Upstarts Review: A Start-up Drama that Fails to Fully Take Off

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Upstarts Review: A Start-up Drama that Fails to Fully Take Off

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

In the last few years, we’ve seen a number of films and web-series bringing to life the entrepreneurial spirit and struggle that comes with starting one’s own company. Popularised abroad by shows like Silicon Valley, and explored back home in movies like Shimit Amin’s Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, and web-series like TVF’s Pitchers, the “start-up drama” is the newest genre of storytelling to go mainstream.

Upstarts, Netflix India’s latest offering from first time director Udai Singh Pawar, seems to fall well within this category. Makes sense, since Pawar — who has earlier worked on films such as Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift and Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar — is himself an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and has worked at Microsoft Research. In an interview with Freepress Journal, he said he wanted to make a “personal film” — tell the story about an Indian startup in the same way David Fincher brought Facebook to life in The Social Network

The film traces the story of three friends, Kapil (Priyanshu Painyuli), Yash (Chandrachoor Rai) and Vinay (Shadab Kamal). After an attempt to elope go awry, one of these friends, Kapil comes up with “runawaymarriage.com”, an app and site that simplifies the process of eloping. It’s a joke idea that leads to some of the lighter moments in the film, and establishes Kapil as the sort who is constantly dishing out quirky app ideas.

But the plot shifts after an old man in the village dies, unable to get his medicines delivered on time. Kapil, shocked by the death, decides to create an app that will deliver medicines to villages that don’t have access to decent pharmacies. He calls it “Dawaiyon Ka Uber”, and spends a decent amount of his time struggling to teach the villagers how to use the app.

At points, it seems Upstarts is obsessed with the cycle of friendship and betrayal in the start-up world, which doesn’t really add anything to the plot.

Even as a debate rages on the regulation of e-pharmacies, Upstarts choses to focus on the app’s benefits for citizens living in rural areas of the country. In one scene, Kapil is asked if a case can be filed against his company in case it delivers the wrong medicines. But it seems neither Kapil, nor the film have an answer to these imperative questions. Instead, a majority of the runtime of this film deals with the relationship between the three friends and how they handle their clashing egos.

Meanwhile, even though the film attempts to make a comment on the discrimination women entrepreneurs face, it fails to fully address the issue. An app created by Jaya (Sheetal Thakur) to help prevent suicides is rejected by the start-up guild on the grounds that the business will suffer after she gets married. But even with this promising plot — and Jaya being so much more than simply the “love interest” — her character isn’t fully fleshed out, and she doesn’t get as much screen-time as the three male friends. 

The film seems to drift apart towards the end, and the story overall drags, especially after the conclusion is abundantly apparent. At points, it seems Upstarts is obsessed with the cycle of friendship and betrayal in the start-up world, which doesn’t really add anything to the plot, and is a message that doesn’t need repeating. Maybe the film would have benefitted from trying not to do so much with such a straightforward narrative, and instead kept it simple.

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