Unicorn TV: From starting up on YouTube, PhysicsWallah's story to now be a web series
For edtech startup, 2022 has been a good one so far. In June, the Noida-based edtech startup became India’s 101st unicorn. But that’s not all. PhysicsWallah also caught the attention of About Films, a Mumbai-based production house, for a six-episode web series on the startup and its founder-CEO Alakh Pandey’s journey.
The show, named after the company and its charismatic founder, is expected to release in two-three months—adding to a spate of startup-focused shows on television riding the popularity of new-economy entrepreneurs.
The web series is directed and produced by Abhishek Dhandharia, an IIT-Kanpur graduate and founder of About Films.
PhysicsWallah had a humble beginning in 2016 with a YouTube channel and capital of Rs 30,000. Alakh had set out to tutor JEE/NEET aspirants for free with a whiteboard, a smartphone on a tripod, and a few books, and his flamboyant teaching style soon became a rage.
“I heard about Alakh Pandey through a mutual friend who said there is a person making videos on YouTube and killing it,” Abhishek tells YourStory.
As the director learnt more about Alakh, he found some common ground—their engineering roots in Kanpur city.
In 2015, while Alakh was completing his mechanical engineering course at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Abhishek had decided to skip his campus placements at IIT-Kanpur to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. That became the starting point for the development of the web series.
Beginning of an OTT series
Last year in March, About Films reached out to Alakh over video calls, where the edtech founder described his journey from his childhood to how he started PhysicsWallah.
Turns out Alakh had aspired to be an actor earlier, and his unconventional teaching style that attracts many students and keeps them hooked to his videos bears evidence of that.
Soon, the script was ready for a six-episode web series.
About Films then reached out to multiple actors to play the central character and finally chose Shreedhar Dubey—who had earlier featured in Anurag Kashyap’s 'Gangs of Wasseypur', Vicky Kaushal-starrer 'Masaan', and 2020’s breakout show 'Paatal Lok'.
“Mujhe jab call aaya ki lead role hai, toh mujhe laga ki koi mazaak kar raha hai. (When I got the call to play the lead role, I thought someone was playing a prank on me),” Shreedhar tells YourStory, adding that he had previously played a lead character in his first film, 'Shudhra The Rising', in 2012.
While the actor had not come across the production house or the director, the name PhysicsWallah had caught his attention. He had noticed his younger brother learning from PhysicsWallah’s YouTube channel while preparing for entrance exams to engineering courses.
Following multiple rounds of script readings and video-based auditions with Abhishek and writer Sameer Mishra, Shreedhar was finalised for the role.
The production house also roped in television actor Radha Bhatt to play Alakh’s sister Aditi—an important figure in his life. “Whenever Alakh felt weak, she was the one to pick him up,” says Abhishek.
The cast also includes Anurag Arora, earlier seen in Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal.
The web series is expected to release in two-three months, with each episode lasting 40-50 minutes.
A questionnaire sent to PhysicsWallah did not elicit any response till the time of publishing this story.
The edtech unicorn, diversifying from its online roots, has established over 20 offline coaching classrooms, called ‘Pathshalas’, across India, with more than 10,000 students enrolled for the 2022-2023 session.
Documenting the startup ecosystem
Several video streaming, or over-the-top, platforms have released shows this year documenting the rise and fall of some of Silicon Valley’s notorious entrepreneurs.
Among those are The Dropout on DisneyPlus, which shows Elizabeth Holmes’ rise as the youngest self-made female billionaire and her ultimate fall, and WeCrashed on Apple TV+, based on WeWork’s charismatic founder Adam Neumann.
The Indian startup ecosystem, too, has received much recognition from OTT platforms, as the sector captured the imagination of a young, aspiring middle-class eager to ride a global wave of high-risk-high-rewards entrepreneurship.
In 2015, The Viral Fever created a comedy-drama called TVF Pitchers, in which four friends leave their lucrative jobs to start-up. Netflix released Upstarts in 2019, which had three friends start a medicine delivery startup for rural India.
More recently, in December, several entrepreneurs—including Vineeta Singh (Founder and CEO, Sugar Cosmetics), Ashneer Grover (former MD, BharatPe), Anupam Mittal (Founder and CEO, People Group), Ghazal Alagh (Co-founder and CIO, Mamaearth), Aman Gupta (Co-founder and CMO, boAt), Namita Thapar (ED, Emcure Pharmaceuticals), and Peyush Bansal (Founder and CEO, Lenskart)—participated as judges in the debut season of Shark Tank India.
Also, a show on ecommerce giant Flipkart, based on the book Big Billion Startup, is in scripting stages, a person close to the matter told YourStory on condition of anonymity.
Edited by Suman Singh