TVF is back again with the second season of its hit show Aspirants, which dives further into the memorable characters. Some, like Sandeep Bhaiya and SK, have had their own spin-off shows, but it is in the second season that all of them reunite, and the drama takes off. We have come to associate TVF with heartwarming and uplifting dramedies, but Aspirants Season 2 stays clear of the comedy. Very unlike TVF, this season does not have humor as a sweet coating, which gives a feel-good vibe to TVF shows. Sure, there may be very dark and heavy episodes sometimes, but the humor is always there. Aspirants works by inducing conflicts between almost all the characters and then stretching the scenes, sometimes into over-sentimental territories. That’s a nice technique to constantly keep the viewer engaged in the ever-evolving drama, but the knots they find themselves in are not that easy to truthfully resolve.
The previous season had introduced us to the now-famous characters of Abhilash, Guri, SK, Dhairya, and Sandeep. The new season adds a few more in the form of Deepa Nabam and Dayanidhi Joshi, who both play a part each in Abhilash’s life. There was also Radha Rajesh, the teacher who mentored (more like challenged) Abhilash to crack the exam in his final attempt. The plot has all these characters fiercely involved in the drama of their lives. Perhaps Deepa was the only one who seemed a bit laidback, but the rest were living complex lives. This complexity arises mostly due to the fact that they have taken a lot of responsibilities on their shoulders, one thing the show wants to emphasize. Abhilash, as the District Manager of Rampur, had just started his job but was facing backlash for supporting Dayanidhi Joshi, the businessman who could help him with the ethanol-blending fuel program. Sandeep was someone whose heart bled for the workers, and being the Assistant Labour Commissioner, he stood by their side, even though Abhilash asked him to quash the workers strike. These socio-political matters caught up with Guri and Dhairya as well, when Guri’s show company’s tender was passed with Abhilash’s help. The emerging notion from the plot was that of individual struggle. Guri and Dhairya were married, and yet there was this sense that Guri wanted to struggle alone to get the money to repay the loans he had taken.
Friendship in Old Rajender Nagar, where these people prepared for the Civil Services Exam, was their solace, but now, five years down the line, they are separated and unable to find that strong connection again. The previous season had left off, to the point where Abhilash was cut off from the group after having become the DM. This season clarifies that a lot occurred between the five years when he cracked the exam. This limbo of five years is so vacant that it evokes dread this time around. Abhilash is alone and goes into his shell, trying to forget about Dhairya, whom he had broken up with in the previous season. The theme of connection when one has matured and gotten out of this limbo of Rajender Nagar is the key part of the series that glues the two timelines together. The episodes jump back and forth to different timelines, but there is enough coherence to make sense of things. There are a few scenes where the correct note cannot be found, especially when Abhilash is seen wandering in Rajender Nagar, having returned to give his final attempt. He had cut off Guri and SK without any closure, and the scenes are a little jarring, helped by the abrupt music. Maybe the inexplicability comes from the situation itself, where Abhilash is unable to resolve his inner conflicts regarding people around him and his passion.
Abhilash, played by Naveen Kasturia, hence becomes the protagonist of the show, with the most internal conflicts to deal with. The rest of the characters have their struggles, but they too are involved in Abhilash’s life and are quite noticeably impacted by his presence. The acting in TVF shows is never that preoccupied with bravura performances, but the show’s writing makes Naveen stand out, who delivers them in a great fashion. He doesn’t do much with his body, apart from a little posture change and a little fidgeting, which is his strength, and one thing he has learned from Pitchers is that pauses are unnecessary at times. Apart from Naveen, there is Shivankit Singh Parihar as Guri and Abhilash Thapliyal as SK, who reprise their roles with a little wobbly perspective as to how they feel about Naveen’s character.
TVF ventures into territories that are not at all slice-of-life, but through its characters, it tries to have the feel of that genre. The music cues help transition each scene without making us question the previous scene, and the story flows smoothly, but this smoothness is the very thing that becomes suspicious after a while. We are never allowed to grab at the bigger picture that the characters are dealing with or aiming at. The title Aspirants needed to have somebody still going at it to clear the exams, but most of the crux of the show was present during the present-day timeline where Sandeep and Abhilash’s relationship had reached a breaking point. Given the overwhelming weight on one end of the timeline, the 5-year-old timeline loses its significance and seems like it could have just been a flashback.
What TVF does well is that it knows how to give the illusion of a high concept and large-scale production within the given budget. Hence, there are scenes where Naveen manages to stare down a worker’s strike into complete silence. That kind of filmmaking had been reserved for Bollywood Masala movies, but it’s here as well, and for a few moments it does seem to work, but suddenly there is the need to have a dialogue with what’s actually in the show. Is it after friendship? Is it after the toxicity of preparation hubs such as Rajender Nagar? Is it after creating iconic characters that have enough gas in them to continue the series just for the sake of continuing the series? The loud music cues, and I’m off to watch the next scene, leaving a trail of silly questions behind.