The show opens with a monologue. A voice-over from a short video clip playing at the very center that it is glorifying. It sets the tone for the series. We get to view this world through the rimmed glasses of Vaibhav. The entrant I was talking about. He is waiting for his admission to Maheshwari, a prestigious coaching center in Kota. He fails to secure a seat there, something that his lesser talented classmate Piyush could manage. Vaibhav is a small-town boy and like many others, wants to get into IITs. He is late for the eleventh batch as he had enrolled at a center in his hometown of Itarsi.
He later explains that Kota provides its students with an environment suitable for IIT aspirants, which is his reason for traveling to Kota. He finally gets admission to a less esteemed Prodigy coaching center. This acts like a workshop where he is polished and tarnished. Here he finds friends, meets a god-father, crushes over a girl and finally succeeds. He is mentored and tutored by an IIT Alumni Jeetu Bhaiya, though no one calls him sir. That speaks volumes about the bond Jeetu bhaiya shares with his students. He refers to himself as an agony aunt.
Jeetu Bhaiya is introduced with a heroic montage. Meena, an underprivileged boy, speaks of him highly as though he is in awe of him. He is considered a stalwart at the center. He is charming and moves around rather charismatically. Meena talks at length about his accomplishments, and the camera cuts to those scenes. These scenes establish his character and that of Meena. Meena is the ever dependable side-kick, a second wheel who will always be the accomplice than mustering enough courage to be feared, gangster. He can transform himself to fit in the role of a supporting character that makes us root for him. Whether he emulates his teacher or ardently follows his advice and reaches out to help Vaibhav in every situation, his caring instinct is visible. In a funny scene, Vaibhav calls his act inappropriate as his concern for him becomes a cause of anxiety itself. He gets a little too close for comfort. But we all know this innocuous personality means no harm. He is more of an Agony aunt.
There is a third wheel to Vaibhav, and that is the rich brat with a golden heart. He goes by the name Uday. He is a little dim-witted but makes it up with his casual vibes and irreverent attitude. He is unfazed, and his happy-go-lucky charm is infectious. He is the lifeline of Prodigy classes. There is hardly a dull moment with him around. He has a girlfriend named Shivangi, who is a perfect combination of brain and brawn. He manages to bring her to his PG with the grand Indian judaaru excuse, that she is her cousin. His landlady, a cunning middle-aged woman surprising had fallen for this lie. The whole set-up feels right out of a storybook, interestingly that is the one thing Uday always refuses to immerse in.
As for the girls, they don’t get to do much. They are not reduced to mere romantic interests. But they are also not pivotal to the story. Shivangi, Vartika, and Meenal are individualistic and have distinguished personalities. Shivangi is a strong, motormouth, straight-forward, intelligent girl eyeing medical degree. Vartika is a level-headed outsider eager to decode the Maheshwari Entrance test. Meenal is a book-worm, a studious girl diligently making it to the top of her section, though only among girls. They are a bundle of colorful joy, a welcome departure in a monochrome blackboard-chalk world.
The episodes are stacked and named in a certain fashion, acting as a metaphor for the production process that takes place insides a factory. The idea rings true because each year Kota produces lakhs of identical engineers. The show looks at their flip side, humanizing them, and the dreaded hostel life is seen in a somber tone. The mellow mood throughout the series never lets you get distracted. The show manages to keep hooked with Vaibhav’s character where he meets his fate and accepts it with open arms.
The music is commendable, and the background score deserves mention. The romantic track “Maine bola Hey” especially adds dimension to the entire plot.
Vaibhav is a regular guy with extraordinary aspirations, but Kota makes these dreams look believable. The show is itself an ode to dreams and an envisioned reality of the director. It seems that the writers know this world like the back of their hand. A world they have lived and breathed themselves. They find a middle-ground, a neutral point of view to present a chapter in a student’s life. It does do away with the usual glitches in our education system but never stops itself from criticizing its conventions. It is somewhere between a dark and grim “Lakhon Mein Ek” and the dazzling and loud “Student of the Year” franchise.
The writers create a world doffing their hats to the culture prevailing in Kota. Interestingly the show is sponsored by Unacademy an educational app. The series seamlessly blends the brand, and its inclusion never looks forced. The series has been shot on real-life locations, and even the Kachori shops look authentic. The cinematography is impressive. The camera lens captures the city beautifully, and you can feel the nervousness writhing through the students. All the lead actors are terrific, and they have all acted well. Jitendra Kumar and Mayur More are brilliant in their seemingly tailor-made characters. Alam Khan is a comic-relief, and his Uday doesn’t look caricaturesque. No wonder he began his career from a comedy reality show.
Mayur More should be more visible on-screen since his comfort level in front of the camera is evident. The praise is more for the boys because women are the supporting characters. An act they perform to perfection. The only complaint I have is that the show is a little sexist. It plays to same old notions of gender stereotypes. But that is a topic reserved for a different day and a different show. Until then have a watch and reminisce your own student life.