What is Gen-Z all about?
Thinking about trending memes, tik-tok dances, whacky slangs and unfathomable lingo, there’s only one thing that crosses the mind. The Generation Zoomers, famously known as the ultra-cool Gen-Z. This cohort succeeds the Millenials, and is particularly known for its social media presence, vibrant and confident sense of fashion, laughably interesting diction and radical widening of horizons.
The constant opening of Instagram is the new equivalent of opening the fridge even when you’re not hungry. It makes this generation of 11-26 year olds always at the top of their game. Latest celebrity gossip? Check! Latest trendy dances? Check! The newest line of H&M? Check! They have it all. Not only do they keep themselves updated through these timely pings, but they also have a whole different personality for the Gram.
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is one such beautiful rendition that is for the gen-z, by the gen-z, of the gen-z! Frames of picturesque rooftops in uptown Bandra, the undying bond between three childhood friends, thumping, lively nightlife and all things in between capture perfectly the lives of the friends. A typical Zoya Akhtar take on the confused, young adults trying to be grown ups. The only addition to this is these kids come with their phones glued to their hands. Weaving the delicate thread of social media into the chaotic lives of these ambitious characters, Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is a much needed dive into the ocean of gen-z.
What is the movie about?
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan follows the life of three best friends, Ahana Singh (Ananya Panday), Imaad Ali (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Neil Pariera (Adarsh Gourav) as they traverse through the digital age. Not only do they lose themselves in it but they find evolved and stronger versions of themselves.
This coming of age film is Arjun Varain Singh’s directorial debut, produced by Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar and Reema Kagti under the banners of Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby Films. Kalki Koechlin, Anya Singh and Rohan Gurbaxani appear in supporting roles. The film is named after a song of the same name from the film Baar Baar Dekho (2016), also produced by Excel Entertainment.
Ahana, an MBA graduate, works as a corporate consultant. Thoroughly underutilised at her workplace, Ahana finds monotony in her job. Her boyfriend, Rohan (Rohan Gurbaxani), suddenly asks for a break from their relationship, leaving Ahana confused and hurt. She starts stalking him on social media, discovering he has a new girlfriend, Tanya (Anya Singh), eventually making her own posts to get his attention. In desperate need of her boyfriend's attention, Ahana's self-esteem is at risk, but she doesn't care: why can't he just be with her? Ananya Panday shines as Ahana. She truly gets into the essence of the character and is honest to its arc. Could it be because she too is a fellow gen-z?
Imaad is a stand-up comic. However, among his friends he is better known to be a “serial-dater”. A total tinder-addict, Imad often meets girls on the dating app under his alias “Zeeshan”. Afraid of commitments and attachments, he tends to prefer one-night-stands and ghosting them after, owing to the extensively growing hook-up culture. Imaad, raised by a single dad, is wounded. He ricochets between his therapist, his guilt-ridden father, and an attractive older woman (Kalki Koechlin).
Ahana and Imad are flat-mates, living in the upscale locale of Bandra. Shoving the obliterate question “can a boy and girl be just friends” out the window of their studio apartment, the friends live comfortably, being a constant part of each other’s lives. They share stories of failed dates, drink together, the perfect example of platonic buddies which is a growing segment among the urban youth. For millennials and Gen Z, friendships are as much a priority as romantic relationships.
However, on-screen portrayals of friendships between men and women seldom depict relationships that don't eventually evolve into romantic entanglements. The director reflects on personal experiences, emphasising that many of his closest friendships, formed during school and work, are with women. Despite the closeness, Arjun Varain Singh asserts that these friendships haven't transitioned into romantic involvement. Challenging societal conditioning that suggests platonic friendships between individuals of different genders are implausible, the director advocates for a more realistic representation of such relationships on screen.
Neil, who lives with his Christian parents, is in a constant state of squabble with his father over his spending habits. He, however, has vivid plans to open his own gym one day. A complete gym rat, Neil strives to train celebrities and high profile people so as to boost his fitness followers on Instagram. When he gets a well-deserved selfie with Malaika Arora (as herself), he is over the moon. Will his growing “follower-count” help him shed his middle class tag, allowing him to transcend his world of mediocrity?
