ASPIRANTS (2021)

Naveen Kasturia as Abhilash

“Sandeep Bhaiya Ka IAS nikla ki nai”

— Indian Audiences

At the onset, I would like to address the issue that bugged me the most about the series. The “Unacademy” promotions. Yes, Unacademy is producing the show and hence they have every right to feature themselves prominently in the scheme of things but the men and women at The Viral Fever (TVF) could have thought out subtler ways of putting forward the advertisements than just rubbing it on the faces of the unsuspecting viewers like a birthday cake at 12:00 am in the morning. Even the actors, who otherwise are flawlessly feel out of place doing product ads amid a moment of organic and level-headed performance. I felt a similar predicament was better handled in the TVF series Kota Factory.

Three friends, Abhilash (Naveen Kasturia), SK (Abhilash Thapliyal), and Guri (Shivankit Singh Parihar) are preparing for the UPSC exams in a place known as the Mecca of UPSC, Old Rajinder Nagar. For Abhilash, it’s a do-or-die battle as it is his final attempt at the exam. He is on sabbatical from his company and is frequently nudged by his bosses at the company to come back and join his duty immediately. SK has no backup plan and is under extreme duress from his family to crack the exam. Guri is the only one who is cool about the exam and believes that the exams are important but not as important as life and happiness itself. The three friends have been together since school and college and are referred to as “tripod” by the ones who know them well.

In a parallel track unfolding in the future, we learn that Abhilash has gone on to become an IAS officer while the other two have done fairly well for themselves. SK is a teacher with Unacademy and also doubles at a UPSC Preparation Institute. Guri has launched his own brand of shoes and is on his way to getting married. We learn that something happened between Guri and Abhilash that created a rift between the two and that has stopped them from being in touch. As Guri is about to get married, SK tries to use the circumstances to rekindle his soured friendship with Abhilash. Sadly, the marriage and more importantly, who Guri is getting married to possess a bigger threat to their friendship and its survival than whatever was the cause of the rift in the past.

Abhilash Thapliyal as SK

TVF has its hands on the pulse of India and they keep coming up with content that appeals to Indians in a very Indian way. No one in the world can know the status of the UPSC exams in India and what it means to the people who go for it the way we Indians can. We need to understand the importance of the exam and its impact on the life of the characters if the series is to make any impact whatsoever on the audiences. TVF takes it for granted that we understand that and they are right in doing that. We all know what UPSC is and what clearing it means. Once that is set up, the makers only had to ensure that they were telling an intriguing story and the characters were able to tug at our heartstrings.

How the story unfolds ensured that the hook is lodged deep into the audience. What was the cause of the rift between Guri and Abhilash is one of the biggest questions that drive the narrative and forces us to wait for the next episode to get an idea of what the cause might be. The makers don’t reveal it until the finale. Another question that drove me mad was how someone like SK didn’t clear the exam and still seemed happy in the future as he is shown as someone to be someone who is without a plan B.

Another question was how Abhilash became an IAS after it was made clear that he had failed to clear the exam in the penultimate episode. A large chunk of the viewers was anxious about how the life of Sandeep Bhaiya would proceed and if he would be able to crack the exam as after we understand his motivations, he becomes an even more endearing character and we want him to succeed at any cost. All these factors ensure that our interest is sustained in the narrative until the very end.

Sunny Hinduja as Sandeep Bhaiya

But the heart and soul of the series lies in its performances and the subtle messaging. I hate when Bollywood, Hollywood, or any other such “wood” tries to shove a message down my Throat when I know for certain that the heroes and heroines batting for that very message never followed its beats in their lives. Thus I am not too good at receiving messages from cinema unless it is subtle and affecting like what we get in Aspirants. Why it worked for me was because the message was not for the audiences but from one character to another. If you identified with a character and took the message upon them then that was a personal choice. That’s how it should be done in the first place.

Naveen Kasturia, Abhilash Thapliyal, and Shivankit Singh Parihar play out the entire series between them and I didn’t feel the least bit flustered by their presence in almost every scene of the series. What I found common between the three was the same naturalism and organic rendition of their respective characters. This is something that I have found in every TVF series. Be it the kids in Kota Factory or the seasoned actors in Aspirants, they bring an easy charm and speak in a way that reminds us of our day-to-day conversations. This elevates their performances to a different level and makes us take the characters seriously. The creators at TVF have this knack of extracting realism from the performances that I haven’t seen being done by too many. The best example of this is in the kind of performance that they can extract out of Sunny Hinduja who plays the talk of the town Sandeep Bhaiya.

I last saw Hinduja in the MX Player series Bhaukaal where he played a gangster who huffed and puffed more than he said or did. To see him here in an avatar that is so thoughtful, subtle, and adorable is bound to affect any thoughtful viewer and was a sweet surprise for me. I can understand the overwhelming emotional responses that his rendition is receiving from the audiences and it is well placed. The biggest question for every viewer going into the finale of the series was “Sandeep Bhaiya ka IAS nikla ki nai?” Brownie points to Sunny Hinduja for not only realizing the character so beautifully but also for showing us what a fantastic actor he can be if utilized properly. The floodgates of better and worse offers should open up now. I also enjoyed the performance of Namita Dubey who works up wonderful chemistry with Naveen Kasturia.

The music of the series and especially the song “Dhaaga” by our local lad, Nilotpal Bora will remain with me for a long time. TVF’s Aspirants is one of the most uplifting and well-made series to have come out this year. It is available for free on YouTube. I don’t think you need to read any more about it before you go for it. You will not regret it.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Here is the link to the first episode of the series :

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nomadosauras says:

    Another well written review! It was only last week that I first hearD a bit about the series and unsurprisingly, the bit was about Sandeep Bhaiya. The way that character has struck a chord with the audiences is proof that the makers have done their job well.
    After binge watching the first four episodes over the week, I was waiting for the premiere earlier today and fair to say, it didn’t disappoint.
    Hoping for more content like this in the future and also, your reviews of the same 🙂
    Cheers!

  2. Thank you so much for appreciating my review. Means a lot to me. Will try to bring you better reviews in the future…keep reading and keep sharing your views on the write-ups…Thanks again.

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