Alma Matters(3 Episodes, Netflix)
Directed by Pratik Patra, Prashant Raj
The Indian Institute of Technology, known and revered worldwide by its acronym the IIT,is a cordoned, fortified insulated world of education information and enlightenment for the lakhs who appear for the stiff entrance examinations. Once a student gets into the ITT, his career and life are made.Or so he is is told. The truth lies elsewhere.
This 3-part probe into the anatomy of this niche academia is riddled with problems from the outset. The first misgiving as we enter the world of IITians in their intensely industrious universe is, why only IIT Kharagpur? Yes , we know Karagpur has the most renowned IIT branch and students there have made a name everywhere. But a comprehensive view of the IIT culture across the country would have much more sense, at least to the outsiders who are the core viewership of this dedicated but dense and inexplicably core-deprived exercise.
The documentary takes us inside the Institution and then leaves us with a legion of talking heads, interviews with the students who seem to speak in awed voices, too overwhelmed by the opportunity to be educated in the haloed temple of wisdom, not to mention the opportunity to speak about the opportunity on camera.Who will dare to deflect from the path of panegyrics?
Not surprisingly the students all speak with nervous laughter turning back from sentences midway as if afraid to say too much. This goes on incessantly for almost three hours: the students’ hazy, sometimes incoherent monologues leading to awkward deadends, except when one of the students tells us how being in the ITT is akin to being imprisoned for years in one building from where there is no exit to any part of the outside world.That could have been a triggering point in a wider debate as to why the IIT chooses to isolate and insulate its alumni.
Again, a deadend.
Almost half an hour of the third episode is devoted to showing the ITT-ians preparing for and celebrating Diwali. This brings me to the biggest problem in this topheavy bottom-less exploration of the IIT culture. It is way too long and is deficient of any sustainable energy to take us along for three episodes, specially since the probe gets nowhere near to the crux of the problem.
The IIT suicides that have rocked the nation,are discussed towards the end of the series. As expected the students have nothing to say on what drives the students to take their lives. One life-defining moment in the docu-series occurs when during a meeting a fiery students gets up and exhorts the administration not to blame the students’ parents for the suicides.
Beyond that epiphany, this disappointing far-from-indepth and yet over-long dicu-series offers us no insight into the minds of these ferociously focused students who think their life is secured once they are admitted into the ITT. Little do they know that their struggle has only begun.
In Alma Matters we get to see only the surface of the struggle: the anxious laughter, the nervous twitch, the guilty time out to grab a meal sometimes with (more guilt) gupshup, the apprehension that there might not be a bright tomorrow after a grueling rigorously studious today.
All of this is spoken only hushed in whispers when what was needed was a clamorous vocal chorus of students telling us why the IIT dream is not the panacea that it promises to be.