Kota Factory 3 Review: Is Jeetu Bhaiya Kota’s Taylor Swift?

Sadly, third time is not a charm for this series. The new season is available on Netflix.
Kota Factory 3 Review: Is Jeetu Bhaiya Kota’s Taylor Swift?

Director: Pratish Mehta

Writers: Puneet Batra, Pravin Yadav, Nikita Lalwani, Manish Chandwani

Cast: Mayur More, Jitendra Kumar, Ranjan Raj, Alam Khan, Ahsaas Channa, Revathi Pillai, Tillotama Shome, Rajesh Kumar

Number of episodes: 5

Streaming on: Netflix

There are two ways to process a series like Kota Factory. The first way is popular. You see it as a sweet, slice-of-life portrait. You convince yourself that, like most TVF shows, Kota Factory captures the authenticity of middle-class existence. That existence just happens to revolve around IIT aspirants in Kota, the educational hub (in)famous for its coaching centers. You admire the ‘normalization’ of a struggle that’s reduced to dark vignettes by non-fiction cinema. You appreciate the black-and-white palette, the allegorical aerial shots, the slick film-making and, of course, the feel-good characters. You believe that angels like Jeetu Bhaiya (Jitendra Kumar) – the star physics tutor and everyone’s favourite life teacher – really exist. You believe that teenage strivers like Vaibhav (Mayur More), Uday (Alam Khan) and Balmukund Meena (Ranjan Raj) enjoy the rat race. You think: Such a warm antidote to the do-or-die newspaper narratives. And you celebrate that, at the end of the day, these JEE hopefuls are ordinary kids with extraordinary goals. 

The second way is unpopular. You see Kota Factory as a shifty show that sells the student struggle like a product. You note the erasure of social tensions, crippling peer pressure, suicides and desperate families. You resent the sugarcoating of psychological stress. You wonder if the slick film-making is a front for Kota’s tragedy. You wonder if the black-and-white palette is a deep visual motif or just an excuse to make the city look cinematic. You notice that there’s nothing a Jeetu Bhaiya monologue can’t fix. You realize that Jeetu Bhaiya is more of a concept than a person, a misleading advertisement for millions of students who arrive in Kota expecting super-mentors like him. You know that the show stages aspirants as ordinary kids who aren’t brainwashed by their parents and teachers at all. You notice the skewed gender dynamics and the low-stakes environment like it were just another cozy student town. You think of a corny tagline: Come, Fall in Studies. And you conclude that, at the end of the day, Kota Factory normalises a toxic system that propagates the survival of the fittest.

Jitendra Kumar as Jeetu Bhaiya
Jitendra Kumar as Jeetu Bhaiya

Default Settings Restored

After three seasons, I am firmly a subscriber of the unpopular way. The utopianism of the setting is insufferable to watch. The thing about Kota Factory 3 is that it is clearly aware of its blind spots. If one were to look at the show as a trilogy so far, Season 3 opens with the promise of – pardon the comparison – a sobering Before Midnight after a giddy Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The first few scenes appear to challenge the romanticism of the previous seasons. Jeetu Bhaiya is missing from action at his newly-opened ‘Aimers’ institute. It is revealed that he is traumatized by the suicide of a student. He spends his days locked up at home, haunted and disillusioned, questioning the meaning of what he does. He is also in therapy. It’s a bit like Munna’s guilt in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (2003) after the death of Zaheer, a cancer patient who compared him to God. Jeetu’s mental condition has a metaphor too: Mold spreading on his walls. At this point, I wondered: Is Kota Factory finally getting its hands damp and dirty? Is it ready to be…complicated? 

But the promise is painfully short-lived. It’s as if the show is simply happy to remind us that it isn't (totally) oblivious – only to promptly move on. A blink-or-miss mention of the terrace doors being locked and a news report aside, default settings are restored. Jeetu is back in the saddle, belting out wisdom-nugget monologues as if he were Kota’s Taylor Swift. He returns as empath-in-chief – depositing money into students’ bank accounts, curing Vaibhav of his jealousy for an IPL-selected cousin, lyrically scolding Meena for taking part-time tuitions. He is a little edgier, but the suicide seems to have existed solely to service his story. For the rest of the season, Jeetu is conflicted about his trademark heart-over-mind methods: Should he become Jeetu Sir and turn Aimers into another Kota factory, or should he continue being Jeetu Bhaiya? He clashes with the pragmatic Gagan Sir (Rajesh Kumar), who views their venture as more of a business. The arrival of chemistry teacher Pooja (Tillotama Shome) – a potential successor of Jeetu – expands his existential crisis. 

