Kota Factory Season 3 Review: TVF’s Show Addresses Dark Side of IIT-JEE Coaching

As someone who has first-hand experience of being torn between the upcoming competitive exams that determine your career trajectory and the board exams at school, I finally felt heard when Kota Factory’s Vaibhav gave an almost [Kaartik Aryan’s] Pyaar Ka Punchnama style rant about the dire conflict. If you focus on one, the other gets naturally affected, and to look for that thin line of balance is a tricky affair. I might not have been a Kota student, but the dilemma I faced years ago while being crushed under NEET preparation as I also tried to score well in board exams, felt fresh as I watched the protagonists go through a similar war for JEE. Millions of students find themselves at the end of this torturous conflict each year, and Kota Factory’s third season has covered the challenge with the care it deserves.

Our favourite bunch of engineering aspirants are now in their second year of preparation and as the date of their final battle draws closer, the stakes are higher than ever. Clouds of frustration, confusion, fear, self-doubt, insecurity, and helplessness hang over the students, and the smallest of triggers elicit an intense response. Yet the determination to make it to India’s most prestigious engineering institute, the Indian Institute of Technology, is intact.

However, the students aren’t the only ones in a discomforted position this time. Everyone’s messiah, Jeetu bhaiya, also finds himself in an emotionally tough spot. One of his students taking their own life in the second season finale has pushed him into a black hole of hopelessness, guilt, and depression. He struggles to take up calls, prefers being isolated, and stays put in a messy room lifelessly, where junk keeps piling up. The crushing responsibility of mentoring hundreds, both as a teacher and as a self-proclaimed elder brother, is weighing him down, especially as he feels somewhat responsible for the tragedy. We even see him seeking help from a poised therapist to navigate through this tough phase.

Kota Factory season 3 review: rose tinted glasses come off

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Jeetu Bhaiya’s character seeks a therapist’s help in this season

For the first time, the makers of the show have taken him off the pedestal and addressed the attachment issues that he might have. He is now a traumatised teacher who no longer knows whether it is good for him to stay as invested in his students’ lives as he has always been or draw a healthy boundary. The moral dilemma echoes loud and clear. While he is fighting a deadly battle inside, there are also a few refreshing scenes where we can’t help but take a stand for his students almost reflexively, and immediately feel at home. In others, we see him lashing out for no reason. The co-existing paradoxes have been brilliantly covered: a vicious cycle of what the therapist often refers to as running back to what feels familiar, even if it’s causing you harm.

The entire Jeetu-therapist sequence is well-written and gives off logical arguments, but I still feel that it is a little out of alignment with the core tone of the show. Understandably, big tragic events can often lead to a complete revamp of one’s personality, but Jeetu bhaiya’s transformation feels a little overdone in a few scenes.

Let me explain. He has been in Kota for many years now and with a long list of admirers that he is shown to have, it is unlikely that this was the first time he witnessed something like this, especially when Kota has become increasingly infamous over the years for student suicides.

If the makers wanted to portray the event as the final blow for the brave facade that he had been putting up until now, it leads us to question everything that we know about him. Was he never truly this bubbly? Did he fake the positivity to divert attention from the dark reality? Is he unable to stick to his philosophies? Was he somehow anticipating this? Most importantly, are figures like Jeetu bhaiya not enough to help the millions of students taking this perilous journey? If the rotten education system has crushed down someone as strong as Jeetu, is there any sliver of hope? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever may be the case, it is painful to watch the physics stalwart go through something like this.

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Vaibhav and Vartika’s relationship faces new challenges in third season

While Jeetu bhaiya’s arc will make you somewhat uncomfortable, the rest of the characters — Meena, Uday, and Shivangi — are just like they were the last time you saw them and bring the familiar breeze of refreshment. Each one has delivered a nuanced performance and keeps the essence of the student-centred show intact. You’ll still feel Meena is adorable and smile at his innocence. You’ll thank Uday for the comic respite he brings to lighten the mood. Shivangi is still the same one whom you’d want to turn to for wisdom. I particularly liked how the makers gave her more space this time, and through her character have acknowledged how candidly the efforts and challenges of medical assistants are often brushed aside, without any solid reason. I wish more of it had been covered previously.

The makers have also not forgotten to highlight the impact of toxic commercialised education on teachers, which is often ignored. While in the first season, only a thin slice of it was served in the form of a chemistry teacher being fired because of false student feedback, the third season gives the subject ample space. We see the teachers’ hesitation to stay in Kota, the overridden guilt, the inability to make much of a difference despite desperately wanting to, and the dilemma of having to choose between putting on the hats of a good teacher or a good business personnel while running an educational institute. The prime focus amongst the teachers stays on Jeetu bhaiya, though.

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Tillotama Shome’s role as the Chemistry faculty in Jeetu’s coaching centre is impactful

Kota Factory has also managed to retain its signature style of cinematography. We watch calculated frames, symmetrical prop placements, and plenty of visual metaphors. Some of the scenes feel like a neatly arranged work of art, based on the equations that Jeetu bhaiya keeps scribbling on the famous board. Cinematographer Shreedutta Namjoshi has done brilliantly to carry forward the show’s signature visual style. This is also the first season of Kota Factory that doesn’t include even a single coloured shot (the first one had Maheshwari Classes’ promo and the second had orientation in coloured frames).

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Meena is still the adorable friend, who would stand by you in every situation

While the show manages to cover new and old challenges with impressive expertise, the overall tone of the show has somewhat shifted, and one can feel the gloominess trying to take over. You’ll laugh less and feel more.

It makes me wonder if TVF has replaced its old simple, feel-good formula of a relatable series with a more serious one. Kota Factory isn’t the only show from the production house that has evolved in complexity and themes, pushing its otherwise jolly characters into a rut. In fact, Panchayat and Gullak took a similar turn, with the initially high-on-humour shows taking on a few shades darker. Interestingly, all three shows went through personnel changes in the directorial or screenplay departments, as well. Is this just a coincidence or has TVF decided to ditch its familiar feel-good style?

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