Independent India’s first prime minister and self-professed atheist, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned the future of India through science. He famously coined the term “Temples of Modern India” to emphasise the importance of building scientific research institutes, steel and power plants, and dams following independence.
One of the many products of this thinking was the Indian Institute of Technology, or the IIT. An IITian – as an IIT grad is called – is often the hero of their neighbourhood, a myth of a human who, come what may, must be celebrated until the end of their days.
Declared as an “Institution of National Importance” by the government, there are currently 23 IITs across the country. What attracts students to these universities is not just the adulation the IIT tag comes with but also the promise of plenty that it holds.
According to a recent report, the highest salary deal offered to a freshly minted IITian was Rs 70 lakh per annum, almost $94,000.
But how does one enter this temple of dreams? The only way is to compete in the national-level IIT entrance exams with almost 200,000 other students battling it out to score one of the 12,000 seats on offer.
The competition is so fierce that coaching for these exams itself is an industry valued at billions of rupees. Most of these coaching centres – often as difficult to get into as the exams themselves – are concentrated in the north Indian city of Kota.
A show on Netflix, Kota Factory, attempts to show the good, the bad and the ugly of what goes into preparing for these entrance exams.
In its newly released second season, it follows the struggles of a host of characters, led by a helpful teacher, as they navigate the high-pressure alleyways of Kota and the looming IIT entrance exam that will seal their fate.
But does it do justice to what truly goes into the struggle to realise The Great Indian Dream? VICE asked four students who had been to Kota with the same dream to review the show for us.
Shubham Jain, 25, software developer
The city can get quite lonely because you are always disconnected from the world and consumed by the furnace that is the IIT entrance exam preparation – and this is where community matters. I’m glad that the show has also shown the beauty of friendships this season. This rang true for me because I’m still friends with my closest peers at Kota.
The city is filled with teens who are loaded with their own insecurities, fears and emotional changes. In this season, their sexual frustration has also been captured well. Personally, what resonated with me the most was how almost every IIT aspirant struggles with the guilt of not doing enough, particularly when you know that your parents are spending so much on your dreams. You always feel like you’re wasting your time. I went through the same during my years in Kota.
Shashank Goyal, 28, Indian civil services aspirant
In terms of covering the tension associated with the exams and how other coaching institutes are competing with each other, they have done a good job this season. That bit is certainly motivational, and parents should watch this season simply to understand what their kids go through.
However, they haven’t highlighted a very important aspect of coaching institutes related to teachers. In Kota, every subject has a “God teacher.” Based on your performance in regular tests, you are shuffled. Basically, if you have underperformed in even a single exam, you are reassigned to a lower batch with a teacher who might not be up for it. So, the biggest tension is who’s teaching you, and what batch you are in. It’s a status symbol in Kota.
The show also idealises teachers, as a deep bond of almost friendship is shown between teachers and students. That doesn’t happen IRL. This is also one of the reasons for the many suicides in Kota. There might be many doubt-solving sessions, but nothing on the personal connection front.
Another aspect I wish they had highlighted was the culture of drugs, porn and gaming addiction. During my days in Kota, I personally saw people gaming for almost 15 hours straight. Kota Factory, essentially, is the story of a few sincere students and not the outliers who have fallen into the rabbit hole of addiction.
Shashank Singh, 26, computer science engineer
For the longest time, I didn’t want to see the show. I’ve lived through those experiences; why would I want to see it again? But when I eventually started watching, I loved the way it encapsulated the overall vibe of Kota. In the city, you can see students walking down the road, their heads buried in books. It takes a heavy toll on their health. Some of my colleagues couldn’t even take their final entrance exams. The mental and physical health issue was highlighted this season.
The other aspect was how, as students, we live in a protective environment with our family. But when you go into the real world through Kota, that barrier is removed. The episode titled “Control System” highlighted the physical and sexual changes you go through. There’s a line in there which says, “Most of the time I want to study but I’m distracted with pictures of desire,” which I think captures what most of us go through in Kota.
Aditi Sengupta, 23, software developer
The second season comes with nostalgic feelings of joy and grief in parallel. It brought back so many memories, from the joys of mess food to boring classroom sessions. For me, watching the series was like reliving a roller-coaster ride that spanned two very important years of my life.
However, I would like to highlight that they have conveyed an oversimplified, even exaggerated view of coaching classes. No coaching institute in Kota demoralises you on the very first day of induction – this was inaccurately presented in the show. I personally liked attending those classes because their way of teaching was way more advanced than our [previous] schools.
The second season also portrayed the scenario of women in the IIT journey with sensitivity. There is a line where one of the teachers says, “We definitely give girls the first benches in classes but still, IITians are always referred to by the male gender – that is why female teachers are equally important in the coaching institutes.”
It becomes really tough for girls to get that kind of motivation in a classroom disproportionately populated by boys. In that case, girls end up feeling underconfident. I’m glad the show captured this quite well.
Follow Arman Khan on Instagram.