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An Engineered Dream review: An objective look at the rigours of the Kota coaching institutions

Loneliness and suicide ring throughout the documentary. Yet, Gaba has also managed to inject some light-hearted moments into the 72-minute film.

Sahil Bhalla

Hemant Gaba’s An Engineered Dream, which won accolades at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala last July, played at the Habitat Film Festival on Sunday.

Gaba’s documentary looks at the coaching class industry that has flourished in the Rajasthan city Kota. Gaba previously made the feature Shuttlecock Boys (2012) and the documentary Japan In Nagaland.

Originally, Gaba was approached to make a fictional film on Kota and its vast numbers of coaching institutes. During his research, Gaba found that this could work just as well in the documentary format.

Gaba himself had limited choices when growing up, and this is echoed by many of the students at Kota. They aren’t there of their own volition; they are there because of their parents.

Gaba's film, shot in 2016 and 2017, follows four aspirants — each from a different institute — who moved away from their homes to cram their way through the joint entrance examination for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT-JEE).

Kota, known as a hub of coaching institutes, attracts over 200,000 teenagers every year. They come with many hopes and dreams. They live in cubicle-sized rooms and study for as much as 15 hours a day, for two years straight, hoping to get into any of the IITs or other top engineering colleges in India. For the IITs, less than 1% of those who appear for the exam are accepted.

There is immense pressure on these teenagers to succeed. With such odds, peer pressure, overbearing parents — "remind yourself you have to clear IIT to take care of your family" — and the coaching institutes themselves, it’s hard to imagine anything but a gloomy world at large. Notices upon many of the doors have variations of the messages 'Do not disturb' and 'I am dead'.

Filmmaker Hemant Gaba

Loneliness and suicide ring throughout the documentary. “It is lonely here,” says one student. The question of loneliness is immediately drowned in the cacophony of the event. Despite all this, Gaba has managed to inject some light-hearted moments into the 72-minute film.

One of the only negatives from this documentary is the fact that it doesn’t delve deep enough into the background of the students. Take, for example, Suraj. He is a smart student whose sole passion is to learn. He depends on his parents for his every decision, but Gaba and his crew never fill in the viewers as to why this is the case.

Nonetheless, An Engineered Dream is one of the most objective looks at the rigour that is Kota. It doesn’t put down any one student and neither does it glorify its hero. It may be traumatizing for those who have had to take the exam or will be taking the exam in the near future, but as a viewer, it is an eye-opener into the ordeal these students go through, year after year.

The documentary film An Engineered Dream was screened at the 14th Habitat Film Festival at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre on Sunday 19 May 2019. 

Related topics

Movie Review Habitat Film Festival