Kota Factory finds success in a winsome cast as they lend heart to its moods and mundanity, nots Sukanya Verma.
Most fictional takes on student goals opt for a comforting tone, a romanticised acceptance for subpar or failure.
But TVF's Kota Factory is a bleak glimpse into the world of IIT aspirants where carefully handpicked batches train to compete on war footing armed with the knowledge of little to no chance of win.
In this anxiety-filled world of preparing for IIT-JEE entrance exams, where schools are cursory and tuitions form the decisive factor in shifting fortunes, a sleepy small town's fierce reputation for manufacturing successful statistics attracts thousands of brilliant minds from different corners and social strata every year.
But as we get closer to this space, colours are dimmed out and a joyless, monochrome visual plays before our eyes. Everyone breathes an indiscriminately uniform brand of dread in this region.
Released in 2019 on YouTube, Kota Factory's relatability amid the engineer community and restrained depiction of reality across five gripping episodes took the web by storm.
Vaibhav, a gawky teenager from Itarsi comes to Kota, India's coaching capital, seeking admission in its most premiere tutoring institution, Maheshwari Classes.
The rude lessons he learns along the way, the loneliness he encounters as well as the inspiring teachers and warm friendships coming to his rescue forms the essence of season 1.
Season 2, directed by Raghav Subbu, offers more of the same.
Immediately acknowledging how much Kota Factory and its young protagonists benefit from the wisdom of IITian turned physics professor Jeetu Bhaiya ('not sir'), Vaibhav (Mayur More) gushingly summarises, 'Baaki sab padhate hain yeh feel kara dete hain.'
Actor Jitendra Kumar easily embodies the magnetism and intellect of an insightful mentor.
As Jeetu Bhaiya, his simply framed rich counsel makes him deserving of the awe on and off screen. There is a disarming modesty about his grand, progressive vision and Kota Factory shines in its ambition.
Another regular of the TVF cinematic universe, Naveen Kasturia, last seen in Aspirants, pitches in a mandatory cameo.
Unlike Aspirants, which also focused on the struggles of cracking the famously tough UPSC exam, the troika of friends here -- Vaibhav, Meena (Ranjan Raj) and Uday (Alam Khan) -- share a camaraderie and closeness that feels lived-in and real.
As do the girls in their lives -- Vartika (Revathi Pillai), Shivangi (Ahsaas Channa) and Meenal (Urvi Singh) -- with the sparks, the hesitation and the candour.
Students who actually look like students, genuine geeks not caricatures, believable attraction, familiar fears, struggles of adolescent aspiration, Kota Factory's beauty lies in depicting the trivial and how it empowers to withstand the serious hits and heartbreaks.
Often, the pace feels a bit unhurried given how life isn't racing towards the all-important goal, there's palpable trepidation as time exhales in long drawn out shots of building corridors in this black and white series.
Kota Factory's significance lies in its refusal to sugar-coat the hard truths.
And its most vocal expression comes through Maheshwari Classes's honcho (Sameer Saxena). In his orientation speech to the students, instead of pumping them up in feel-good fervour, his unflinching pessimism paints a frightening imagery of a crowd of unsuccessful talent.
Disheartened, they turn to Jeetu Bhaiya, the quintessential ray of hope in Kota's ruthless mass production for IIT and ilk.
It's not like the latter lives on La La Land. But his approach is tactical, practical -- aim not dream, he explains, while setting up his independent institute, its name 'Aimers' inspired by the same line of thought.
The second season is predominantly about the challenges Jeetu Bhaiya faces in getting funds and teachers on board while Vaibhav copes with the pressure of juggling between prestigious teachers who cannot reach out and perceptive educators who see beyond the obvious.
It's a stage in life when education and emotions are at its peak, so young men get awkward about their emotions for the opposite sex, some awakenings happening later than others.
Kota Factory displays a hint of feminism, yet ultimately, neglects to render it any flesh.
Certain clichés abound too, like falling on the good old mommy medicine trope.
Kota Factory finds success in a winsome cast as they lend heart to its moods and mundanity.
Through Kota Factory, the makers have ably conveyed an environment and industry, its distress and disquiet to the non-engineer milieu as well.
The magnitude of the IITian pursuit in our country is so immense, light may not receive everyone at the end of the tunnel but it's still a journey. And perhaps that is not such a bad thing.
Kota Factory Season 2 streams on Netflix.