Kota Factory season 2 review: Popular but problematic Netflix show makes you wonder what all the fuss is about
- Kota Factor season 2 review: Lacking the necessary insight into the tragic realities of professional coaching institutes and irresponsibly nostalgic for a toxic subculture, the wildly popular TVF series is also problematic.
Kota Factory season 2
Director - Raghav Subbu
Cast - Mayur More, Jitendra Kumar, Ranjan Raj, Alam Khan, Ahsaas Channa
You always wonder what promising breakout filmmakers would be able to do with bigger budgets. But beyond cumbersome contracts and perhaps a more rigidly-controlled set, the move to Netflix appears to have done little for the guys behind Kota Factory. After a mildly interesting first season that was nowhere near as good as what the YouTube views would indicate, the show, now stamped with the Netflix ‘tudum’, has returned with a new batch of five episodes that is actually inferior to the first.
There was a slapdash indie spirit to season one. It did the best it could with what little it had, and told an engaging story about IIT aspirants in the town of Kota, Rajasthan — an incubator of sorts that attracts teenagers from all over the country for its ‘mahaul’, and also houses coaching institutes with billion-dollar valuations.
Watch the Kota Factory season 2 trailer here:
Presented through the perspective of a mollycoddled young man named Vaibhav, Kota Factory is a surprisingly (and somewhat irresponsibly) sincere look at the insular community of students who sacrifice their childhoods and dedicate the prime of their lives to ‘cracking’ one of the most challenging competitive exams in India. Securing a seat at the premier institution would literally make them the one-percenters in a country where the respect one gets is directly proportional to their qualifications.
Ironically for a show about people who aspire to become future world leaders, Kota Factory is curiously unambitious. I was particularly surprised by the writers’ decision to dedicate not one but two episodes in the second season to bodily fluids. While Vaibhav suffers a bout of mid-term jaundice, his friend Meena discovers self-pleasure. And while one storyline is played for laughs — no prizes for guessing which one — the other gives Kota Factory an opportunity to embrace schmaltz like never before.
But for some reason — perhaps because its title includes the word ‘factory’ — I had expected this show to be more critical, or at least a little self-aware of the ridiculousness of this entire scenario. This is an alien world to me, and, I would imagine, to the majority of this country’s population. I had an easier time adjusting to the fantasy world of Pandora than the cult-like environment that Kota Factory offers a glimpse into. Every time someone mentioned ‘inorganic’ or ‘DPP’, my heart sank.
The show has an undeniable authenticity, but it doesn’t really investigate the real-world implications of the culture that it (problematically) romanticises.
Kota Factory doesn’t need an excuse to hit play on the same background song about friendship every time Vaibhav and the gang get together for some shenanigans. It’s understandable to take a ‘best days of our lives’ approach to a story about college, but the sinister undercurrent of what happens in towns such as Kota is essentially ignored. And when the show finally decides to acknowledge the tragic reality of ‘taiyyari’ at this level, it’s too little too late, and comes across as slightly disingenuous, precisely because of how deliberately ignorant the show had been about it all this while.
It also doesn’t help that Vaibhav isn’t the most likeable protagonist — just look at how he uses his mother, and bullies his new friend Sushrut — but I suspect that the show doesn’t recognise this. He makes stray comments that reveal his inner sexist (and colourist) and the show doesn’t pause to litigate these statements, which suggests that it, too, believes in them. Despite having several female characters in the mix in season two, the show has a glaring lack of female perspective.
And then there’s Jeetu Bhaiya (Jitendra Kumar), which the show uses as a Get Out of Jail free card whenever it writes itself into a narrative corner. Jeetu Bhaiya embodies the irritating conflict that Kota Factory seems to be in a perpetual wrestling match with. There isn’t a problem that Jeetu Bhaiya can’t solve by launching into a sermon of some sort that is often in contradiction to what he has previously said. He’s like a pastor who tells his congregation that they don’t need to attend mass anymore, which makes him instantly cool, but then finger-waggingly instructs everyone that they need to pray a million times a day at home instead. Always armed with a repository of empowering lectures that he uses to condition his students, Jeetu Bhaiya isn’t unlike the leader of some doomsday cult. But what he fails to communicate to the kids is that there is a life beyond IIT and exams.
He doesn’t have to, of course. But then, how would Kota Factory appeal to the majority of the viewers who have neither dreamt of joining IIT or cared much for those who do? After a while — and this was before the admittedly well-done season finale — I started yearning for the shoehorned-in Unacademy ads and the overused drone shots from season one.
Kota Factory seems to be building towards the entrance exams that Vaibhav, Meena and the rest of the expanding gang will eventually have to take. But had it been bolder, it would’ve focussed more on the drudgery and mundanity; the doubt and disappointment. Maybe then it would've realised that throwing Jeetu Bhaiya at at every problem isn't the best solution.