Imaad, Ahana and Neil, thick as thieves since their carefree school days, are now in the “adulting” phase of their lives. Faced with real life issues, existential crises and unhealthy social media addiction, all three of them get emotionally invested in building a flawless life for themselves. On a regular silent evening on the terrace of their building, Neil speaks his mind out about starting his own gym with exclusive clientele to his friends. Although it takes Imaad and Ahana both by surprise, before we know it, Imaad is monetarily investing in the idea and Ahana comes up with a superb marketing plan for it, putting her MBA skills to use.
However, during one of his sets, Imaad jokes about Neil and his relationship with his girlfriend and influencer Laxmi Lalvani a.k.a. “Lala”. Although Imaad doesn’t take names, it is obvious that Neil understands and is quick to take offence. During the explosive confrontation, while Imaad takes a dig at Neil’s middle class stature, Neil addresses Imaad’s emotional stuntedness. The volcanic spitting of facts causes a rift between them, worrying Ahana, who has quit her job to open the dream gym with them.
Meanwhile, Imaad continues swiping on tinder and comes across a charismatically charming photographer, Simran Kohli (Kalki Koechlin). Interesting conversations, late night strolls and finally moving in together, the couple admits that they have real feelings for each other. On the other hand, precariously wanting for Rohan’s validation, Ahana ups her gram game and posts sultry pictures in bikinis and glamorous evening gowns. Do you think it works?!
At the sangeet of one of her friends, Ahana and Rohan hook up once again, in the name of closure. However, the next morning Ahana wakes up to find an empty bed and a missing Rohan. She realises he has blocked her number and even blocked her on social media. Neil confronts Lala after he sees her post a picture of her kissing another man. Despite the fact that she spent time with him for no other reason than boredom, she never took the relationship seriously. Later, Neil is fired from his job as a trainer. Angered at being wrongly treated, Neil hacks into her Instagram account and makes several posts, exposing her as a fake.
While things were going smooth between Imaad and Simran, a Tinder notification from a date on Imaad's phone leads to confrontation. Simran realises he is still hooking up with other women. He insists that it does not mean anything, but she stands firm knowing well enough that she will not tolerate cheating. Meanwhile, Ahana drunkenly confronts Rohan at his birthday party, exposing their hookup in front of Tanya. This leads to a fight between Imaad, Neil and Rohan, when the former comes to the aid of a teary-voiced Ahana. As Rohan is about to strike Imaad, Neil arrives and punches Rohan. Eventually, Imaad and Neil reconcile, and Ahana realises that she does not have to base her self-worth on Rohan. Neil publicly apologises to Lala after seeing she is being harassed online.
In the final confession scene by Imaad, at a comedy show, he tearfully shares that he was sexually abused as a child by his father's business partner. He admits that the abuse led to his issues with intimacy and the idea of love, but now he wants to take control of his life. His show receives a standing ovation, and Ahana and Neil, who are in the audience, comfort him as he cries backstage.
All the three friends start taking their lives seriously and depending less on social media. They all eventually open the gym together, much to the joy of their parents. Imaad later re-approaches Simran at the opening of her art gallery, for which, she smiles indicating that they have reconciled.
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan beautifully captures the crisp scenes of picturesqueness, bringing to life Ahana-Imaad-Neil’s boarding school days, spontaneous trips, drinking, partying, frolicking on the beach. Tanay Satam’s lens throws light upon the streets of Mumbai, the roads glistening in the dim lights.
The city has been given a touch of youth and liveliness through the showcasing of the thumping nightlife. The neon lights outside bars, the dingy cab rides, the sunny beach days romanticise the vigour and bloom of the city, rather than the go-to “city of dreams” portrayal of Mumbai.
Talking about the portrayal of Bandra in the film, the camera perfectly captures a different side of the area. Parting ways from the typical sea-link or the Bandra fort, instead we see the aesthetically visual art-deco buildings that are now becoming popular among the gen-z. The rooftop scenes are particularly fascinating, creating a sense of peace in this ever bustling city. It feels like one’s own cubbyhole, separating us away from the characters’ individualistic lives and just bringing them together as three friends spending time with one another.
Subtle palettes like the beige, brown and white of Ahana’s office, the dark and dim setting of the stand up club is a visually pleasing ambience. However, the bright laser lights and peppy brightness of the club during the song Hone Do Jo Hota Hai, add the perfect fun element to the montage.
