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‘Hostel Daze’ Review: A Show That Could Stand to Grow Up

The comedy-drama’s laugh factor stretches thin over the bones of student issues

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Jessica Xalxo Dec 17, 2019

Nikhil Vijay, Adarsh Gourav and Shubham Gaur in ‘Hostel Daze’

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★ 

At the National Advanced Technical Training Institute (NATTI), the hostel manager (Sameer Saxena) fields a phone call from a parent complaining about their kid being bullied. Amidst a wave of surprise by confused looking students, we hear him say, “Ma’am, aapka beta professor hai (Ma’am, your son is the professor.) Relax.” What viewers of Amazon Prime Video’s latest comedy-drama offering Hostel Daze will come to realize, over the course of the five-episode series, is that life at this engineering institution is not easy, for anyone.

Helmed by digital entertainment platform The Viral Fever (TVF) and the creative team behind this year’s summer release Kota Factory (Raghav Subbu serves as the director while Saurabh Khanna and Abhishek Yadav have penned the script), Hostel Daze is meant to be a humorous dive into the trivialities and defining moments of the experiences of engineering students, as they settle into hostel life and the looming semesters that precede their degree. Herein enter the three hopeful freshers and primary protagonists, Ankit Pandey (Adarsh Gourav), Chirag Bansal (LUV) and Rupesh Bhati aka Jaat (Shubham Gaur), who are welcomed with an “Intro” to the boys hostel aka a hazing session by their seniors. What commences is a fast-paced, testosterone driven, quippy albeit murky ride into the first semester of the three roommates as they tackle everything that hostel life comprises at NATTI, with episodes spanning the themes of hazing, labels, birthdays, exams and of course, love.

It’s hard to make individual characters stand out in a show with a large cast, but the writers present strong identities to highlight academic and entrepreneurial diversity on campus. As Hostel Daze dives headfirst into initiation rituals in ‘Intro,’ we’re acquainted to Jatin aka Jhantoo (Nikhil Vijay), ex-hostel squatter and current student, hostelite and resident kingpin, who emerges as the proprietor of a campus empire of cigarettes, alcohol and forgery while episode two (‘Proving Identity’) sees Bansal set up an online platform where he uploads videos of the lectures held in college, even as students scramble to find their footing in clubs, yearning for an official label of belonging to be associated with their still being learned names. As the show approaches its finale (‘End Sem’), Jhantoo, Pandey and Jaat prove inventive enough to solve problems as they arise, even being human enough to fail, while Bansal and fellow topper Ravi Teja (Harsha Chemudu) stand on opposite spectrums of achieving O grades. Hostel Daze sways away from the tropes of campus dramas in this respect, setting up the field for a multitude of students to own their quirky strengths as the show progresses and hackers, musicians and environmentalists alike find their firm footing.

From Hindustani dubstep, hip-hop scratches, electro-rock, reggae-pop and sparkling pop ballads, Vaibhav Bundhoo’s soundscape serves to humanize Hostel Daze’s characters for a large part of the screen time. The show does run into a few hiccups as the dialogue reaches for reductive comedy and the storyline soon turns myopic in the sketch-like format of the five episodes, going to waste in the hands of budding, capable actors. 

The series loses TVF’s street cred that it developed with early releases (such as 2015’s Pitchers and April’s Kota Factory) through its portrayals of issues such as ragging, toxic masculinity and gender dynamics at college. As the roommates get settled into life as hostelites, their initiation is no longer a memory from the past, making regular occurrences with ragging being depicted even in episodes (‘F.O.S.L.A’, ‘GPL’) where its not the main theme. There’s a scene where the hostel tradition of GPL (gaand pe laat or birthday bumps) comes to fruition even as Pandey rejects it, all while upbeat music plays in aplomb. This is preceded by the canteen manager (Anandeshwar Dwiwedi) narrating lines that seem loosely picked up from the panned and praised 2019 Bollywood movie Kabir Singh: “Yeh GPL ki pratha kaafi bhayanak hai magar dekha jaaye toh uska root cause bhi pyaar hi hai. (As horrific as the tradition of GPL is, it’s rooted in the cause of love.)” In Hostel Daze, ragging is portrayed as the bastion of male hostel culture and not as an incident to leave unpracticed and reported, giving rise to the question of normalization and the lens employed by the director to speak of the issue. 

