‘And the people in the houses / All went to the university / Where they were put in boxes / And they came out all the same / And there’s doctors and lawyers / And business executives / And they’re all made out of ticky tacky / And they all look just the same.’ The opening frames of Kota Factory season two brought to mind these satirical lines that address middle-class conformity from the classic song, Little Boxes, written and composed by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, which became a hit when Pete Seeger rendered its cover version a year later.
Of course, Vaibhav (Mayur More), Meena (Ranjan Raj), Uday (Alam Khan), Vartika (Revathi Pillai) and Meenal (Urvi) are not aiming — note, ‘aim, not dream’; dreams are never going to be enough as their favourite mentor Jeetu Bhaiyya (Jitendra Kumar) tells them — for something as regular as doctors or lawyers. Keshav Maheshwari’s induction speech, frighteningly articulated by Sameer Saxena, however, leaves one in no doubt that Kota stands for an assembly line where bright young minds will all come out the same.
More than a million aspirants for barely 5000 seats. A success rate of 0.44 per cent. Over a lakh students in the factory that goes by the name of ‘Maheshwari Classes’, of which barely 1700 will make the cut. One exam to decide whether you will drive an SUV or a sedan or a hatchback, whether you will be able to afford exotic holidays for your family. One exam to decide whether you are going to be successful, and hence worthy of being called a man — because those who are unsuccessful are not men.
There’s something sinister, and infinitely sad, about this discourse that sets up the second season of Kota Factory perfectly, as the frame is drained of colour and we have the familiar monochrome look from season one. It is, therefore, disappointing that what follows for most of its running time never quite measures up to the ‘initiation’.
The intrinsic problem with season two lies in its predictability. Over the five episodes, there’s little by way of the character arcs, for example, that sustain interest. Part of the reason is, of course, the fact that sequels are at best a tricky affair. You have a successful original and that binds you to a template. The new series seldom breaks new ground in either the narrative or the content. It is happy keeping to what worked in the first season. The sense that the filmmakers are too busy trying to tick off ‘issues’ — the relentless pressure to succeed, raging hormones and romantic liaisons, burnout — is overwhelmingly palpable so that it all seems like no more than paying lip service. There’s little by way of a deep dive into the ridiculousness or monstrosity of the whole system and the effects that can have on impressionable minds.
This is compounded by a certain ‘contrived’ approach. Take, for example, Shivangi (Ahsaas Channa) instructing Meena on masturbation. I never got over the feeling that the scene is played purely for effect. More problematic is the character of Jeetu Bhaiyya, a sort of panacea for all ills. Right from the moment a student gushes about him, ‘Baki log padhatey hai, yeh feel karatey hai,’ you have a character who can say no wrong, and hence one that soon becomes boring. Beyond a point, his homilies — on every conceivable subject — begin to grate and sadly the writers do not seem to realise that one can actually have too much of a good thing.
The makers do manage to get the narrative back on track with a good final episode that is a visual and emotional treat. There’s much to admire in season two of Kota Factory — the cinematography for one is a standout. It is eminently watchable, make no mistake, made all the more so by an array of natural performances, which are a far cry from the way high-school and college students have been depicted in Hindi films. If only the writers were a little less awed by the first season, a little more willing to push the envelope, this could have been a winner. As it stands, it evokes Malvina Reynolds’s line with which I began this review: ‘…look(s) all the same’.
Title: Kota Factory (season 2)
Director: Raghav Subbu
Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Mayur More, Ranjan Raj, Revathi Pillai, Ahsaas Channa
Rating: 2.5 stars
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