IIT Is Not The End Of The World: Jitendra Kumar

The millennial icon and a digital sensation, acclaimed for his natural flair for acting, has won a million hearts through his outstanding performances. In an exclusive conversation with BW Education, Jitendra Kumar - an IIT graduate, talks about his recent educational satire web series ‘Kota Factory’. He also shares his journey from being an engineer to an actor and opines on the current engineering education of the country. Excerpts:

What are your views on the current engineering education of the country?

The underlying issue about engineering, as a form of education in India, is that not many people are interested in pursuing the subject instead their families are more inclined to see their children as engineers. Students are usually confused about their future prospects but due to family pressure and the current education scenario, they take up engineering without their complete will and are then unable to sustain themselves throughout the said 4-year course. Furthermore, the students tend to get lost, usually due to decreasing interest in the subject and choosing a different path while pursuing engineering.

Currently, what are the challenges with the commercial groups providing engineering education in India?

There is a need to establish control with respect to the number of engineering colleges in India. With more number of colleges, the number of professors who teach engineering is relatively less. From what I’ve seen in, tier II & tier III cities is that often the students after completing their course start teaching at the same college.

Also, I believe the need of the hour is for the government and the administrative boards of the colleges to take the necessary steps to improve the infrastructure which includes labs, equipment, etc., in order to provide quality education to the increasing number of students opting for engineering.

Are we leading or lagging behind in the education industry? What sort of support do we need from the government? Your views.

In India, the quality of primary and middle school education is developing at a steady rate and I do not see any problem there. After 10th standard, I believe the quality declines in certain areas. Due to increasing number of students and a fairly large per cent of middle-class families in India, the students undergo the pressure by society to study engineering. This has led to increase of engineering colleges which in the long run hampers the quality of education provided by these colleges. I think a little freedom is important after class 10th.

Everyone equates higher education more with occupation rather than knowledge. If I want to pursue a subject during my higher education, my primary motive should be the knowledge and not occupation. There should be a sense of freedom involved when a student decides to take up further studies.

Also, there are a few IITs in India which do not provide the same quality education as they did 20 years ago.

Recent studies have talked about declining ‘employability’ of Indian graduates. What according to you goes into making an employable engineer?

I believe that the number of engineers required in our country has always increased at a constant pace with time. The number of students applying for it, however, has increased exponentially. The gap between the number of required engineers and the number of engineers has seen a considerable rise. As I said earlier, the issue is with more and more number of engineering colleges opening day by day. For a college to establish itself, it requires a sufficient amount of time to construct labs and culture of its own. The establishment of new colleges, frequently, is giving rise to unemployment. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the unemployment ratio rises due to students who are forced to study engineering due to external pressure. A student who is really interested in the subject gets employment and does well for himself.

Do you think that there are ample opportunities for engineers today or they should look forward to other industries as well as a career option? 

It has always been a pattern for engineers to take up other industries such as IAS or MBA after their course. This number has always been 50%. Since we have many options, industry wise, the students should definitely go for these options. There should be no restrictions when it comes to work culture. Education and occupation are two different things. A student should choose the kind of work he/she desires to do.  

How was your journey from being engineering to being an established actor? Did engineering education help you with your current profession?

I am an IIT graduate. But like many other students, I could not opt for the subject I wanted to pursue in IIT due to my rank. Hence, I was stuck with a different subject which made me struggle academically. This led to my involvement in dramatics and other extracurricular activities at IIT. We used to do several plays there. It was then when I met Biswapati Sarkar, who is the head writer for The Viral Fever. From there on I joined TVF which had just begun at that time. We had a team of 7-8 people and we did whatever we could and however, we could in terms of writing, acting and directing. Step by step things started falling into place. Several brands approached us and came on board to develop shows. The biggest task was to gather the audience. Our content was well appreciated by the masses as the audience is evolving and will continue to evolve. Even today, if you give them something new on a new platform, it gets noticed, which is a very good thing.

To answer your second question, I would say that my engineering education did help me with my current profession, not directly, but indirectly. The subject of physics held my strength and interest both, therefore I use to teach physics 3 days a week so that I could focus on acting for the rest of the week.

