Kota Factory’s Jitendra Kumar: A love track for Jeetu Bhaiya will be nice
Jitendra Kumar and director Raghav Subbu on the highs, lows and mids of Kota Factory
Six students have come to meet a teacher they absolutely adore. As soon as they enter, something unexpected happens. The teacher, about to launch into a long lecture, grabs a packet of rasmalai from the kids and orders a spoon. He then talks at length; the scene is pivoted on a seventh student who’s afraid to take a test. As a piece of screenwriting, it’s an ordinary scene. But that detail about the rasmalai sticks in your head.
“Our writers (Abhishek Yadav, Saurabh Khanna, Sandeep Jain) came up with it,” shares Jitendra Kumar, beaming as he discusses the moment from Kota Factory season 2. “When a teacher does something like that, it instantly creates a connection. This kind of sharing does not exist in a formal relationship.”
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Kota Factory thrives on moments like these. The show still centres on Vaibhav (Mayur More), the determined young boy chasing his IIT dreams in Kota, though it’s his friends who get a closer look in season 2. Exhibit B: Jeetu Bhaiya (Jitendra) pays a call on Meena (Ranjan Raj), who’s stopped coming to classes. They chat as Meena confesses his newfound addiction to masturbation, which is affecting his studies. The scene could have been played for laughs; instead, it ends calmly, with Jeetu telling him not to feel guilty over it.
“We knew the innocence of Meena had to bloom in season 2,” explains director Raghav Subbu. “Since he comes from a different background, masturbation is seen as a big problem to him. We wanted to normalize that and say there’s nothing wrong with it.” Jitendra adds, “It was the most challenging scene for me.”
Equally, the decision to explore Jeetu on his own track opened up new avenues for the actor. He brings great feeling to the scene where Jeetu, struggling to start his own institute, seeks help from a stateside friend. Besides Jitendra’s lush tentativeness, what sells the scene is a cameo by TVF regular and his Pitchers co-star Naveen Kasturia.
“It was a nostalgic moment for me,” Jitendra says. “For the audience, too, seeing two people who have worked together before is always exciting.” Also, where was Naveen shooting from? “It must’ve been some indoor set in Mumbai only,” Jitendra laughs.
Raghav says he’s aware of the criticism directed at the show. A popular hit, the black-and-white series has been slammed for ignoring issues of mental health and presenting a sanitized version of India’s coaching institutes. The creators — including TVF founder Arunabh Kumar, showrunner Saurabh Khanna and writer Abhishek Yadav — are former IITians, but what about the millions who never make it through? Suicides, specifically, never figured into season 1. The new season (spoiler alert) does deal with it, but in a tangential, covering-our-bases way.
“Whenever we talk to people about Kota, they almost immediately think of suicides,” Raghav contends. “But suicides are only a small percentage of what this place has to offer. If you go back and look at the numbers, it has declined quite a bit over the last ten years because of therapy, counseling, and an open relationship between the students and managements. So we wanted to stay away from it the first time. But it needed to be talked about in season 2.”
Jitendra, also an IITian, stands by the approach of the show. “We want things to be balanced,” he says. “Student life is neither too dark nor all fun.”
Filming through the pandemic, Jitendra was surprised how well the younger actors reprised their roles. Despite being the most experienced hire on set, he had much to learn from the trio of Mayur, Ranjan and Alam Khan. “Alam will be goofing off but the moment a scene starts, he is back in his role. I have most of the dialogue in my scenes with Mayur. But the way he reacts to them without saying much is truly effortless.”
Raghav confirms there will be a season 3 – and possibly 4 and 5. The main characters, including “who makes it to IIT and who doesn’t”, have their journeys set. He wants to preserve the unspecified time frame of the show, so the pandemic and its impact on the academic world won’t be addressed. Jitendra trusts his arc to the writers, but smiles at the prospect of a potential romantic track for Jeetu Bhaiya. “Even if there’s one scene like that, why not?”