The good, the bad and the ugly of being an IITian

The good, the bad and the ugly of being an IITian

Alma Matters’ showcases the vulnerabilities of top legacy institutions, says director Prashant Raj

‘Alma Matters’, streaming on Netflix, talks about sexism and mental health on an IIT campus.

‘Alma Matters: Inside the IIT Dream’, a docu-series streaming on Netflix, seeks to showcase a premier institution, warts and all. The good, bad and the ugly of what happens there is usually kept under wraps. In this three-part series, alumni share stories of harsh realities, pleasant surprises, and transformative journeys at their alma mater.

Directed by Pratik Patra and Prashant Raj, ‘Alma Matters’ delves into the world of IIT Kharagpur. In an interview with Showtime, director Prashant Raj talks about what inspired the series, the challenges involved in shooting it, and more. Excerpts:   

What inspired this docu-series?

There was no format across the world that gave the audience an inside view into the lives of students at top legacy institutions. That became the seed of ‘Alma Matters’. Through this, we intend to explore the identities of top institutions across the world, beyond what one sees in mainstream media.

Have you shot this on campus? Was it easy to get access?

The series has been entirely shot on IIT Kharagpur campus, barring the bits where we have interacted with the alumni. For alumni interactions, we travelled to multiple cities. We wanted to offer an authentic glimpse into the minds of the students there. What worked for us was that the characters trusted us. They were open and candid about sharing their thoughts.

What is it challenging to convince students to talk about their problems?

The biggest challenge was gaining the students’ trust. However, the key team members who were shooting were all from IIT Kharagpur. Thus, there was an inherent feeling of shared empathy. Because all of us had been through the same journey. 

Do you want to say IIT is not really as fancy as it appears to be?

The ‘fancy’ perception about IIT is because it is considered as this El Dorado, a place that is supposed to be a ticket to lifelong success. IIT is considered to be this magical escape from ‘middle classhood’, and once you get in, you are set for life. That is not true at all. It is a place of learning only for the few really smart and privileged ones. Therefore, academically and otherwise, it is naturally going to be challenging.

What message do you want to give? 

We wanted to tell our story of our alma mater through themes that have been consistent across generations and define the identity of our campus. We want our viewers to understand and manage the expectations they have from IITs. We also wanted to address some of the vulnerabilities in the system. We hope that it sparks a conversation, be it around mental health, sexism on campus or other issues.

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