What is the one line you would want to dedicate to your journey from an engineer to an actor?

It has been 7 years now, so to fit all that in one sentence is quite tough. Let’s put it this way, ‘Lage raho, cheeze samajh mei ayyengi’. In other words, ‘With time you will evolve and then do well in life’.

You are an IIT graduate, what challenges did you face to get into an IIT?

I think the mindset of an individual matters a lot. Back then, I knew two things; one, I wanted to pursue engineering; and two, I want to get into IIT. What I did not realise was the hardships that came along with subjects I took in 11th standard which is a massive jump from standard 10 in terms of curriculum. Initially, it was difficult, but after the constant support of my parents, cousins and friends, who provided me with necessary support and positive mindset, I could do well. This is the type of environment every student should have, which is free of negative vibes.

Tell us about your recent educational satire web series ‘Kota Factory’? What attracted you the most to take the project? 

Usually, I take up characters like the protagonist in this show, ‘Vaibhav’, but this time my character was slightly bent on the inspirational cum different approach. The character I play here is imparted with many shades and many experiences which were intriguing to me as I was introduced to this character by our writers, Saurabh Khanna & Abhishek Yadav and I read more detailing about in the script. It is not the case if there was not any detailing about this character, then I would not have done the show. I knew I had to do it and the detailing was just the cherry on top of it. 

During the shoot I was getting more and more interested in the show because of our director Raghav Subbu’s vision and the fun time I had with the cast members.

Usually, every writer comes to you with lots of pros about the character because they want you to take up in a show. No one displays the cons. While taking up a character, I am doubtful at first that ‘will this character be interesting or not’. But while shooting for Kota factory, I was fully sure about it because of the direction of shots and the character itself.

The web series is based around the concept of engineering coaching class culture. Is it necessary for a student to join coaching classes in order to get into IITs? Your thoughts.

It actually depends upon the hard work a student puts in. Personally, I was not that hard working when it came to studying so coaching did help me go through it. Coaching classes provide solutions, questions and pattern of questions that reduces the number of hours for a student to study. For example, for a student to crack IIT, a 10-hour study is important to understand all the concepts. A coaching class reduces that to 6 hours but at the end of the day, it totally depends upon a student’s effort and hard work.

‘Kota’ has a very negative image about coaching, can you tell us about your experience of studying and lifestyle in Kota? 

A student moves to Kota at a very young age i.e. 14-15 years. Almost all of the students move out of their house for the first time. I had a tough time sleeping as I used to sleep beside my mother and I simply could not sleep alone due to my fear of ghosts. Due to my mother’s constant nagging and motivation, I took this on my ego and simply started sleeping alone. 

Due to a rapid shift in the food and water at Kota, the first two months are essentially required to get accustomed to this new lifestyle. Besides this, you create a new family there when you meet your fellow mates. They start doing things for your birthdays, helping out in studies or taking you to the hospital whenever you are sick. For the first time, you get to know the caring nature of humans despite not having a blood relation with them.

I did not put a whole lot of extra efforts except for the fact that I never used to miss any classes, even if I was sick. I was very regular with my notes and homework.

You have a hard hitting dialogue in the web series, ‘Exam ke liye padhne se pehle uss exam ko padho’, can you elaborate on the same?

It is very important to understand that there is no end to knowledge. There are ample amount of books on the subject of physics itself, however, only some are relevant to crack the IIT-JEE exam. Putting the effort in all of these books would only waste time, which is why coaching classes are also important. Because they know what is going to be asked and how to go about it. Hence, this dialogue is for every student to know that it is very important to be aware of the pattern of the exam rather spend time in grasping everything.

You have a strong role, a compassionate teacher, in the web series, what advice will you give to the young students for success in life?   

I am very young to give life advice to students. Since the character, ‘Jeetu Bhaiya’, is based on experiences of my own teachers and the teachers of our script writers, so I would like to recall advice what my own teacher used to give, ‘IIT is not the end of the world and students should not take stress because of it’. There are an abundance of opportunities and everyone if they put in the effort and hard work can achieve anything.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'July 3, 2019' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue June-July 2019'

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