Tillotama Shome: I don’t believe in top-three mentality or front-page visibility

The actor is the latest addition to the cast of Kota Factory
Tillotama Shome in Kota Factory
Tillotama Shome in Kota Factory

It is rare for artists to get an opportunity to speak through their work, says actor Tillotama Shome, who boarded Kota Factory as it is one of the few shows which deals with the aspirations and worries of the young generation.

The Netflix series from The Viral Fever (TVF) is set in Rajasthan's Kota, considered the coaching hub for students aspiring to get into an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) by cracking the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

The actor, 45, said she liked the subject matter they were tackling season after season and how they had built a strong foundation.

"We worry so much about the future as human beings but we don't invest in the future? The youth of our country, they are the future. And this was a show that really walks the talk and it was a show that finally puts the youth, their stories, aspirations, dreams and worries in the centre,” she said.

"We have so many expectations and criticism about them. But as adults, what do we do to enable the youth or to give them some space in our storytelling and cinema? This was rare for many reasons and when I got out of that call (with TVF), my news feed had the unfortunate and tragic news of one of the students of Kota having ended their life," she added.

The city in Rajasthan is frequently in the headlines for aspirants dying by suicide and it is an issue that even the show tackles in its latest season. "Often as artists, we feel very handcuffed because we have chosen to speak through our work. So, it's rare when you get an opportunity to actually speak to something that matters," the actor said.

"We live in a time when everything is successful.... But it has to move me. It has to move the needle in some way. And it's very hard to interpret it immediately because like good teachers and most things in life, you see the impact of a good teacher or a show, many years down the line." Tillotama, the versatile actor known for her roles in films such as Monsoon Wedding, Shanghai, Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, A Death in the Gunj and Sir, features in the role of chemistry teacher Pooja Agarwal in the show's third season, which recently dropped on the streaming platform.

The cast of the show is led by Jitendra Kumar who plays the fan favourite character of Jeetu bhaiya.

"I was so moved when I got to know that there are teachers in Kota, who felt after watching Jeetendra's performance as Jeetu bhaiya and they felt that they needed to pull up their socks. So that's an impact for you, right? It doesn't always happen," the actor said, praising her co-star's performance.

The new season of Kota Factory, shot in black-and-white, will see the students inch toward adulthood as final exams loom.

In the third season's trailer, Jitendra's Jeetu Bhaiya delivers a key dialogue that puts emphasis on celebrating the hard work put in by students, rather than regaling in the victorious outcome.

The reality, however, is starkly different as exams toppers are celebrated with front page advertisements by their coaching institutes, while others continue to wait and toil hard to make the next opportunity count.

Tillotama said she does not believe in the mentality of only celebrating winners and it is all thanks to her parents who never put any pressure on her.

"They just said that you have to be independent. And for tasting that independence or being able to enjoy freedom, you decide what you need. And that was it. Whether you want to study or play, they gave me freedom. I don't remember, even once, that there was any kind of expectation that I have to excel,” she said.

"As an adult and as a professional also, I don't feel I have to be at the top of anything. I just want to play. I want to be in this world that I've chosen and that I love,” she added. She also said that it is reductive to measure success by highlighting the achievements of only those who end up in the top three of anything.

"It feels like you are reducing something so insanely amazing, whether it's education, acting or any career. I don't believe in that kind of corruption, this top three mentality and front-page visibility. I don't think you really love the subject. You just love power. What are you going to do with it? Even if you come fourth, you can still work," Tillotama said.

Directed by Pratish Mehta and showrun by Raghav Subbu, Kota Factory also features Mayur More, Ranjan Raj, Alam Khan, Revathi Pillai, Ahsaas Channa, and Rajesh Kumar.

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