Published: 30th May 2019
Why TVF's Kota Factory is the ode to the studious Indian nerd who dreams of exam glory - that we all need to watch
TVF's latest web series Kota Factory has taken the internet by the storm. We catch up with its creator Saurabh Khanna
Can you find the common factor between FRIENDS, Starbucks, iPhone, Polaroid camera and solo travel? Some of you may hate us for the answer - these are all overrated. Now that we've already spoken about overrated and glorified things in life, allow us to add one more to the list - the portrayal of backbenchers aka cool kids in Indian films and television. Well, take a moment and think about any film or series about students that you watched recently, where the protagonist was ambitious and actually took some time out to study, finish their assignments on time and did not fall into an unhealthy schedule of partying late every night?
Incidentally, the folks at The Viral Fever (TVF) also felt the same (Phew!). After all, most of them went to the IITs after being trained at Kota. They knew that they had to do something about it and give a voice to the unsung heroes who attended coaching classes, fixed on cracking the JEE and getting into an IIT as early as they can. The result? They created a five-episode-long web series Kota Factory and the internet is in love with it. (Kid you not, it has IMDB rating of 9.5)
"Indian cinema and series always celebrated backbenchers and students who aren't keen on studying. The toppers and sincere students have always had a stereotypical description in these narratives. They are called names, they are often treated sub-humans and are dirty competitors," says Saurabh Khanna, the show's Creative Director."We wanted to show the real life of students in Kota. There is a chunk of students who have aspirations and are facing obstacles every now and then. Here, it is not the story of the child who is passionate about photography and has their passion killed by their parents by being sent to the IIT. The kid here wants to study. He doesn't have the right guidance and his efforts must be channelised. These guys are our heroes," he adds.
However, for Saurabh, the positive reception to the series was "unprecedented and unexpected." We wondered why. He says, "Kota Factory is too long a format for YouTube, it is actually meant for OTT platforms like Netflix and Prime. Also, the entire series is shot in monochrome. We never thought people will actually watch it." The series that ran from April 16 to May 14 was created by TVF in collaboration with Unacademy. Written by Saurabh, Abhishek Yadav, Sandeep Jain and Himanshu Chouhan, the series is directed by Raghav Subbu.
As we mentioned earlier, apart from giving a different narrative to IIT aspirants, the series also breaks the visual stereotype by shooting each frame in monochrome. Saurabh explains the reason behind that. "Black and white is usually used to show period drama or flashbacks. You don't expect a comedy. We thought of breaking the visual grammar here," he explains. "At the same time, we weren't sure if people will be interested initially. We were so skeptical," he adds.
Other than the glorification of backbenchers, Saurabh also expresses his concerns over the depiction of Indian parents in popular culture. "Most Indian parents are shown as dictators. But that isn't true. Most of them do listen to their children's passion, as long as the child can convince them of a workable career option in that field. Never have I come across an Indian parent who stood between their child and their passion," he says. "But our shows have always shown that the student is exceptional in the field that they're passionate about and the parent will just not allow them to pursue it," he adds.
As some of you may remember, Karan Johar's Student of the Year 2 released on May 10, four days before Kota Factory's season finale. Many film buffs who were disappointed by the Tiger Shroff starrer film had written multiple pieces, comparing it with the series. Most of them argued how Kota Factory was much better and realistic. We were as keen as you to know Saurabh's thoughts on this. A Karan Johar fan, here's what he had to say, "Every filmmaker has to make a choice between reality and fantasy to narrate an impactful story. It also depends upon the taste of their target audience and the mood of the story. Even in Kota Factory, we have roped in fantasy elements to keep the story interesting," adding, "Let's not curb creative freedom. When we cherish the universes of GoT and Marvel, cornering SOTY2 feels unfair."
Now before we wrapped up the conversation, we had to know how Saurabh, a Kota Factory product himself ended up being a writer. "It just happened yar," he laughs. After graduating from IIT Kanpur, Saurabh went on to do a corporate job and later coached IIT aspirants. TVF's Arunabh Kumar was his batchmate in Kota and as Saurabh would describe, " We roamed the streets of Kota together." So later, when the former started TVF, he got the latter on board. "By the way, I was never dying in my corporate job," he signs off.