The first season of TVF’s Aspirants was a huge success, but the minor issue it was criticized for was its use of product placements that derailed the flow of the story in many episodes. Perhaps it was the necessary evil required to produce the show, but TVF is back with the show’s second season. This time, with enough backing that they didn’t need the product placements, the show stayed clear of selling a brand name by merging it into the narrative. The result is that the story flows smoothly, yet the impact it creates is quite sporadic in nature. The characters that had been set in the previous season reappear in the same way we had left them, but the story has enough jarring gaps that are hard to connect. The memorable background score is there to mark the important transitions in the characters’ lives, but some scenes are not saved by the music. The reason seems to be the writing and editing that elevate the scenes prematurely towards sentimentality and do not allow them to get fully baked. Despite a few such scenes, Aspirants ultimately aspires to inspire, and it manages to do so in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth to two different timelines. One sees Abhilash give his remaining attempts at the Civil Services Exam, and the other sees him face personal and professional problems after he has become the District Magistrate of Rampur.
Where did Abhilash’s problem with Sandeep begin?
If you remember, Sandeep Bhaiya had failed the national-level exam and hence could never become an IAS, but he had cleared the state-level examination and met Abhilash in the capacity of the Assistant Labour Commissioner. Sandeep was quite a legendary figure back in the premises of Old Rajender Nagar, where Abhilash, Guri, and Shwetketu (SK) prepared for the exams. They were his ‘juniors,’ but the student, who once took advice on life matters from Sandeep, had gotten into the Internal Revenue Service and was now the DM. There wasn’t a severe problem with this hierarchical change, and Sandeep respected Abhilash and vice versa, but when the social politics of their area changed, they were at loggerheads with each other. It all revolved around a businessman named Dayanidhi Joshi, the founder of Red Giant Distillery. He could help Abhilash bring his aim of implementing policies to use ethanol-blended fuel to fruition. But Dayanidhi had also been unjust to his laborers, who came to Sandeep Ohlan with their complaints. The more Sandeep went against Dayanidhi, the more pressurized Abhilash became, and Abhilash’s meeting with Dayanidhi became synonymous with him turning a cold shoulder towards the marginalized laborers who were simply fighting for their jobs and increments. Soon, the strike by the laborers took the shape of a riot, and Abhilash ordered an inquiry into Sandeep’s intentions as a civil servant.
How was the ‘Tripod’ dealing with their past?
The whole weight of managing a district may not have been on the shoulders of Guri and SK, but their lives were as complex as Abhilash’s. Guri was involved in applying for a tender that was being continuously rejected, due to which his shoe company wasn’t getting up from the ground. There were a few loans he had taken that were to be repaid by the company’s profit. So, you see, he was in a tough spot. He could have asked Abhilash to look into the matter, but their history didn’t really allow him to ask Abhilash a favor. SK, too, was conflicted, and even though his amiable personality tied everyone together, he himself was always the one left alone. What had happened five years ago still played a part in their interpersonal dynamics, and the trio, fondly nicknamed ‘Tripod,’ were still with their past. Guri had married Abhilash’s ex-girlfriend Dhairya, and SK was still unable to process how he felt about Abhilash, who had essentially forgotten about them five years ago, when he returned to give his final attempt. Abhilash pretended he didn’t mind Dhairya going with Guri, but there were hints that he was still unsure how he felt about being in their company again. Dhairya was trying to be Guri’s best friend and a good wife, and she was willing to give up on great offers of winning awards for her exceptional work through her NGO. There was a lot going on, and yet, for a brief moment, all of them were back together again, like in the old days. This unstable configuration was not going to last, as the Sandeep-Abhilash feud was just around the corner and would soon test the group’s interpersonal dynamics.
How did Guri’s tender pass?
Abhilash received an anonymous note that indicated that there was corruption going on in the Fire Department and that the tender had been given to a company that wasn’t using the proper safety standards. The department’s proceedings didn’t come under Abhilash’s purview, and yet he looked into the matter and was surprised to find that the list of companies that had applied for the tender included Guri’s company ‘S2’ as well. Now, he did ask Guri to clarify if the note was sent by him, but Guri refused and also asked to cancel the ongoing tender allotment altogether. Guri didn’t want Abhilash to be in a difficult spot if someone pointed a finger at him over nepotism rumors. Guri’s product and his safety standards were actually the best of the lot, and hence, when the tender allotment process started again, he got the tender on merit. But it wouldn’t have been possible without Abhilash’s initial inquiry into the matter.
