There came a point in the second episode of Laakhon Mein Ek when I realised that I actually cared for the characters and their stories. Overwhelmed by his strenuous routine, Aakash Gupta (played by Ritwik Sahore) rushes to the toilet to relieve himself. 

Unable to do his business, Aakash helplessly stares at the walls wondering whether his unsuccessful attempts to crack the class tests of his IIT coaching, have spilled over to his daily activities. That look of being unable to accomplish *anything* is something we’ve known all too well, as students of the Indian education system.

Created by stand-up comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath, Laakhon Mein Ek takes place in the hallowed grounds of a year-long IIT coaching centre in Vishakapatnam. Rath himself is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur, and therefore invites the assumption that some parts of the series are inspired from real-life vignettes. 

It’s surprising that apart from 3 Idiots, a comedy sketch by AIB or Taare Zameen Par – hardly anyone has tried to spin a story around the factory of science graduates and engineers, which seem to have mushroomed since the turn of the millennium. And this increased competition for a limited number of seats, has in turn led to the explosion in coaching classes.

Remember falling for coaching classes? Greeted by the smiling face of the ‘toppers’ from the previous batches with their score (anywhere between 95%-98%) printed next to them. That face was the ‘good life’ sold to us unsuspecting students and parents, who would write astronomical cheques to the tutorials to ‘transform us’ over the course of a summer. While navigating the familiar corridors of these coaching classes, the show goes to dark and unpredictable places. Empathising with the real life pressures of a student in the Indian education system, the show brought back many painful memories of school and junior college.

The chest-thumping suspense of your name being called out by the teacher, the humiliation suffered in front of your entire class, and also the overwhelming anxiety on the nights before exams – it is all too real. At one point Aakash turns to his friend ‘Bakri’ (played by Jay Thakkar) succumbing to the pressure of his IIT coaching, sounding completely vulnerable he says, “I can’t handle this. I don’t want this.”

Written by Biswa, the show benefits from solid acting from its young cast. Ritwik Sahore (who earlier appeared as young Omkar in Dangal) is tremendously believable as someone fighting inner demons, trying to scrape through his mock tests and holding on to dear friendships. Both Alam Khan (playing ‘Chudail) and Dharmesh Patel are the right amount of gregarious and ‘bad influence’ in a highly competitive environment. In fact, it is this friendship between Aakash, Chudail and Bakri which forms a significant part of the story.

Laakhon Mein Ek is essentially a show about growing up. Meandering through the dark alleys of insurmountable expectations most Indian students face in an unforgiving study environment, sourcing Modafinil in the corridors (a drug which allows you to stay awake and focus) to attempting suicide – it is a young boy’s journey to find what he wants in life. 

And as the show tells us in a simple but effective line – to find out what we want in life, we need to first find out what we don’t want in life. This is a fine debut for Biswa Kalyan Rath and a definite must-watch.