By Manik Sharma May. 17, 2019
Pop culture has led us to believe that the most intriguing stories are about people who go against the grain. But what about the majority, the 9-to-5 doers, mostly rejected as conformists? TVF’s Kota Factory offers refreshing evidence that life bristles just as mightily between the margins of accommodation as well.
Cinema, especially its idea of the coming-of-age story has convinced the audience that we are inevitably the underdogs of our own stories. That we employ faith as a coping mechanism to blur the inevitability of mediocrity. It’s a genre of cinema that is incredibly easy to root for because its predestined vision of the future is one of social elevations. Therefore, it’s the writer in Udaan, the photographer in 3 Idiots and the painter in Dil Chahta Hai that we, the bedazzled viewer, want to someday aspire to be. In essence, the most intriguing stories, cinema tells us, are about people who go against the grain. But what about the majority, the 9-to-5 doers, mostly rejected as conformists? TVF’s five-episode Kota Factory – created by Saurab Khanna – offers refreshing evidence that life bristles just as mightily between the margins of accommodation as well.
As a former engineer who never invested any energy in becoming one, Kota Factory offered the precarious preamble of feeling too close to home. I’d assumed that the show would either end in disillusionment, a position in life I was already past, or appeal to the lesser of my charitable emotions – enthusiasm. Thankfully, none of those predictions came true. Set in Kota, a city known for its prodigious output of IITians, Kota Factory follows the delicate Vaibhav Pandey (Mayur More), a new student of Prodigy classes. Pandey is at the first stage of a standard Kota induction, hopeful yet unsure of his pedigree, reticent yet anal about something as formative as the batch he is assigned to. In a beautifully circular scene, Pandey exits the premise of his new home, pitted against a barrage of incoming students all dressed in the same uniform and later, becomes one of them; his individuality, his humanity left for us to discover.
Pandey is supplemented by his classmates: the shudh Hindi-speaking Meena (Ranjan Raj) and the undisputable brat of the gang Uday (Alam Khan). Both Uday and Meena are extremes, yet somehow coexist, with Pandey seamlessly taking up place in between, as a bit of both. In the show, Pandey navigates his classes while being intermittently forced to confront that one dreaded question: Is he even that good? An autowallah seems to blankly settle that in the first episode itself when he tells him, “Jiska Kota mein aake nahi hua, uska toh kabhi hona hi nahi tha”.
Kota Factory stands out for its capacity to create characters within the minutiae of syllabus, subjects, batches, questions and answers. Its most crowd-pleasing character, however, comes in the form of the intellectual Adonis of town, Jeetu (played with ineffable lightness by Jitendra Kumar). Jeetu doesn’t so much so drop truth bombs as much as he plainly explains them; he is charming without being corny or overbearing. We don’t get a peek into his life, but he remains memorable as the only man who sees the bigger picture.
Kota Factory isn’t eager to either say “Get a life you careerist morons” or comfort us into believing “Bros before hoes”.
Kota Factory’s writing feels invigorating for managing to dramatise the mundane yet factual: from circumstantial problems like water, food, and boarding to psychological problems like the inability to grasp a subject. A vigorously enacted rant by Pandey, about the pains of inorganic chemistry is both relatable and funny. Meena’s nerdy simplicity and Uday’s exuberant spontaneity ably complement Pandey’s somewhat vague disposition of “Will he, won’t he”?
While most stories about underdogs would romanticise the idea of Pandey to the point of rebellious self-identification, Kota Factory imagines him as someone who externalises most of his conflicts. Pandey wants to qualify for IIT but neither does he question the philosophical gains of accomplishing it nor does he poeticise the prospect of failure. Though Pandey meets a girl and develops a liking for her, the tools of his social navigation curiously remain the same – studies, syllabus, chapters and exams. This is a version of the coming-of-age story that refuses to dither from the modesty of life for the sake of a romantic vision. Eventually, Pandey rises, but only to join the bigger fish in a smaller bowl. And life moves on, as it probably does amongst the two lakh students who arrive in Kota every year.
Kota Factory’s monochromatic palette – it claims to be India’s first black and white show – feels like a carefully injected blandness that demands its characters to stay bright and colourful. It’s a risk that wonderfully pays off. Though the show is seriously hampered by the narrative inclusion of its sponsors, its biggest coup, however, is its hesitance to glamorise misfits or reduce its one-way passengers to lifelessness. Kota Factory isn’t eager to either say “Get a life you careerist morons” or comfort us into believing “Bros before hoes”. Instead, it absorbs and reflects the idea that we are all prisoners of what we believe to be true about life. Thankfully, it attempts to quash what is perhaps untrue.