Jeetu: Behind Internet’s Most Endearing Star, A Story Of Rejection And Hope

In August 2012, Jitendra Kumar found himself in Hoskote, a small town about an hour away from Bengaluru. After hustling in Mumbai for three months, Kumar had given up his acting ambitions and leveraged his IIT Kharagpur degree for an engineering job at a Japanese MNC, a gig where his bosses were oppressive, unempathetic and often, downright racist. It was a monotonous existence in what seemed to him like a listless industrial town after the glamour and razzle-dazzle of Mumbai, where he had unsuccessfully spent months of his life as a writer, actor, salesperson and, at times, the printout guy at The Viral Fever’s (TVF) Versova offices.

In Hoskote, Kumar barely had any friends and no concept of a social life. He would often scroll down his social media feed, enviously observing the far more happening lives of his other IIT batch mates, an experience that’d become a significant reference point when he’d shoot for the hit show, Panchayat, seven years later. Panchayat, which would make Kumar a familiar face on our screens, was released just weeks after the release of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, the gay romance starring Ayushmann Khurrana that became a box-office success.

But years before all that, back in Hoskote, far from being the endearing Jeetu bhaiya who had easy fixes for every curveball life threw at his fictional students in The Kota Factory, Jitendra Kumar felt trapped. He was writing sad poetry about loneliness and thwarted ambitions on his Facebook wall. In a town where the generators often failed, abandoning his dreams of stardom, Jitendra would also spend what he terms “my saddest birthday ever.” No calls from friends. A few from family.

One hot afternoon, however, the inevitable happened. Kumar had had enough. Much like Ranbir Kapoor’s Ved from Tamasha, who explodes at his terrified boss after getting fed up with his monotonous corporate job, Kumar erupted at his Japanese senior. The senior was upset about a minor error the contractors had made and grabbed Kumar by his hand, dragging him to the site.

Humiliated but without a plan, Kumar declared that he didn’t need this job that felt like ‘enslavement’. “Fuck you,” he said, shocking other employees who had trained themselves to be subservient to the bosses. “Fuck you.”

He left for Khairthal, his hometown in Alwar, Rajasthan. His father, also an engineer, refused to talk for days, sceptical of the uncertain future that awaited him in Mumbai, which is where he’d decided to return.

Years later, this scene would be recreated in TVF’s Pitchers, where Jeetu would once again break the news of a career shift to his rigid father.

“How will you survive?” his real-life Dad yelled, persuading him to sit for UPSC exams or do a short course in civil engineering. A cousin brokered peace. Jeetu would then go on to make the kind of declarations we’ve often seen in melodramatic Bollywood films. “I won’t take your money to survive.” His parents asked for a timeline. “Kab tak karoge struggle?” He didn’t have an answer. Eventually, they gave in but not without articulating a simmering concern.

“Don’t get into drugs.”

Days later, in June 2013, Jitendra Kumar would again arrive in a city that had once betrayed his dreams, to give it, and himself, another shot at acting. This time, Kumar was determined to forge his way into the world of movies. He arrived at Bandra Terminus, like countless others continue to do, and made his way back into the crowded lanes of Andheri, Bombay’s sunset boulevard. It was raining. He was sure he didn’t want to go back home. And this time, Bollywood would have to listen.