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Alma Matters Is A Pointless Documentary On IIT Karagpur

Alma Matters Is A Pointless Documentary On  IIT Karagpur
Written by Subhash K . Jha

Alma Matters(3 Episodes, Netflix)

Directed  by  Pratik Patra, Prashant Raj

Rating:**

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?

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 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.

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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.

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