“One of the things we wanted to do with the film was make it nostalgic. All the buildings you see were built in the ’80s or ’90s; Ahana’s office could easily be any office in BKC. We very consciously wanted it to be an old-school Nariman Point kind of buildings,” Singh reveals.
The Issues highlighted in the film
This movie, with its snapchat dog filters, swipe-right-swipe-left culture, and feeling complacent with the normalcy of life, highlights the constant need for attention that gen-Zs demand in a world so lacking in attention. Placing self-worth into the hands of strangers who only see us pouting at the camera with our hair styled and lips painted, situationships, emotional unavailability, Kho Gaye Hum Kahan makes gen-Z finally feel understood.
Social media is the thin thread that holds the whole plot of the movie together. Ahana depends on the likes and comments that she sees under her attractive posts to feel good about herself. Not only does she feel elated that her followers were commenting the most flattering compliments under her posts, but she also significantly lets her mood get affected by the attention she garners online.
Her breakup with Rohan makes her feel insecure about herself, so much so that she creates a fake account just so she can stalk her ex’s “new” girlfriend. Ahana also goes through a series of emotions. Post-breakup depression and desperation.
“On some level, I think we can all relate to Ahana not feeling good enough, Imaad’s intimacy problems or Neil just wanting more”, says Arjun. A study published in 2018 found that "Gen Z seeks immediate validation and acceptance through social media, [and] they curate different social media personas in order to please each audience and minimise conflict or controversy”.
The movie perfectly captured the validation-seeking nature of the generation through the dynamic and relatable character of Ahana portrayed by Ananya Panday.
Coming to the character of Neil, we see a variety of emotions that he goes through. Getting deceived, used, and then disregarded wounds his ego enough to go snapping at people on the Gram. Neil, as a middle class boy, stays with his parents. His issues start with the very fact that he thinks his parents have stolen his individuality.
Living in a significantly run down, dimly lit flat, Neil constantly hears his father pester him about saving money and living within his means. He is even heard telling Neil, “tumhare doston jitne ameer nahi hai hum” (we are not as rich as your friends), reminding him that there is a class difference. Neil, however, turns a deaf ear and spends lavishly on his growing yet eye-catching collection of footwear.
Neil perfectly embodies a boy in his 20s wanting to do big things in his life but feeling like he doesn't have enough means to execute the big plans that he has for life. He is ambitious but is still naive when it comes to understanding the true nature of people. Neil misinterprets intimate gym sessions with his influencer girlfriend as love.
Just like any other gen-Z, he too, runs after increasing his follower count, however he does it more for his professional growth. He stalks other people, other influencers on Instagram and gets into the cycle of comparing his mediocre life to that of others. When he gets fired from his previous gym, loses his girlfriend, loses high profile clients, fights with his best friend Imaad and is nowhere close to opening his gym, he becomes bitter.
Through Neil and him creating a fake account, we get to know what goes into creating an online troll. He leaves mean comments under posts of celebrities. He becomes the kind of person who takes joy in murdering other people’s joy. Leading the life of an influencer, he somehow attempts to leave behind his “middle class” tag. He wants to break away from his not-so-affluent roots, and live a larger life. The typical rebel, Neil played by Adarsh Gourav, aptly captures the ambitious zeal that gen-Zs possess.
Siddhant Chaturvedi’s character, Imaad, comes off as a light-hearted, silly, fun person to be around. Little do we know about the wounds that he hides so well that it's impossible to make his true self out from the (sometimes) mistimed “humour”. Imaad grows up without his mother, and has a father who, during his formative years, was busy expanding his business. Imaad in his 20s is a carefree individual. Yet, he does care. The ever charismatic “rizzler” Imaad is a chick magnet from what we know. His good looks paired with humour, pulls lovers effortlessly. And just as effortlessly does he ghost them. Avoiding attachment and commitment at all costs, Imaad runs as far away from as any romantic inclinations as possible. Highlighting on the growing hook-up culture of this era, Imaad’s character is drawn from this classic gen-z trait.
Neil calls him emotionally stunted and his character might as well be just that, until we get to know his truth. However, as a stand up comic, his jokes fall flat and that doesn't sit well when you essay an art so vivid, which could be the fault of the writing. However, as Imaad himself, he cares deeply for his friends, and that is the only type of attachment he allows himself to form.
