If you, like myself, hang around the internet, chances are that you have heard of this series. Now you may ask – “ We hear of every new release that is scheduled for the week, so what’s so special about this one?”. Well, what makes Aspirants unique is the fact that it is not on any OTT platform or theatre. It has been completely uploaded on Youtube to watch for free!!!

‘Aspirants’ is a mini-series centred around three friends, fondly called the “tripod” who at one point were in rigorous coaching for the UPSC exams, one of the toughest exams in the world and the most prestigious one in India. The friends have drifted apart over the years but the memories of their coaching are fresh. The story alternates between their present-day lives and their old times spent in preparation. A relatively short one of only five episodes, the series explores their friendships, trials, relationships and the difficult decisions that went on to shape their life. Abhilash, the protagonist, is a largely cynical aspirant who is burning out his last attempt at cracking the exam. His support system includes his best friends, Guri and SK, his wise neighbour Sandeep Bhaiyya and a study companion Dhairya. 

‘Aspirants’ opens with a UPSC coaching professor’s cynical monologue about how statistically unlikely it was for any one individual to crack the UPSC and how despite putting one’s best foot forward, 6 years of one’s life are largely written off by society as a waste. These ten minutes are enough to convey the weight of the task and the stakes involved. These ten minutes convey why the show is called aspirants and not IAS. To be an aspirant, to put oneself through the gruelling experience of UPSC preparation, not once, but many times is an achievement in its own right. In many ways, the show is an ode that achievement. 

The show stands out for its slow-burn style, dialogue-driven narration, consistent pacing and plot that is simple yet suspenseful. Perhaps the best quality of the show is its dedication to the premise. It would have been all too easy for the UPSC preparation to be just a setting, a backdrop. But the show uses the premise in clever ways to bring out so many seemingly trivial things about preparation – how to choose your elective, how to push past negative thoughts, especially if this is a repeated attempt, how to deal with un-accommodating neighbours, with distractions and the most uncomfortable possibility of not pulling through. While I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the experience, I do commend the attention to detail. 

The major qualms I have with the show are the abrupt Unacademy mentions. Barely subtle, these numerous mentions border on obscene. Additionally, I found the other characters to be underdeveloped and one dimensional, each serving a specific role in the narrative. We do not learn much about SK, Guri or Dhairya’s motivations. The notable exception to this is Sandeep Bhaiya, arguably the best character on the show, who at times is easier to empathise with than Abhilash. The big reveal behind Abhilash and Guri’s animosity was underwhelming as well. The show also raises an important question – the question of sacrifice. How much does one sacrifice to meet one’s goals and how much is too much? I would think this one is left to the audience to decide. The show does not preach.

‘Aspirants’ is a very unique watch. It does not fit any particular genre but resonates deep. Most Indians prepare for competitive exams at some point. To witness a show dedicated to that spirit, that effort, that does not fixate on the success or judge the failure was truly humbling and for that this show is a must-watch.

The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5

About The Author-

Anushree Periasami is an electrical engineer from IIT Madras, currently working as a financial analyst. But her pet project has always been writing. An avid reader right from school, her favourite exercise was essay writing on novels and stories and the critical analyses of plots, characters, themes, etc. That interest continued right through college and to work as well. She was the Regional Editor for the internal quarterly magazine of her company – a compilation of interviews, technology articles and fun puzzles. The only things she loves as much as writing is watching movies and shows, especially masterpieces that aren’t advertised much and largely ignored. As Bojack Horseman put it, “But isn’t art, less what people put into it, but more what people get out of it ?” 

Also elle peut parler francais !

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