Watching the new season of Kota Factory on Netflix in the post-pandemic world left me somewhat reminiscent about my own high school days of NEET preparation. But it also made me wonder about something: if it was so difficult years back, then how tough it must’ve been for the lakhs of students coping with the stress of these competitive exams amidst a lockdown. As I watched the first episode, which takes off right where the first season ended, I listened to the head of Maheshwari Classes (Sameer Saxena) talk about how there are only successful men in the world, as the other ones aren’t men.”Unrewarded geniuses are not geniuses but clichés.” Soon, the reminiscing part was overshadowed with me remembering the pressure we were constantly under. I remember those speeches. Yes, that’s how they always speak. The show reinforced this feeling of pressure just within a few minutes, as the colour drained out, both from the screen and Vaibhav Pandey’s (Mayur More) life into a grey resolve.
This time around the stakes are higher, as sequels usually demand. Jeetu Bhaiya is figuring out his own place in life, determined to start a new institution where he can do what he does best. We get an insight into the larger politics at play, things that brew behind the walls of these giant academic institutions. There’s also some new faces that appear in exciting roles. But Jitendra Kumar still remains the angelic figure to the students and he is effortless in his performance. At this point, the character just feels like an extension of his own personality. We all knew someone like Jeetu Bhaiya at some point in our education. Vaibhav and his friends place their trust in his overtly ideal persona. Just like in season one, here too he at times breaks into long didactic monologues, drawing perfect analogies about life while teaching them something. This wouldn’t have worked for me if it were in any other show or film. But here, due to the heartfelt approach and, let’s be honest, somewhat owing to my personal bias of knowing how this experience actually looks and feels, it all works.
During times when the privileged section can opt for online lectures, without worrying too much about the student-teacher interaction, the show got me thinking about something important. That’s the need for someone being out there, who acknowledges the problems faced by the students and goes beyond just solving a physics problem. Education and mental health, cannot be two mutually exclusive aspects of someone’s life. I, alike many others, found that ideal teacher in Jeetu Bhaiya. That’s one of the main reasons why this show has connected to so many people across the country. I’ve never had a perfect teacher, but I’ve had ones who understood their students and went beyond the books while taking us on a journey. In Jeetu Bhaiya, we see someone who is so close to being that teacher, while also being someone who supersedes the task – by being something more than a teacher.
The town of Kota (Rajasthan) here feels like a character in itself, with the direction beautifully rendering the monochrome cinematography to its full effect. There’s an unspoken sense of melancholy that looms over the city, as we see it from several overhead shots. The pacing is deliberate; it makes us aware of the ordinary lives we’re witnessing. Kota has been a mecca-like figure for JEE aspirants for years. We’re made aware that the strike rate for them while preparing there is way better than the national average. These coaching institutes with billion-dollar valuations, claim that they create an atmosphere propitious for the students to excel. The show sets up some bureaucracy related side-plots for its future seasons to explore. There’s also various supporting characters, like the comedic-relief Meena (Ranjan Rai) who again gets some excellent standout moments. More emphasis is given to the female characters’ arcs this time around, addressing some important issues we often shy away from discussing in teenage films. Vartika (Revathi Pillai) plays Vaibhav’s romantic-interest, trying to overcome her low self-confidence. There’s the charismatic Shivangi (Ahsaas Channa) as well, who doesn’t stand unnecessary awkward silences and silly decision-making.
Kota Factory is an ode to lakhs of students that remain under extensive hours of stress in our country, with every passing year. Even with a mediocre season two that doesn’t flow very well, it remains true to its spirit and essence by portraying the ordinary atmosphere of Kota. It works mainly due to the artistic choices and the characters we were already rooting for. There’s some beautiful wide shots in the show that would just linger there, breathing life into the chiaroscuro. Characters often stand, move and talk while they’re being filmed through a mirror. There’s some thematic goals which come at narrative expense, bogging down the pacing. But the effective use of closeups and tender direction by Raghav Subbu is what makes even moments of detour feel delightful. Even with its blemishes, it all hit too close to my heart, as I know it did for many others.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.