A DIRE LEARNING CURVE
Pranks are their means for survival in a pressure cooker environment
Stand-up comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath has made a habit of tickling the funny bone in his audience. But in his new Amazon Prime original series, Laakhon Mein Ek, he also makes viewers think, even asking some tough questions of them.
With the help of writers Vaspar Dandiwal and Karan Agarwal, Rath conjures a realistic portrait of the difficult and gloomy life in hostel for students desperate for admission to the Indian Institute of Technology. While Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots focused on the many perils and rare joys of life on an IIT campus, Laakhon Mein Ek hones in on the daily pressures kids face just to get there.
The protagonist is Aakash (Ritvik Sahore, who is fantastic), a teenager from Raipur whose hapless existence comes courtesy his father’s dream that he graduate from IIT. Packed off against his wishes to a coaching institute in Visakhapatnam for a prep course, Aakash struggles to excel academically.
Rath wanted the series to stir more debate on the fraught atmosphere inside the private institutes that have made a business out of education, and in the process taken the blame for numerous suicides. It’s indeed hard not to think of the troubling reports from Kota in Rajasthan, the hub of IIT coaching centres, while watching the show. “I would be glad if more people saw and felt what these kids go through... if it makes an iota of difference in one parent’s mind, we’ll have achieved something,” Rath said.
In Laakhon Mein
Ek, Murthy (Shiv Kumar Subramaniam) is the dictatorial headmaster who triggers much of the escalating drama. The trouble-making antics of Aakash and his friends, Bakri and Chudail, provide a dose of comic relief. Pranks are their means of survival in the pressure cooker environment. But even as the hijinks escalate in the battle between the ultra geeks of Section A and the lower wattage students of Section D, the makers never shy away from highlighting the anxiety that lurks in every corner of the campus. Aakash’s desperation to meet his parents’ expectations takes him down an immoral path and the consequences of his actions culminate in a climax where chaos reigns.
“It started out as comedy,” says Rath. “But slowly through the writing process we understood that this is not a story for a comedy. If we have to stay true to their world and the characters, we will have to sacrifice the comedy. We were more than willing to do whatever the story deserves.”
Laakhon Mein Ek works best when it’s dealing with student life and boys-onthe-verge-of-a-nervousbreakdown. Addressing issues such as frustration, segregation and hostility, Laakhon Mein Ek is a reminder that aal izz not well in our obsession to reach the IITs. With Aakash left with few answers and, indeed, more and more questions, Nath has us waiting for season two.