Upstarts, the Netflix India film that had released earlier today, is special for a reason. It's the first-ever original in the Indian digital space to have come up with an entire plot surrounding the evolution, growth and fall of a startup. The battle it chooses to mirror is also a classic one - friendship versus entrepreneurial ambition and it's not hard to guess what triumphs against what. The story is strategically set amid Bengaluru, often hailed as India's Silicon Valley.
The film presents a simplified, sugar-coated insight into the startup ecosystem - from highlighting the differences that emerge between friends-turned-co-founders to investor interference in the functioning of a company to startup valuation, the feasibility of an idea and its expansion among many. There’s a solid emotional thread about three friends (Kapil, Vinay and Yash) that binds these ideas, which ultimately make it an engaging film.
The detailing remains perfunctory, but what clicks is its novelty. It makes you traverse past the entire startup cycle - identification of the problem, the solution through a startup idea, facing rejection, ultimately finding an investor, compromises during the growth stage, eventual co-founder exits and the subsequent fall of the company - in just over 110 minutes without overburdening you with entrepreneurial jargon. It also discusses aspects that ail most startups of today, integrity and absence of social responsibility.
The start is quite shaky though. Three friends Kapil, Yash and Vinay, just because they have an innovative idea (a supposed Uber for delivery of medicines to remote areas in Karnataka), quit their jobs overnight, to start something on their own without any idea of business capital or scope. One of the founders, spots a possible investor at an airport, convinces him to bankroll their idea and the firm takes off with great zest.
However, the business growth spells trouble for their friendship to the extent that Yash and Vinay resign from the company over their differences. Kapil, trapped in an attempt to please his investors, loses grip on decision making, forgets his purpose behind the startup and his ethics gradually take a beating. He no longer seems to be the force he once was. Where is he headed?
Though the world of startups may seem new to the Indian entertainment space, what lends more familiarity is the narrative structure. The startup world blends well with the rise-fall-rise pattern of a conventional film surrounding a male protagonist. The male bonhomie is strikingly real and isn’t cinematic by any means.
The film also discusses the hypocrisies in facilitating the growth of women entrepreneurs. It also feels fresh to see a Hindi film being shot in and around Karnataka. The focus on investor pressures, depression in a film about businesses especially after V G Siddhartha’s suicide seems very necessary and timely too.
A few threads are however suddenly left abandoned midway in the course of the film. You never get to see how the girl, who started an application to counter depression and consistently faced rejection, had emerged successful. Yash’s father is detected with Parkinson’s but you know little about his health status later. Meanwhile, the makers needn’t have completely antagonised investors as those who work against the interests of the company and always seek profits. On the flip side, the direction of the story has an air of predictability too.
Yet, there are more hits than misses in this journey. The director Udai Singh Pawar seems to have a reasonable command over the subject and the performances are quite breezy too. Shadab Kamal, Priyanshu Painyuli, Chandrachoor Rai have good on-screen camaraderie. Their bromance is organic and free-spirited, the easy vibes truly show.
Rajeev Siddhartha and other supporting actors are upto their task with confidence. The Kannada song used in the film lends a much needed regional flavour to the film. Upstarts should hopefully encourage more filmmakers to delve deeper into the functioning of a startup.