We hear of Jeetu Bhaiya before we see him, a sure sign that he is the hero of The Viral Fever's Kota Factory. When Balmukund (Ranjan Raj), a Kota student, gives Vaibhav (Mayur More), the new Kota entrant, the lay of the land, he mentions Jeetu Bhaiya, the physics teacher at their coaching institute. Vaibhav looks cluelessly at him.
"Tum Jeetu Bhaiya ko nahin jaante?" Balmukund replies in shock, "Har jagah toh hoardings lagi hai unki. Physics ke number 1 teacher hai Kota mein." His fawning expression reveals a crush, the guru-shishya, platonic kind. In the second season which just dropped on Netflix, too, the students joke about this — that they all harbour a "one-sided crush" on him, "Baaki log padhate hai. Yeh feel karate hain."
If Jeetu Bhaiya stood for elections, he would win, Balmukund grins. He is intelligent, he is coveted — not just by students, but also by professors to review their books and solutions. "Hasmukh, milansar, aur chanchal," Meena articulates as Jeetu Bhaiya's introductory montage plays. A female teacher in a flirting gaze tucks her hair behind her ear as Jeetu Bhaiya smiles and walks past, unmoved by the attention but glad to have gotten it. Always a watch on his left hand, argyle sweaters, ankle socks that can't be seen over his shoes, he is the lodestar for not just the students in the show, but also for the millions of students watching Kota Factory hoping to manifest a Jeetu Bhaiya in their own lives.
The first season, released as weekly episodes on YouTube in 2019, garnered between 26 and 44 million views. The second season, which gave Jeetu Bhaiya a more monologue-driven meaty arc, within three days of its release, has gotten 2.3 million views. A third season is in the works. To investigate the making of Jeetu Bhaiya, I spoke to writer Saurabh Khanna and director Raghav Subbu.
Actor Jitendra Kumar was always supposed to play Jeetu Bhaiya. TVF's face at that time, he was considered brand-friendly, and thus, easily palatable by Unacademy who was sponsoring the show. Since the role was written keeping him in mind, the name was, according to Subbu, a no-brainer. "Jitendra has a fan following and he is known as Jeetu. We realized earlier on, when we were doing sketches, that giving his character a different name does not work. It confuses people. A lot of people followed this trend after Kota — of naming the character after the actor."
But this is not just the case of the goodwill of the actor rubbing off on the character they play. It is also the relatable authenticity and the aspirational swagger of the character itself.
More than 50% of the TVF core team went to Kota. Writer Saurabh Khanna studied and taught at Kota. Jeetendra himself is an IIT-graduate. They were thus able to bring a believable rootedness. A lot of the viewers compared Jeetu Bhaiya to NV sir, also a physics teacher at Kota who is known for his motivational talks, uploaded on YouTube.
No one knows what Jeetu Bhaiya's personal life is like. In the first season, we get a glimpse of him holding a bouquet and a wine bottle, preparing to go on a date, but that's all. Who is he going on a date with? How did it go? We are not told anything.
Khanna noted that in Kota, teachers who are fresh graduates from IIT often have a closer relationship with the students because they just gave the JEE exams 4-6 years back. They are thus not old enough to be generationally removed from the student. They were often called "Bhaiyas" — emotionally and intellectually available to the students, who would, sometimes, ask them for money, as Khanna's students have asked him when he used to teach. "Unko khilaya, pilaya, voh sab chalta hai," Khanna notes.
Jeetu Bhaiya was written as an "agony aunt" keeping this in mind. "Jitendra was a perfect fit. He can become the character. But if Jitendra was slightly taller, it would have helped," Khanna laughed.
Jeetu Bhaiya makes over a crore a year. But this isn't immediately obvious. It certainly doesn't reflect in the clothes he wears — his wintry argyle sweaters in season 1, and the lighter summer shirts in season 2. Subbu notes, "He would rather open FDs instead of investing in a car. He would wear the same T-shirt he wore since college at night. He'll probably buy the cheapest sweater when he goes to H&M. He doesn't care. He's that kind of person." Even the expensive gifts he receives from his students who make it big — Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton shoes, Rado watches — lie gathering dust in his cupboards, like showpieces.
This styling was important, because they did not want to make Jeetu Bhaiya an outlandish figure. "He cannot be having six-pack abs and he cannot be wearing T-shirts that compliment his biceps," Subbu notes. A coolness that is rooted, yet aspirational, believable, and attainable.
The stubble — usually, among the middle-class, a sign of unkemptness — that he was given, helped set him apart. A conscious choice, Subbu notes, it helped "give a distinct look from the other professors, who are either clean shaven, or with a moustache."
No one knows what Jeetu Bhaiya's personal life is like. In the first season, we get a glimpse of him holding a bouquet and a wine bottle, preparing to go on a date, but that's all. Who is he going on a date with? How did it go? We are not told anything. When I asked Khanna this, he promptly responded, "Why should you know?"
Both Subbu and Khanna note that the show is told from the perspective of the students who are still kids. It is like knowing your parents go to work in the morning and come back from work in the evening, but not knowing, and not wanting to know what is exactly happening in their life in between.
Thus, they consciously avoid getting into whom he is dating, if he is dating or has dated anyone at all. Jeetu Bhaiya spins stories of his youth in class, but they seem like tactics to involve and entertain rather than character exposition. It is this mysterious vacuum that makes his character so easy to rally behind and cast yourself in the image of. Afterall, the one place even a steel-spined protagonist can become pathetic is in the face of desire. His swagger is, thus, never challenged, and he remains a figure of aspiration.
Subbu notes that since in the second season they had to deepen Jeetu Bhaiya's narrative, they gave him the arc of starting his own business, instead, "That was a better story to tell than showing Jeetu Bhaiya going on dates."
When I asked Subbu if it was possible Jeetu Bhaiya is gay or asexual — and that would explain why the show was so shy about getting into his personal life — he noted that many people had asked him a similar question. "I think you are reading too much into it," he laughs.
But Subbu was usually asked about the character's sexuality with respect to the earring he wore. Actor Jeetendra already had his ears pierced with an earring. They had discussed, during the making of the show, if they wanted to keep it or not. Eventually, it remained, as another marker to distinguish Jeetu Bhaiya from the other professors, but also to strengthen the connection between Jitendra the loved actor and Jeetu Bhaiya the character. Subbu is clear that this was not, in any way, suggestive of his sexuality, "[Earrings] are such a normal Indian thing that the West has meddled with. It just makes him more Indian, rooted, remnants of his humble past. It gives him that X factor. That he was probably from a small village. That he struggled to get where he is now."