Kho Gaye Hum Kahan Review: Charming in Flashes but Prone to Moralising

The Arjun Varain Singh film, starring Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday and Adarsh Gourav, is available on Netflix.
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan Review: Charming in Flashes but Prone to Moralising
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan Review: Charming in Flashes but Prone to Moralising

Director: Arjun Varain Singh

Writer: Arjun Varain Singh, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti

Cast: Siddhant Chaturvedi, Adarsh Gourav, Ananya Panday

Duration: 134 minutes

One Imaad Ali (Siddhant Chaturvedi), one Neil Pereira (Adarsh Gourav), one Ahana Singh (Ananya Panday) — one Muslim, one Christian, one Sikh — all buddies in Bombay are trying to tackle life, love, and longing, Amar Akbar Anthony-ing their way into Tiger-Baby-Bombay, which is, to be fair, Bandra, mostly. 

But religion doesn’t seep into these characters, it is a skin-deep stamp on their lives, which is ruled by another religion — therapy. Imaad might be the only one who goes to therapy but the shadow of the therapist’s couch falls long on the film and its characters. Everyone speaks and thinks in terms of narratives of trauma and catharsis, breakthroughs and bursts of clarity. The word “closure” gets used in a pivotal moment that mocks the very meaning of it. The film knows these words are used, even abused, to posture oneself. And yet, it struts on the back of the very same vocabulary.  

Childhood Friendship Saunters Into Adulthood

Arjun Varain Singh’s debut film, Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, is charming and naive in the power it gives stories and words. It is filled with characters who speak and act in ways that don’t align, and who keep trying, through speech, to align their actions. 

Neil is a gym trainer, Ahana is an MBA graduate flushing the corporate world with pedicured PPTs, and Imaad is a stand-up comic. They met and thickened their friendship in boarding school, one that leaked into adulthood. There is no sexual tension here, no lopsided love that curdles this throuple. It is an easy friendship that Varain Singh establishes, a broken-in informality where they spend time together sitting at opposite ends of the room, scrolling through their phones, the stale white breath of that device falling on their faces as light. 

Panday, Chaturvedi, and Gourav have such a languorous, Sunday-afternoon chemistry, as though the film has ripped them off their lives and placed them on screen. Panday, especially, has this luminous, fragile screen presence, looking at her stumble all your protective instincts flood in.  

Imaad wears the world lightly on his shoulders, like he wears his shirts, barely hanging on, but that confidence is also a fine-tuned “performance” and Chaturvedi really gets that double-ness of his character, of someone who has to perform confidence even as he is slashed by his inner demons. Gourav’s physicality simmers with a pathetic chip on his shoulder — being the poorest of the three, and also working with, being around, and training the bodies of the richest of the rich — that even the terrible things he does, you don’t hate him for it, but fling pity at the screen. 

The Problem With the Impulse to Simplify

The thing about millennial therapy-speak is that as clarifying and edifying as it can be, it also does an incredible violence upon the complexity of life, reducing every itch of the personality to a singular symptom, as though we were algorithmically produced beings. It makes life explicable, when so much of it is just rough chaos. Characters trade in trauma in weak, faltering conversations — “Your ex died of cancer? Hey, my mom, too”. 

Everyone is saddled with love or lovelessness as a pivot. Ahana’s steady boyfriend turns into a ‘fuckboy’ and ices her out. Neil’s girlfriend is an influencer — as flat and stereotyped as they come. Imaad falls in love with Simran (Kalki Koechlin), a photographer who swipes right on Tinder to photograph her matches as part of her Tinder Project. After she takes these photos, they comment on how empty the eyes look. 

“Ajeeb sa khalipan bhi hai”, he comments

“Haan. It is the digital age,” she cements. 

This is the kind of artist who has, through words, tried to make their art seem forcefully meaningful, cushioning its banality with rhetoric, its superficiality with silence, “Humare kaam ke zariye hamare zindagi se deal kar paate hai”. All these words, and sometimes I do not know if Varain is exploring this millennial verbosity as a problem or is inhabiting it, unwittingly. 

So, when Imaad, a serial flirt, an alleged sex addict, a relentless Tinder swiper, concludes his journey, making a epiphanic u-turn by saying, “Tonight I am taking control of my life back in my hands,” it is easy to wonder: All it took for you to get to this, rather staid, conclusion is a story, your story? 

To Preach or to Preach More

What is worrying is co-writers Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, who have with Dahaad, Made In Heaven, and recently The Archies made it a habit, a preoccupation, to moralise. It reduces every interaction into something that can tumble into a neat platitude. Complexity and world-building is wasted on simple-minded ideas. Here, they are going after what being online does to us, and everytime you see the film tip towards a moral — images of them being chronically online, doom-scrolling through the night, scenes of setting up fake profiles, even hacking — something of value, true value, leaks out. 

You can really sense the film, like a woodpecker, chipping away at itself. While Akhtar’s and Kagti’s previous collaborations were content with moralising within the sphere of a character or a family, with the shows and films this year they are casting a wider net, to make broader claims on the society, at large. It is where the knee buckles. 

One of the remarkable achievements of Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, however, is that it is, perhaps, one of the first few films that gets what being online is — the texture, the language, the grammar, the obsessions, the rituals that it has. The opening stretch of music, establishing the childhood and schooling years of the three Musketeers with flashes of adulthood, is one of the most perceptive, unfussy, and moving montages — full of history in the visuals, full of urban loneliness in the sounds. The multiple photos, the editing, the flexing, the confected perfection, it is all here. 

I wish the film did not find the need to milk what existed in the sensual and frame it with such starched flatness. Sometimes language does not express as much as excrete, and the stench of all that clarity can be a bit nauseating. Let chaos be?  

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