Everything that we take for granted around us today was once just a big idea in a regular person’s head — televisions, smartphones, cars, iPods, cab services and even online shopping. There were men and women somewhere who dared to dream and achieve what was then seemingly impossible. Upstarts, a Netflix original film produced by BandraWest Pictures and directed by Udai Singh Pawar, is an ode to those who dream, and to those whose dreams both succeed and fail.
The film hits the ground running, with Kapil (Priyanshu Painyuli), Yash ( Chanrachoor Rai) and Vinay (Shadab Kamal), helping Vinay elope with his girlfriend. That grand plan fails but while waiting at the station Kapil, bitten hard by the start-up bug, suggests an elopement service. His friends laugh it off, but when a man dies in Kapil’s arms because the village hospital he volunteers at didn’t have life saving medication, a more potent idea emerges.
‘CarryKaro’ is born, an aggregator app that allows people in villages to get lifesaving medicines delivered to their doorstep by using the app's Uber-for-medicines business model. It’s a brilliant idea with a noble motive, and after lots of hiccups, they finally catch a break when they find an investor, Veer Diwan (Rajeev Siddhartha). He is, as Yash brilliantly quips, ‘the beedi prince of India' and more than happy to hitch his wagon to their potential. CarryKaro starts doing well, but as the pressures of running a company grow, ethical differences crop up between the friends, threatening to destroy their relationship. To entrepreneur or not to entrepreneur, then, becomes the burning question.
Director Udai Pawar, who himself held a tech job years ago, has said in interviews that he was influenced by the start-up fever that afflicted many of his techie friends and the fact that in spite of being such an IT hotbed, India has never seen a movie like The Social Network which chronicled the rise of Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The film makes a crackling start, and it is heartening to see wide-eyed intelligent youngsters waiting to make their mark on the world. However, just when things start getting interesting, the pace slows to a crawl. The screenplay by Ketan Bhagat and Pawar skims on the nitty-gritty details, simplifying the process of going from start-up to big player to getting enough funding. Instead of putting its trio in situations that highlight their contrasting working styles, or clashing ambitions, it puts them into slots and leaves them there. Kapil is the insecure brain behind the operation, Yash is the emotional technical wiz who gets stuck in a rut and Vinay who subscribes to a certain guru, seems to have attained detachment from both success and failure.
The film never asks why they are so keen to become entrepreneurs in the first place. Not everyone is bitten by the bug, so what sets Kapil, Yash and Vinay apart? Kapil is smart no doubt, but what are his quirks, idiosyncrasies as a CEO? There is no ‘I am the CEO bitch’ moment, or attending a meeting in a bathrobe craziness that gives his character complexity or tells us more about him or his best friends. Even Veer, the dubious investor-advisor, stays one dimensional and sneers through pretty much the entire film. I wish he was a little more Timberlake like or was someone with actual start-up experience who served as a ruthless but crucial voice at the table.
I did like the subplot of Jaya (Sheetal Thakur), Kapil’s friend or girlfriend who dreams of setting up a suicide helpline. In addition to facing the challenges of any other young entrepreneur, she has to deal with panels of men at investor meets who routinely ask her how marriage and family will allow her to run a business. There are also some other great moments as well like a three-way split-screen to show friction between friends, or Yash working on his laptop at the foot of the stage while Kapil basks in the spotlight. These are powerful visuals that stay with you after you watch the film.
People who quit jobs and take leaps of faith, or in the words of Rowling make rock bottom their foundation aren’t regular people. They have an extraordinary sense of self-confidence, the courage to dream and do what hundreds won’t to achieve those dreams.
The characters in the film are played by young actors looking for success professionally themselves, and their passion and lack of stardom make them immensely watchable. They are ‘upstarts’ in the entertainment world, so to speak, and while this venture is a fairly entertaining one time watch, it needed much more creativity and nuance coded into its algorithm.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.