Series Review: Alma Matters

Series Review: Alma Matters

Creator: Prashant Raj

This new Netflix docuseries showcases the 2,000-acre Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Kharagpur, West Bengal, established in 1951 as one of India’s premier higher educational institutions.

Being the mecca for engineering students across the country, it takes an insane amount of dedication and hard work to become an IITian. The series deftly follows the years between student entrance into the prestigious institute until the day they bid farewell at the end of their course. The three episodes that make up Season 1 attempt to strike a balance between the happy and the darker days in a students’ hectic schedule.

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On the one side you have black and white clips from the yesteryears taking you to IIT’s inauguration ceremony with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and, on the other, you have a young IITian expressing himself: “Engineering is not about passion anymore. How many engineering colleges are there in this country?” The lost interest arises from the lack of opportunities in pursuing a particular discipline and the elusive employment prospects.

Besides the pressure of scoring well in examinations, the added burden of “finding a job” is always hounding a student even before he has started his course. Amidst the nervousness lingering in interview rooms and long prep hours, you can sense the bond between the fellow roomies. Sharing the laughter and sadness, borrowing shoes, chatting over a pint of beer, all in the process of making a new family away from home.

On a lighter note, the documentary presents the annual Diwali tradition of illuminating thousands of diyas (oil lamps) suspended on panels. This is a result of weeks of labour and enthusiastic spirits. It also delves into darker yet necessary topics. The show gives the audience an insight into the unspeakable truth of gender bias at every engineering college in India.

It hit me that the female population on the campus was just a speck in the wave of roaring boys, where their achievements are attributed to the sexist notion of “female privileges”. The characters in the spotlight demonstrate the need to change this harsh mentality. However, the series hardly puts in any effort to voice the young women over the entire season while addressing the issue of inequality. We see a rather male-dominant storyline in this feature.

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The other daunting subject tackled in the series is the number of student suicides that the institute sees with every passing batch. Mental health is a matter of prime concern as Indian society tends to give little or no importance to such issues. The excessive competitive spirit among peers and the redundant glorification associating success with salary packages tends to eat away at the students. In a tense environment, a distressed student rightly questions the lack of communication and mentoring at the institute: “Our parents took good care of us, they kept us alive for 20 years but you can’t for five years?”

Overall, ‘Alma Matters’ has retained the raw nature in its filmography. With the students expressing themselves so naturally, the viewers tend to form a rapid connection with them, some even rooting for their success. This feeling may even give you a flashback of your good old college days with your best buds.

*iGlobal Review Series

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