Two seasons of the Netflix series Kota Factory exposed the education racket in the Rajasthan town. Kota has grown from a modest doria sari weaving centre to a coaching destination for students hoping to ace the common entrance test for admissions into engineering or medical courses. The students flock to Kota seeking enrolment at elite institutes and eventual placements with multinational companies at seven-figure salaries.

There was nothing new to add to the narrative of avaricious coaching classes, pushy parents and vulnerable students. Thus the Amazon Prime Video series Crash Course, directed by actor-writer Vijay Maurya from a script by Manish Hariprasad and Raina Roy, treads familiar ground. The peppy title song-and-dance track is actually in variance with events.

The man who personifies the greed and drive of Kota is Ratanraj Jindal (Annu Kapoor), who has risen from poverty to set up a leading coaching institute. Ratanraj dreams of running his competitors out of business and renaming the town after himself.

His main rival is elderly school teacher Arvind Batra (Siddharth Kak), who started coaching as a mission and is alarmed at the venality of his sons Shashank (Bhanu Uday) and Mayank (Chirag Vohra). There is poaching of students and teachers between the two institutes and other underhand ways of winning the rankings war. Both of them use a fixer, Binny Agarwal (Udit Arora), who makes a commission from whoever pays.

Jindal is acutely aware that less than one percent of students who appear for the Indian Institute of Technology entrance exams get selected, so the competition is fierce. Middle-class parents take loans and mortgage their homes to send their sons – and a few daughters – to the swotting camps of Kota. Failure could doom families, which leads to kids living in what a character calls a “pressure cooker” atmosphere. Jindal wants his institute to produce the top-ranking students, even if it means locking them up in their hostels and supplying them with concentration-enhancing drugs.

When a show is about teenagers, stereotyped characters (class clown, scholar, jock, weakling, gang leader, hot girl) and tropes (romance, sexual awakening, a crush on teachers, jealousy, rebellion, depression and even suicide) are inevitable. These elements are mechanically ticked off, without any additions or even an attempt at a fresh treatment.

There is some substance to the series while it stays on the students and the warring institute heads. This show’s Jeetu Bhaiya, the popular teacher in Kota Factory, is AK Sir (Pranay Pachauri). AK makes physics fun while other teachers push rote-learning. Other characters serve no useful purpose, such as the canteen owner (Bidita Bag) or a married teacher’s female friend (Vasuki Punj).

Among the crowd of kids, the best bits belong to Vidhi Gupta (Anushka Kaushik) as the girl who becomes a bone of contention between Jindal and Shashank Batra, Hetal Gala as her best friend, Mohit Solanki as the kid crushed by his father’s hopes, Bhavesh Balchandani as the jester, Riddhi Kumar and Hridu Haroon as the campus lovebirds.

Towering over all of them is Annu Kapoor, who humanises his evil character. Ratanraj believes that he is offering the students what he never got – the chance to fulfil an aspiration. Like the town gleaming with prosperity and upward mobility (captured in all its shades by Nagaraj Rathinam’s camera), Ratanraj does what it takes to win, and does not care about whom or what he destroys along the way.

Crash Course (2022).