Before I start this TVF Kota Factory review, I want to talk about what ‘Kota’ is itself.
What is Kota?
Kota is a city in Rajasthan. The city is known for being a center for its coaching institutes. These institutes prepare students mostly for entrance exams of engineering ( IIT and others) and various medical schools of India.
What is the TVF Kota Factory?
TVF Kota Factory is the first ‘Black and white’ web series of India that highlights the various issues faced by these IIT aspirants. The show attempts to make a deep dive into the psyche of these students and the attitudes of these institutions and the role of these in students’ life.
The premise of the show is based on the pressure that these students put on themselves, that their parents put on them and these coaching institutes put on them.
This video by CGTN shows the immense psychological pressure that these children face and the monotonous schedule that they’re put on and the brainwashing they’ve gone through to become the robots that get the top rank in these Entrance Exams. This reporting also raises concerns about student suicide in Kota.
A girl in the video says ‘If we are not getting marks and scoring ranks, what’s the point of coming here? The society and our parents will evaluate us based on our marks only’ in broken English. Another guy says something along the lines of ‘You have come here to compete. If you want to have a life and enjoy, then you could do that at your home’.
This report also shows a mother who has brought her son to Kota even though her own daughter suffered from depression due to the immense pressure that was put on her due to the expectations of high rankings in entrance exams that these institutes advertise.
How did I feel about the show?
The show had a consistent theme and feel and a damn good narrative. The production value of the show is great. The show’s black and white color scheme shows us the binary nature of the whole ordeal i.e. you either succeed or you fail. The names of the episodes ‘Inventory’, ‘Assembly Line’, ‘Optimization’, ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Overhaul’ show the mechanistic nature of this place as if these students are robots that are only meant to score marks.
Coming back to the plot, it’s better than what we mostly see from Entertainment Industry. Personally, this was better than three idiots where young aspirants look like young aspirants because they have cast the young people and not a 90-year-old Amir Khan to play of the role of a college student. I also like this better than ‘3 Idiots’ because in that movie Amir Khan’s character ‘Rancho’ was basically a Mary Sue. Here the male lead Vaibhav Pandey (Mayur More) has a journey. His confidence, charisma, and the obstacles he faces are earned. They are real. These are things that most of us faced during our academic life and/or life after that.
Ranjan Raj as Meena is funny but is not just used only as comedic relief. He and Alam Khan as Uday fit to the narrative perfectly. We can look back at our lives and go ‘Hey, I did have friends like these two.’ One is nerdy, studious but overall a good-hearted kid and the other is someone who tends to be lazy and more on the ‘you only live once’ spectrum. What I like about these characters is that they are not merely caricatures. Their struggles feel real. When Uday says ‘Arey nahi hoti mujhse padhai, toh kya karu, latak jau?’ [Transtlation: ‘Yes, I can’t study. What am I supposed to do? Hang me on a noose?’], You can feel where he is coming from.
Jeetu Bhaiya is a breath of fresh air
One of the central characters of the series ‘Jeetu Bhiya’ played by Jitendra Kumar, alumni of IIT Kharagpur, presents us with hope in all this mess. I have been lucky enough to have teachers like him in my life now and then. I particularly had one teacher who we used to refer to by the word ‘dai’ which literally translates to ‘brother’ in English and ‘bhaiya’ in Hindi. Funnily enough, he even looks like Jitendra Kumar.
Every line he delivers, every word uttered by his mouth is clap worthy. He represents a motivator, a nurturer that these students lack in their lives. He shows us how teachers are supposed to be like. In one of my facebook rants, I’ve mentioned teachers have only become enforcers of rules dictated by upper management and that’s not how things should be. Teachers are meant to inspire students to learn, to wonder and to question things.
What was missing?
Series are meant to have entertainment value. They can’t get preachy. They have to invoke and evoke certain emotions and let the audience decide what’s good and bad. I understand that. And, the show is just that. But, I personally think the show should have touched on the issues of student suicide and should have been more dark and gritty and as grim as the reality itself. I also know the showrunners probably could not make these bold choices and it was a conscious decision to leave certain things out. And rather tried to do that with their black and white color scheme and the names of the episodes.
As we’ve seen “13 reasons why” has been correlated with the rise in the teen suicide rate. They probably did not want their show to be associated with such. But, I wish they had come up with a way of portraying the things they have not portrayed or have merely hinted in more detail. But then again, I understand why they did not choose to do that.
I don’t want to be very nitpicky. Because, if you want to nitpick you can find flaws in everything. This show is better than 90% of the shows we see. It’s one of the best, if not the best, show to come out of TVF production.
I don’t believe in the star rating system or any numerical rating system as that is very reductionist. A show is more than just a number, it has various shades to it. Although, holistically speaking, I would highly recommend this show to everyone. Parents, teachers, and students alike. It’s as realistic as it can get.
And, it will help people understand the complexity of the situation. The “on the nose” branding and advertising might feel like a bit of nuisance to some people but it’s also a truth that showrunners need budget and funding to create shows like this. So, ignore it and watch the show. Also, it’s free on both ‘Youtube’ and ‘TVFPlay app’. And, it’s worth all the time to be invested in it.
Note: I’ve previously written about the issues with the education system. You can read about it here.