Another relationship that he somehow holds up is that with his therapist. Taking therapy or at least needing it is a familiar ground for gen-z, often making it such a trivial topic that it has lost its gravity. Imaad too doesn't take his sessions seriously, however we can see that they do help in some way or the other.
Through his last set, Imaad opens up about his fear of love. He takes the audience by a shock when he spills his fears and reasons, exposing a vulnerable side to him. As a child, Imaad was sexually assaulted by his dad’s business partner, often lured by the temptation of chocolates. Barely 6, Imaad as a child goes through a horrific incident. The scene marks one of the film’s most poignant moments, revealing the vulnerabilities of a character who repeatedly finds himself avoiding intimacy and hurting others in the process. He admits that his issues with intimacy stem from this childhood trauma that have somehow manifested into his adult life. He vows to take control of his life.
It is refreshing to see a young cast play such compelling characters. Seeing a younger set of actors is a breath of fresh air. The dissonance between our real lives and online personas is a real thing, and Kho Gaye Hum Kahan skilfully portrays that which is the essence of this ilk. Although the process of writing the film started during the pandemic, it was when the three main actors were cast that Kho Gaye Hum Kahan really started to come alive.
Talking about the ambition of these young adults, the career choices are not stereotypical to the age group of characters portrayed. Instead of choosing the quintessential doctor, engineer, lawyer as professions, the youngsters now find themselves to be drawn towards the more “outgoing” career paths like that of an influencer, gym trainer, standup comic and so on as we see in the movie.
Even the spontaneity with which Ahana quits her unrewarding job to help Neil market his gym idea is an impulsiveness that the calculative and advanced-planning millennials and boomers don't possess. The newer generation is far more capable of following their dreams, not caring about the question, “log kya kahenge?” They seem to have an unmatched zeal coupled with an unapologetic attitude that makes them so different and dynamic than the past generations.
Coming to the actors who played the characters, Ananya, Siddhant and Adarsh were the perfect choice to play these quirky, crazy yet beautiful characters. It is riveting to have a youthful cast who also belong to the same generation, play such roles and fit their shoes perfectly. It brings in a sense of authenticity and not the old fashioned picturisation of people in their 20s as rude, back-answering, rebellious individuals with their nose buried into their phone screens.
The three characters authentically depict aspects of contemporary romantic relationships. Imaad grapples with a dependence on dating apps, Ahana engages in online stalking of her ex, and Neil questions his relationship due to his girlfriend's reluctance to share a photo of them on Instagram. Reflecting on the current dating landscape, Singh suggests that the accessibility of new relationships through a simple swipe or direct message may necessitate greater effort in maintaining a relationship. Simultaneously, Singh contends that love has the potential to become stronger if one is willing to invest the necessary dedication and effort in the relationship.
Ananya Panday as Ahana Singh truly shines. With the way she gets so into the character, and studies it to the tee, this could very well be her best performance till date. She completely signifies the chic, Bandra girl, with a cute accent. The fact that she is a gen-z herself adds a touch of genuinity when she portrays Ahana as the stalking, jealous and confused ex. Although it is quite unbelievable a character as conventionally pretty as Ahana has never really posted attractive pictures of herself, that essence adds to the validation seeking behaviour.
After all is said and done, we admit that Siddhant Chaturvedi as Imaad is quite underutilised. His skits of standup, are more often than not jibes at social media, sarcasm aimed at people’s online personas or just poor humour. Stand up as an art was so misunderstood, and Imaad couldn't do justice to it. The jokes ranged from plain unpreparedness to banality.
Kalki too plays a pivotal role in forming the arc in Siddhant’s character. She comes in as a photographer, much more interested in meeting people off tinder for her project “The People of Tinder” than just getting into Imaad’s list of girls. She is an older woman, formerly married, and has a different idea of the type of love she is looking for.
Adarsh Gourav as Neil is a treat to watch. Personal trainer, gym freak but also just a boy with big dreams. Opening a gym is his way of breaking the stereotypes that have been set considering middle class youngsters. Neel is driven and full of a fiery spark, making him stand out from the other characters. Adarsh Gourav completely immerses himself in the character.
