. If it raises concerns, it also gives solutions to every concern. Optimism is writ large in every frame of the show. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the series has been produced in association with Unacademy, the guys that have taken it upon themselves to decode JEE for miserable kids. Whatever it may be, optimism is always welcome over the pessimism that overwhelms the common narrative regarding JEE preparation and the IIT rat race (Lakhon Mein Ek comes to mind again).
If Lakhon Mein Ekjangled every raw nerve in vulnerable viewers with its cheerless plot, Kota Factory tugs at their heart-strings to produce a sweet, poignant note of hope and anticipation. Take a bow, Saurabh Khanna, for writing and creating this exquisitely gratifying tale, and Raghav Subbu, for the crisp, absorbing direction. Oh, and yes, Saurabh Khanna pulls off a cute little cameo in the show, as the hassled Vice Principal of a school nobody attends, coz they’re so busy attending Prodigy classes. There’re also cameos by Shivankit Singh and Jasmeet Bhatia, so it’s a veritable feast for all you TVF fans out there.
In the end, we can only say this: Kota Factory is like that delicious cup of hot fragrant cocoa that warms the cockles of your heart and soul on a bleak and chilly winter day – irresistible.
4/5 is our rating for Kota Factory.