Review: KAI PO CHE
By now there is a template scene for a film about a group of close boyfriends who go through life together. There is music in the background. The gang of buddies are at a secluded place far away from town. Some amount of booze gets them slightly uninhibited. They take their shirts off, bare their muscled torso and preferably jump into a community lake, instead of a private swimming pool.
We see a related sequence in this film. It could be inspired from the fabulous Rang De Basanti whose producers (UTV) are the same as the ones here. There was a similar shot in Rock On, whose director (Abhishek Kapoor) has directed this movie as well. The band of boys in this film though belongs to a much smaller city (Ahmedababd) than those in the other two movies (New Delhi and Mumbai). Their aspirations can’t be very different. They usually aren’t.
The three heroes here are relatively unknown actors. None of them at any rate is an established star. This takes away from the equation, which character comes away looking the best, who is the film centred on, whose role has greater length, or who finally gets the girl. This allows the actors to play for the film. Surely it must have given the filmmakers enough elbow room in effective storytelling as well.
Of the three buddies, one of them (Sushant Singh Rajput, smartly cast), a failed cricketer, is an impulsive sort of young bloke, who is short-tempered, slightly socially awkward, but as locals usually say of such people, he is “good at heart”, “yaaro ka yaar” (a true friend). The other one (Raj Kumar Yadav, first-rate performer) is what you could describe as the archetype, mercantile Gujarati: focussed, industrious, good with money and arithmetic. The third friend (Amit Sadh), son of a Hindu priest, hardly has a personality of his own. Such a character is quite common in groups like these. He is only happy to tag along. It’s easy to channelise his energies towards what’s sold to him as a thing to do. At this point, the three are busy as young entrepreneurs, trying to give shape to a rented complex that has a cricket coaching academy, a sports equipment shop, and a Maths tuition centre.
These guys grew up together in a lower middle class neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. For a bunch in their early 20s, it is a bit worrying how devoid they are of normal relationships with the opposite sex. Maybe this reflects the general scene among the young in middle India, it's hard to say. One of the boys does fall in love, though with his best friend’s sister. He finally makes love to his girl after a Dandiya night with a lovely Sunita Rao number ‘Paree Hoon Main’ playing in the background. The popularity of that song best gives away the year the film is set in.
It’s the turn of the millennium that brought the worst tragedies to a prosperous state of Gujarat. First there was the terrible earthquake of 2001. Then came a man-made disaster that perhaps had a greater impact in the politics of that state: the arguably government sponsored Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002, where thousands of Muslims were targeted for revenge when none were directly responsible for torching of a train full of Hindus in Godhra. We see both the Godhra and the Gujarat riots.
Behind the newspaper statistics we see the story of three young men whose lives change forever. Strictly speaking this is not a political film. It’s still a picture that’s likely to resonate more than pamphlets usually do. “Kai Po Che” literally means “I got your kite”. I’m told this is what Gujarati kids shout when they cut off a rival’s kite in a flying contest.
If anything the kites we see in the film, aiming to independently fly high, are those that cut for no reason at all, or for three reasons, given that the movie is based on Chetan Bhagat’s novel Three Mistakes Of My Life. To give due credit to the source, it’s remarkably clever how the three mistakes in the movie broadly concern the three obsessions that define India, in that order: religion; virtuous women preserved for arranged marriages; and cricket.
Over the past few years, Bhagat has emerged as the most widely read writer in English fiction. Most other writers who hate him or don't consider him worthy enough (and surely there are many) are possibly envious of his rock-star literary fame. There's nothing personal. They certainly haven't read his books. Frankly neither have I. Still there must be a touch of truth in those novels that’s enchanted millions of young Indians to take up reading in the first place.
This is the third filmic adaptation of Bhagat’s novel. The first one, Hello (based on One Night At A Call Centre) was an unbearable disaster. 3 Idiots (inspired by Five Points Someone) was the most commercially successfully Indian blockbuster ever. Kai Po Che, in comparison to Rajkumar’s Hirani’s masterpiece, isn’t a comedy, it is more real, but is certainly entertaining, engaging. As an audience, it might be a mistake to miss this film. So yeah, don't make that mistake.