Who was Abhilash’s new ‘friend’?
Dhiarya always looked at Abhilash with pitiful eyes, as she knew that he was a lonely man. He had broken off a perfectly fine relationship with her six years ago, when he decided to focus on his studies with the notion that the relationships formed in Rajender Nagar between aspirants have short shelf life. Dhairya understood his loneliness, which is why she asked him if there was a special someone in his life in the present day. Now that she was with Guri, she expected him to have moved on, but Abhilash remained secretive about the lady in his life. This raised questions about whether he was being secretive or just lying to save face in front of her. He was doing a bit of both. He had someone in his life, but Abhilash had never let himself be labeled as anything other than the ‘aspirant’ who had now become the DM. But after Dhairya’s talk about filling in the ‘vacant space’ in his life, Abhilash tried to build a relationship with Deepa Nabam. Yes, the same Deepa, whose proposal he had rejected during his final attempt, as he still had feelings for Dhairya and still believed in his notion of Rajender Nagar and relationships. She was ready for a relationship on the condition that Abhilash be clear as to why he wanted to start a relationship now, when they had been steady friends for 5 years now. Deepa was cordially invited into the group, and the group got to know that perhaps Abhilash had plans to marry her in the future, but the road seemed bumpy.
How did Sandeep and Abhilash’s friendship take an ugly turn?
Sandeep’s promotion was due in a few months, but with the ongoing inquiry, that was put on hold. He couldn’t understand Abhilash’s behavior toward him. There were explanations on both sides for how things had gotten to this point. Abhilash was protecting Sandeep in a way, as he could have been accused of making big decisions emotionally by some other officer, and then he would have been in real trouble. The inquiry proved that Sandeep was a good bureaucrat, and his intentions were never to cause a riot. But he did let matters get out of hand, which is why Abhilash had to take a strict step.
Sandeep had sacrificed almost everything to reach where he was today, and he really believed that he had the right to do his job to the best of his ability. His heart was with the workers who were desperate for some help, and Sandeep was genuinely aiding them in fighting Dayanidhi. He saw Abhilash as colluding with people like Dayanidhi and began to think that perhaps the ideal aspirant, who even blew people (sometimes irritated) away with his idealism, had gone corrupt. Perhaps Sandeep was not thinking clearly and started to question Abhilash’s integrity in the matter.
During Aspirants Season 2’s ending, the workers were ultimately promised an increment by Dayanidhi, and ethanol-blended fuel was soon to become a reality in Rampur. Abhilash’s dream was soon going to be fulfilled. But once Sandeep’s inquiry was complete, he raised the issue of Abhilash misusing his powers and being involved in corrupt practices to ensure that his friend Guri got the tender for his shoe company.
What can we expect from Season 3?
After such a serious allegation, one thing is clear: the conflict won’t be easily resolved. Sandeep also raised the allegation that the anonymous note was sent by Dhairya. Now, the conflict wasn’t just limited between Sandeep and Abhilash; Guri and Dhairya had been dragged into it as well. Whether that was just speculation or not, Sandeep’s certainty about who sent the anonymous note raises the question of whether he himself sent the note in order to teach Abhilash the lesson. The series had moments like Abhilash lashing out at a worker for not withdrawing his demands, where he seemed like the villain. With Radha Rajesh, his teacher at his coaching center, questioning his selfish attitude, Abhilash was always a gray character who needed a lot of redemption, but suddenly Sandeep started leaning that way; he might have grown vengeful after his ‘pupil’ started dictating terms to him. The next season, we can expect matters to get extremely ugly before we reach a catharsis. The allegations don’t seem as severe as to make Abhilash lose his job, but they are cognizable and might derail his career. Guri, SK, and Dhairya will continue to deal with their personal and professional problems, but they will surely play a crucial part in resolving the conflict, as nobody knows Abhilash or Sandeep more deeply than this cohort who once spent their days preparing to be civil servants in Old Rajender Nagar.