It was in June 2014, when two seemingly goofy guys rose from anonymity to social media stardom. Their formula – a fresh, unabashed take on the mind-numbingly silly tropes used in mainstream Bollywood. Aptly titled Pretentious Movie Reviews, the show broke the traditional reviewing style by bringing out hilarious observations that were exaggerated through sketches and impeccable editing. Although Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath, the Pretentious-duo, haven’t made any new episodes in a while, they have become a household name in the rapidly evolving Stand-up Circuit in the subcontinent.
Biswa’s journey is akin to the journey of any other Stand-up comedian worth his salt – Leaving the everyday nine to five drudgery and taking the leap. After a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from IIT Kharagpur, Biswa worked with Oracle until 2014 when he quit his job to kick-off his career as a Stand-up Comedian. Imagine explaining that to your parents. In fact, in one of the interviews Biswa was asked what his parents thought about his success, to which he had replied in his characteristic poker-faced nonchalance – “I am not sure they understand it yet.” The success of Pretentious Movie Reviews meant that Biswa had become a social media influencer which meant that, as compared to a struggling open-mic stand-up comic, his voice carried weight and this he used to his advantage through his own YouTube channel. Rising steadily and garnering followers through his non-political humour based on his own life experiences, Biswa bagged a contract with Amazon for a solo show in Biswa Mast Aadmi, providing his career the credibility that is the wet dream of every up and coming comedian.
Being an ardent follower of his sets (my favourite being the one about Bananas and Engineering students), I could clearly identify that the writing was strong and the observations were accurate. Perhaps, this was what he understood too – the appeal to write and craft rather than to perform. Laakhon Mein Ek is, presumably, the brainchild of this very appeal of creating something tangible through actual characters on the screen, telling your story. Although Laakhon Mein Ek is not directed by Biswa, his signatures are all over the place. Like his sets, this premise seems to have originated from his own experience while he had prepared for the IIT entrance exams or at least from his observations of his peers/batchmates that he may have seen as they dove into the rat-race. The story, here, revolves around a happy go-lucky boy Akash Gupta who is at the cusp of College-life, somewhere in Raipur, Chattisgarh. After waiting for the elusive acceptance letter for weeks, his parents finally decide to send him for the proverbial “IIT coaching” far away from home. It’s only after he is assigned to his classroom at Genius Infinity that he realizes the hole he had dug himself into.
Through Akash’s eyes, we are introduced to a world where students are segregated into factions based on their high-school percentage. The high-achievers are put into section A and the strugglers are put into the lower sections. The segregation does not end at that. As with any aristocratic society, the higher sections are assigned the best teachers and the best living quarters while the sections in the lower rung are barely taught anything, fueled by the prejudice that no matter how much you teach these “duffers”, nothing good can come out of it. Away from the protective and carefree atmosphere of Raipur, Akash finds himself in a cesspool of grueling rat-races, inter-sectional feuds and deplorable living conditions. In one of the classes, the concept of a non-Newtonian fluid is taught which is defined as “a fluid whose viscosity is variable based on applied stress or force. This concept is subtly interspersed throughout the narrative in a couple of moments as an eerie reflection of Akash Gupta’s life as a student, a person whose fluidity or ease of forward movement reduces with the ever increasing stress which threatens to sap the very life out of him.
In one of the classes, the concept of a non-Newtonian fluid is taught which is defined as “a fluid whose viscosity is variable based on applied stress or force. This concept is subtly interspersed throughout the narrative in a couple of moments as an eerie reflection of Akash Gupta’s life as a student, a person whose fluidity or ease of forward movement reduces with the ever increasing stress which threatens to sap the very life out of him.
The charm of this story, however, lies in its characters. Akash’s room mates – Chudail, who is the quintessential dope-head and Bakri, the lazy Bihari dude – teach him the workings of the establishment in their own way. The egoistic super-achievers with their loathing towards the lower ranks, maintain a constant contention establishing their dominance in academics. Bala, the Principal’s goon, is the caricature-ish disciplinarian who keeps chasing the boys through the corridors as they keep yelling – “Bala ki maa ki….”. On top of this food-chain is the Head of the “institution” who tries to run a tight ship but fails miserably. Even amidst his failures, he strives to get even more admissions so that he can expand his school into the humongous engineer-churning machines that Kota has.
Laakhon Mein Ek is a dark comedy told truthfully. Even through the notorious antics of the characters, the comedic façade falls away quickly as the grimy reality of the situation presents itself through the disheveled face of Akash. Even after wracking his brains desperately for several weeks, Akash realizes what he had known all along. He was never meant to go to IIT. He was never meant to be there among those people. But like the hundreds of thousands of kids every year, he has had to succumb to the expectations of his parents. Despite the honest and heartfelt story-telling, there are moments when the acting feels a bit exaggerated but that would be nitpicking. The premise is predictable as we all know how it goes, yet the story remains gripping in the way it is told which is reminiscent of Vikramaditya Motwane’s coming of age story Udaan.
This is a story that we hear every year in the entrance exam seasons – Students being buried under pressure and taking their own lives as the only escape from this forced drudgery. Some are unable to cope with the fierce pressure while the others realize that they would never be able to fulfill their parents’ dreams. It is high time that we start discussing about this torture we our children through. It’s important that as their guardians, we should understand their aptitude and their inclinations. Everyone is not wired the same way. Some of the most successful and respected people today, are those who could find their own way early on in their lives rather than being a part of the herd. Dreams are not imposed upon, they are made. Its time we gave the Dreamers a chance.
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