Every single piece of technology or technological advancement has been scrutinized through the medium of entertainment. Even when artificial intelligence and robots weren’t a reality, films like Blade Runner, The Terminator, Minority Report, and The Matrix warned us about being overdependent on them. The paranoia around the Y2K phenomenon was palpable in films like Ring and The Blair Witch Project. More explicitly, Searching, C U Soon, The Net, Cam, The Social Network, Her, Eighth Grade, Inside (the one by Bo Burnham), Sweat, Ingrid Goes West, Talk To Me, etc. have pointed out how lonely and vulnerable we are despite having access to endless virtual friends, funny memes, and apps. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan falls into this category, but the solution that it comes up with can make or break the film.
Arjun Varain Singh’s Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, which he has co-written with Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, and Yash Sahai (dialogues only), tells the story of three friends: Neil Pereira, Imaad Ali, and Ahana Singh. Neil is a trainer at a gym that’s solely meant for the elite. He wants to rise through the ranks by working with celebrities like Malaika Arora. He is dating and training a social media influencer named Lala, but it’s unclear if he is the one who is using her or if she is the one who is using him for clout. Imaad is a stand-up comedian. He has a dark past, which he tries to channel through his comedy. He is a Tinder enthusiast, which lands him an interview with a photojournalist named Simran. They start to like each other, but it’s unclear if his commitment issues are going to help Imaad sink or swim. Ahana is in a long-term relationship with Rohan. She is Imaad’s flatmate. She works in a management firm. When Rohan decides to “take a break,” Ahana stalks him and tries to entice him with some spicy posts. On top of all that, the three friends decide to invest in Neil’s own gym, even though they are totally unsure about what the future has in store for them.
Singh, Akhtar, Kagti, and Sahai do a decent job of selecting an array of social media-related topics that are plaguing Millennials, Gen Z, and Generation Alpha. Neil’s arc perfectly captures every obsession and issue that’s associated with the current gym culture. What started as a means to live a healthy lifestyle has become a monster that’s less about fitness and more about attaining a body type, or mingling with people who have a certain body type, that’ll get you the most amount of likes, shares, and comments. Imaad’s journey shines some light on the hook-breakup culture that’s disallowing people from forming meaningful relationships and truly opening up about what they’ve faced in life. Ahana represents all those women who are undermining their own potential by wasting away in relationships with men who don’t have a functioning brain in their skull. If you put the three of them together, they pretty much encapsulate everything that’s wrong with the role of social media in our lives. However, the solution that the writers of Kho Gaye Hum Kahan arrive at exposes how shallow their understanding of the internet and society is.
It’s impossible to make a relevant statement about the internet because it’s evolving by the second. So, you have to be 10 steps ahead to show the audience that you have your finger on the pulse. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan settles for a “put your phones down and touch grass” approach to resolving the characters’ issues, and that is such a dated mid-2010s take on the topic of social media addiction. Okay, maybe the economic class that’s depicted in the film still has that option to just cut down on their screen time to disentangle their life’s complications, but is it the same for the rest of us? Over the years, we have learned that the influence of the internet and its repercussions on us in real life don’t go away if we simply undergo a “digital detox.” Disinformation, radicalization, doxxing, etc., can make their way to us even if we go “off the grid.” And I am not bringing this up randomly. The writers put the trio, especially Neil, in situations where it’s impossible to “disconnect” and avoid the concept of consequences, realistically speaking. Maybe if the film didn’t spend so much time repeating the same story beats, it could have focused on the individual problems of the characters, thereby allowing the writers to give them an ending that they deserved instead of one that’s convenient.
I like the fact that almost all the characters in Kho Gaye Hum Kahan are pathetic. They are presented as punching bags, but when you start punching them, you begin to realize that they reflect a lot of the insecurities that we suffer from. Neil, Ahana, and Imaad never take the “right decisions” because they aren’t thinking straight, and it’s quite relatable because humans are flawed beings and we act instinctively. Nobody is writing our stories. All of us are going with the flow and dealing with life on a day-to-day basis. So, in that sense, the storytelling feels organic and grounded. But then why do they get a pat on the back and a picture-perfect ending? I think it’s indicative of an issue that’s showing up throughout Akhtar and Kagti’s films and shows, where they are making the underprivileged work for their victory while handing the same to the privileged on a silver platter. Yes, that’s what happens in real life, but that sense of irony is missing in their stories. I hope that, at some point, Akhtar and Kagti realize that they don’t have to mollycoddle the rich in these fictional narratives and give them the punch in the gut that they need.
Other than that, Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is competent. Barring a few color grading issues, the film looks alright. The editing by Nitin Baid is borderline invisible. The songs are forgettable but not annoying. Farhan Akhtar exists as Farhan Akhtar in the film, and the band Magik from Rock On!! is mentioned. The sexualization of Malaika Arora makes sense in terms of the plot, but I’m conflicted about the way the camera treats her. That said, thanks to the committed performances from Ananya Panday, Siddhant Chaturvedi, and Adarsh Gourav, all of these issues sort of fade away into the background. The different kinds of toxicity and weaknesses that they put on display, and that too in such an effortless manner, are worth all the applause in the world. Given Siddhant and Adarsh’s previous projects, it’s expected of them to “wow” you, and they do deliver in spades. However, it’s Ananya who brings it all together. I can make excuses that she’s “playing herself” and that it’s not a “challenging role” to be critical of the nepo-kid who was the butt of the joke about nepotism made by her co-star. But she has done a good job; her chemistry with Siddhant and Adarsh is palpable, and she is engaging in every scene she is in. I hope she continues to choose roles like this instead of doing another Liger or Dream Girl 2. The supporting cast is great. Anya Singh absolutely knocks it out of the park as the opportunistic influencer. Rohan perfectly portrays every man-child out there in the wild. And Kalki Koelchin proves yet again that she is the best in the business.
All in all, Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is a fine film. Nowadays, Hindi cinema oscillates between two extremes: escapism and propaganda. Joram, Farrey, 12th Fail, Three of Us, The Great Indian Family, Ghoomer, Neeyat, Kathal, and Bheed are some rare exceptions. So, it’s nice to see another film that treats its characters like flesh-and-blood human beings and not like invincible superhumans, thereby giving its target audience the opportunity to sit and think about what they’ve just watched. Despite all my issues with the storytelling, I think that the film’s message will reach all those people who are hiding in a virtual world in order to avoid the mess they have contributed to in the real one. And instead of simply putting down our phones, I hope that we can use them in a productive fashion because the internet and its effects are here to stay.