Kai Po Che – Film Review

First a background confession time: I am not a Chetan Bhagat fan; I read his first two novels but I found his writing style so abominably bland that it put me off forever. I reckon he is quite a hit with the youngsters; and that’s the audience the film wants to latch on to. That’s why his name is prominent on the posters, ed with the blurbs also proclaiming ‘from makers of Rang De Basanti’ a supposedly ‘cult film’ (though for sure, cheap UTV has produced many more since then).

(I made a lame half-hearted attempt at seeking Three Mistakes of My Life, men’s health on which this film is based, at the Amazon Kindle stores a few weeks ago, but since it’s not seemingly not available there, I left it).

I am also not too well-versed with Abhishek Kapoor’s sole directorial venture: Rock On, having missed it in theaters, and watched it in fragments on TV (I saw its biggest chunk just today when it was aired on some channel; and found it a fake film in intent: a true blue Hindi melodrama masquerading as something seemingly ‘different’)

So coming back to Kai Po Che – with no overt interest in any of its makers, and not knowing the plotline or the characters, I had a key advantage of approaching it with an open mind. I was so clueless about the basic plot that I had no inkling as to whose ‘three mistakes’ the title refers to – though the film doesn’t really help to spell it out clearly.

Kai Po Che is about three friends, two of whom (Govind & Ishaan) have clear cut ambitions, and the third (Omi) is quite a drifter. And it’s this drifter who gravitates towards something rather unfortunate and propels the plot to its murky denouement. While Govind is the narrator, and Omi leads it to its conclusion, it’s actually Ishaan who is the main hero, a live-wire energetic crackling character, the axis on which the film revolves. As are three important historical events: the Jan 26 Bhuj earthquake, India-Australia cricket series & the infamous Gujarat riots.

I believe the film does not faithfully stick to the book, which is good. From what I have read about the book’s plot, I feel the new ending is far superior in underlying the overall senselessness of all that happened in those two fateful years.

Such bromance films have a set template: open with mild guitar strums to a montage of successful/doomed heroes, often separated, with their expressions shouting out that they have ‘the past’; start a journey and then recede into a flashback to reveal the real plot. KPC follows the template to the T.

Where it actually departs from the usual is the story’s main body. It’s not so much about their friendship and how it begins which is kind of given and assumed, as much as it is the disintegration of the same. We start with cracks already becoming visible. Govind is ‘pataoing‘ Ishaan’s father for a cheque to start off a sports store; right then, Ishaan begins a fight with some unwanted suitor to his sister. The exasperated father who finds his son’s hotheadedness useless, calls off the deal. Blame game amongst the friend erupts.

At first the cracks are rapidly band-aided together ( replete with shots of them travelling off on a rather adventerous trip, jumping off old forts into the deep sea – a blend of Dil Chahta Hai and Rang De Basanti!).

However, as time turns into more serious events, the chasm just keeps widening. The events around them throw their friendship in a tumultuous spin, with every shifting fault lines and equations : e.g. one moment Govind is defending Ishaan’s anger in front of Omi, and the next he is mad at Ishaan for being reckless in squandering their meagre income. These kaleidoscopic shifts lend a multihued texture to the film.

Every character is well written, with their acts rooted in their persona, background and ambitions: for Govind, it’s his love for money and the desperate need to be a successful entrepeneur, even forging a shaky partnership with his two best friends in the sports shop; for Omi, the need to stick around with his friends, yet be indebted to his maternal uncle, who is a local politician and pays for their start up, though not without insidiously demanding his own pound of flesh; and Ishaan, with his passion for cricket, and the compulsion to prove that he can be successful in what he is good at and foisting his own dreams on Ali, the boy prodigy with herculean talent he has inadvertantly discovered- and the boy’s religion will play an important role!

The film’s pace is brilliantly fluid (and I always have to mention this). Abhishek Kapoor’s direction is extremely deft and mature. There are several quieter moments (for example, the romance between Govind and Ishaan’s little sister Vidya is sensitively played out). The screenplay is very well written garnished with believable dialogues, peppered with some Gujarati (just enough to set the milieu, without it getting uncomfortable for those who don’t grasp the language). The script involves the audience. Perhaps, it’s brightest point is the palpable climax, which sucks you in (and here, not knowing the story helped a big deal!). The two blows to Ishaan – learning about his sister’s affair with his best friend, and Omi’s crossover to the other side, is a tense filled moment. Crisp. Curt. Cutting.

The film left me a bit disturbed, with a sense of a deep void, and a personal loss.

Manipulative? Yes. But that’s the beauty of Hindi cinema, why would I not like it? I am sure many people will immediately junk that scene where the peeved father refuses to give his son ‘aashirwaad’ at the railway station and then just when the train is about to pull off relents and calls his son back for a big hug!

The cinematography is absolutely ravishing. Hitesh Sonik’s background score is adequate. Amit Trivedi’s music is sparse (just 3 songs, and all of them in the first half, with ‘Manja’ being the bestest, also repeated in the second half).

The weak moments? Not many. Perhaps a bit dry patches here and there, especially in the first half. And of course, at times the feeling – oh, this is so ‘new age cinema grammar’ and the overtly smugness as if to say ‘ see-this-is a quality product away from the 100-crore grosser-bad-ass-films-and-we-are-so-realistic’ (even though most of us wouldn’t have gone on such trips jumping off forts/cliffs ever; even the ‘straight six sixers’ by Ali, however much a prodigy he be, is a bit too much)

The film, like all good politically correct people, steers clear off the Godhra incident (fleetingly told via a news item) but dwells on the other riots, but thankfully stays neutral, makes no statements, and immediately zooms onto the micro world of the protagonists.

And now for the best thing in this film – the superlative performances. Amit Sadh as Omi is superb; and Raj Kumar Yadav (after the seedy, lusty Ragini MMS) is just pitch-perfect as the most responsible friend.

And Sushant Singh Rajput is absolutely a cracker – not many have been able to cross from TV to cinema (and for good reasons!) But Rajput surely is different – he has an awesome screen-presence, and perfectly nails it. Ishaan’s raw lean energy, his anger, his frustration, his enjoyment, his non-judgemental friendship, his convictions, make him immensely likeable despite all his flaws and quirks. A mindblowing debut!

Amrita Puri adds her own sweet charm – a deep anchor to both her brother and her boyfriend.

Overall – Do watch it!

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