As seen in some of his interviews, the actor states that he was never into working out but to be able to portray Neel as genuinely as possible he followed a strict diet and a rigorous gym routine. The character he plays is quite different from his level-headed real self, states Adarsh. Neel is naive, not understanding how shallowly the word “love” leaves people’s lips. It is his naivety that gets him entangled in a tough situation where he thinks he finds the love of his life, but gets played by his girlfriend, only for him to realise the harsh truths.
The BAFTA-nominated actor, Gourav talks about playing Neel, calling it a novel experience. Quite contrary to his character, Adarsh says that fame, glory and global stardom doesn’t rock his world. Talking about his character, Neel Pareira, Gourav states that it was more difficult to physically transform than the emotional transformation because he connected with Neel psychologically. Having shifted school and homes, Adarsh did harness some of the insecurities like feeling out of place and inadequate, just like his character. Probably not as addicted as Neel, Adarsh feels that he too seeks validation in terms of likes and comments on the gram. Although now it is more for business, and growth perspective.
Working on his body, building and bulking did somehow influence Adarsh’s personality. He admits to have become slightly narcissistic, and constantly discusses looks. Gourav, so engrossed in getting Neel correct, almost drowns himself in the world of gymming and social media and working out that he sometimes lost touch with reality. Yet, it is his passion and determination that lead him to portray Neel with such accuracy. Do you think he can be classified as a true, seasoned actor?
Reception of the Movie
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is a fresh take on the age of youngsters, tracking their relation with the world through social media. Highlighting many issues that the gen-z either faces or chooses to sweep under the rug, the film takes us through the journey of growing up, along with its struggles, heartbreaks, chasing aspirations and so on.
Social media users continue to reflect on the warmth and sweetness of Kho Gaye Hum Kahan: from the unwavering friendships in the film to the tenderness of the male relationships.
Ultimately, Singh’s goal was to make audiences feel seen and find love within and around themselves. “There’s also a lot of hugs,” the director says. “I feel like the world needs a couple more hugs at the moment. It’s a bit dark out there.”
The movie was received well by the audience and garnered some mixed reviews. Praises for the cinematography, music and directioning are warring with the slander at the script writing. Calling the direction fresh and contemporary, the reviewers find the movie a good way to reflect on the flaws of the generation by introspecting about the complexities of life, relationships, and intimacy. Some people call it a light hearted take on millennial woes and a bit preachy, yet find a few aspects of the angst of the youth relatable.
The performances of all the lead and supporting actors have been lauded. Ananya Panday excelling as Ahana is a striking commonality in all the reviews. Sukanya Verma, writing for Rediff, awarded the film three and a half stars, praising its exploration of deep friendships in the digital age as photos become increasingly superficial. The Indian Express's Rohan Nahaar shared a similar perspective, hailing Kho Gaye Hum Kahan as a relatable coming-of-age drama. Monika Rawal Kukreja, in her Hindustan Times review, commended the film for presenting a simplistic yet impactful coming-of-age tale.
Bollywood Hungama's critics gave the film 3/5 stars, highlighting its strength in performances, memorable moments and a realistic portrayal of today's social media era. Rahul Desai from Film Companion noted that the film effectively mirrors the mental frame-rate of the digital generation. However, CNBC's Sneha Bengani, while liking the film, criticised the neatly packaged conflicts, expressing that it lacks the chaos of real life.
On the other hand, Shilajit Mitra, in a negative review for The Hindu, criticised "Kho Gaye Hum Kahan" as a half-baked critique of social media and influencer culture, deeming it a superficial drama about three friends in Mumbai. Some people also find it shallow and “an attempt by Bollywood to present a glitzy image of India which only a small minority enjoy.” They say the representation of the three friends caters to only the rich youth of the city which constitutes only about 1% of the population.
Nonetheless the main idea of the film was to shed light upon the growing dissonance between our true selves and the selves that we are for social media. The seeking of validation, the post-breakup depression, the stalking, trolling, and being dependent on likes, comments and shares on our posts for judging our self-worth are some threads that social media tangles us into.
As a generation susceptible to varying opinions and judgement, gen-Z relates more to the movie which helps them understand their own world. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan compels one to start on a journey of self discovery in this age of ever-evolving internet trends and social media. Constantly switching between reality and the world of social media, the movie actually makes you stop and wonder “Kho gaye hum kahan?”