The series also chucks any chances of commentary about the skewed but slowly improving student gender ratio at engineering institutes out the window, trading it instead for hypersexualized references toward female students. From Pandey, Bansal and Jaat sharing room number 069 at the hostel to their dreamscapes with Indian porn deities, as the plot progresses and Pandey develops a crush on fellow student Akansha (Ahsaas Channa), Hostel Daze denounces exposition altogether for iteration as conjecture and fantasies spread like wildfire through the hostel wings. There’s a scene in episode three (‘F.O.S.L.A’), where a male student describes Akansha like so: “Akansha kaun – woh badey…vicharon wali (Akansha who — the one with the big thoughts?)” This dialogue is repeated several times over until the last episode rolls around, enough to make anyone who had previously missed out on the euphemism catch on to it. It’s no wonder Channa’s character phases out of the show; all she did was ask Pandey for some help studying Chemistry, not expecting to be renamed to Mrs. Pandey on her classmate’s speed dial.

While one female character is treated as the ‘prized catch’ at college (regular reminders are provided about the rarity of the female presence at NATTI), we’re soon introduced to the only other female character with dialogue, Nabomita (Ayushi Gupta), who is led by heart-eyes and simmering jealousy to provide Pandey with a shoulder to cry on. After Pandey experiences another round of hazing and deals with the fallout of his infatuation with Akansha, he and Nabomita get talking about love, sex and dating with the latter delivering the longest dialogue spoken by any woman on the show: “Girls are insensitive? Hum toh birthday girl ke calories tak ka dhyaan rakhte hai. Ki agar zara si ‘healthy’ ho, toh hum usse cake khilaate nahi hai, sirf uske moonh pe lagate hai. Aur treat pe jaane se pehle, sab log milkar bedsheet, pillow, teddy…Sab theek karte hai (We even take care of the birthday girl’s calories. If she is a little ‘healthy,’ we smear the cake on her face instead. Before heading out for the treat, we even set her bed neatly with a pillow and teddy bear.)” Hostel Daze does more than just let Akansha and Nabomita play second fiddle to the cast of male characters, it also sexualizes and infantilizes them, disrupting their on-screen agency.

There’s even a scene where a guy waltzes into the canteen screaming, “Akansha meri hai, sirf meri. 549 rupey ki Ferrero Rocher di hai maine usse (Akansha is mine, only mine. I gave her a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates that cost me Rs. 549.)” The series could make anyone who has ever lived in a hostel reminisce about the good old days, except they try to pass off toxic masculinity as the bedrock of the ultimate college experience, presenting and borderline glorifying it as the sole key to survival in male hostel culture. For men, these scenes perhaps evoke nostalgia. For women, they evoke trauma. 

The show tries to mirror the realities of the lives of engineering students in India, but ultimately normalizes what can’t be dismissed as absurd, because abuse never was. Every episode is narrated by an adult who operates within the college and hostel universe — the custodian, security guard, chemistry professor, canteen manager, xerox shop owner — their observations and quips further serving to condone the toxic culture through the underbite of humor. Even references to Mr. Robot (2015) and The Shawshank Redemption (2004), both offerings with strong social commentary, can’t save the failings of the ill-conceived comedy show.

Instead of confronting the very real issues that students are faced with, Hostel Daze trivializes them to the point of tradition, normalization and acceptance. And in its portrayal of the truth lies an endorsement that feels both endemic and dangerous, beyond the trappings of the genre.

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