Tillotama Shome in Kota Factory Season 3
Tillotama Shome in Kota Factory Season 3

Fan Service vs. Storytelling 

That’s the biggest problem with Kota Factory 3. Yes, the nods to reality are performative. But it’s the perspective that leaves a lot to be desired. Making it about Jeetu Bhaiya has more to do with fan service than actual storytelling. Focusing on the main character energy of a teacher is silly at a time student breakdowns and unemployment are everyday news. His institute is supposed to be an oasis in a wasteland of mechanical coaching centers, but it often feels like an unsubtle attempt to repair Kota’s image. There’s irony in how students are attracted to institutes that produce maximum toppers only for Kota Factory 3 to become that same glossy sales pitch. The narratives of Vaibhav, Meena and Uday seem incidental to this gaze. In fact, Vaibhav, the alleged protagonist, tries to steal the spotlight back from Jeetu Bhaiya by having several meltdowns of his own. Needless to mention, he does not succeed. The hour-long finale puts Vaibhav in prime position to restore the balance – some peak exam drama happens – but there’s no escaping the show’s obsession with Jeetu Bhaiya. It’s funny, because TVF star Jitendra Kumar ceded space to the rest in Panchayat 3 but finds himself doing the opposite in Kota Factory 3, a series that hijacks the fate of the very students Jeetu Bhaiya claims to empower.

There are smaller problems, too. Characters don’t converse with each other. They speak in advice (or to be crude: “gyaan”) and throw voice-overs at each other. Pooja lectures Jeetu, the therapist lectures Jeetu, Jeetu lectures his students, his students lecture each other, the series lectures its audience. Nobody stutters or hesitates. Someone starts off with a pigeon proverb and eventually gives up, ending with: “What I’m trying to say is…”. In terms of the TVF-verse, Jeetu Bhaiya is what happens when the piggy bank from Gullak comes to life: He sounds just as patronizing – even if it’s his job to guide lost kids – because you can tell that he’s addressing an India beyond the screen. Then there’s the issue of the young cast having to play younger teenagers (the first season dropped in 2019), therefore sounding like an adult’s idea of 12th graders. None of them look the part anymore. The casting of a fine actress like Shome, too, lacks conviction. Low screen-time aside, the show turns her into one of TVF’s notoriously underwritten female characters.

A still from Kota Factory Season 3
A still from Kota Factory Season 3

There’s also the show’s doomed bid to offset its criticism by sneaking in a pro-establishment angle. It’s not just the unbroken shot of a scooter riding through town against the visible backdrop of Modi girl’s hostel and Modi law school. Jeetu does a podcast where he blames the administration for segregating students as successes and failures. This podcast is enough for a gracious education minister to offer him a policy-making job. (Their meeting features a prominent “Rajasthan Sarkar Shiksha Vibhag” sign, where Jeetu praises the initiatives before suggesting that there’s room for improvement). This sets the stage for the classic TVF message: Be the change you want to see. These days, though, it feels a version of the classic troll line: Don’t criticize movies if you can’t make them. The few decent elements – like Vaibhav and Vartika discussing the perils of studying together as a couple; or Meena learning to swallow his self-respect – get lost in these cracks. What else? Right, there’s also the show’s treatment of the results episode. By building up suspense and amplifying emotions, it endorses the very Kota experience it feigns to question. Most of all — and this may sound trivial but it’s not — the climax rips off the First Man (2018) soundtrack as its background score. The scene is dramatic (a character comes ‘crashing’ down to earth), but I don’t think composer Justin Hurwitz will be pleased. It’s the last straw for a series that can’t tell inspiration from imitation. Or, in this case, academic ingenuity from artistic disingenuity.

Related Stories

No stories found.
www.filmcompanion.in