by Ravina Rawal
First, a confession (disclaimer): I haven't read The 3 Mistakes Of My Life—the book that Abhishek Kapoor's Kai Po Che is based on, because... well, Chetan Bhagat.
This wasn't a movie I’d held my breath for either—sure, it could turn out to be more or less entertaining like 3 Idiots (adapted from Bhagat's Five Point Someone), but I was also totally prepared for it to miss the mark, and result in something excruciating like Hello (based on One Night @ The Call Centre).
Kai Po Che surprises us by not falling into either category. It's a charming little film—one that relies on subtlety and restraint to make its point—and even if just for that, I want to give it a prize.
At the turn of the millennium, we are introduced to three young guys in Ahmedabad: Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi (Amit Sadh) and my absolute favourite of the lot, Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav). Full of hope and dreams and big ideas, the three friends want to set up and run a sports academy, and eventually open a sports store in a fancy mall. Omi is the straight-arrow son of a temple priest and nephew of a right wing Hindu politician, who asks his uncle to help the boys out with a space for the academy.
Ishaan, a passionate cricketer who never made it to the big league, wants desperately to coach kids in cricket at the academy, source new talent and seek out India’s next big cricket superstar. He sees huge potential in little Ali, who hits a six on almost every ball, and is obsessed with training him day and night, in a way that ends up tying their lives together.
The academy also houses a teeny sports store that the group’s ‘baniya’ Govind— whose life revolves around Excel sheets and saving money and accounting and never taking a risk—is primarily in charge of. He has a peripheral little love story dancing around him in the form of Ishaan’s younger sister (the very sweet Amrita Puri), with whom he starts bonding over math tuition classes, and to whom at least this reviewer is immediately endeared when she first says, “Byukh. I hate math.”
Then there’s Omi—he also helps out at the academy and store, but with his uncle reminding him every day that he could do with more hands on deck for his next political campaign, he’s starting to feel the pressure to help there too. ‘Mamaji’ was the one, after all, who helped the boys out plenty with both money and a space for their now almost-flourishing academy.
Omi’s uncle urges him repeatedly to join their political party. “Politics mein kya kharaabi hai?” he asks, before pointing out Omi’s leverage, “Tu panditji ka beta hai…thaan liya, toh aage tak jayega.” Reluctant to have anything to do with politics at first, he feels a sense of obligation to his uncle, and slowly starts getting more and more involved with the party’s daily affairs.
Kai Po Che is about friendship, dreams, cricket, politics, religion, and even a little bit of love. It also touches upon the devastating 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 2002 Godhra train burning incident, and how the three boys negotiate it all.
It’s a real relief to see the story dip and peak without getting melodramatic, and there are none of those unnecessary song sequences/item numbers that Bollywood has us used to. The Gujarati battle cry “Kai Po Che!” resounds during kite flying season, when one cuts the string of another’s kite, bringing it crashing to the ground. In the movie, it’s a metaphor for how dreams soar and hope flies high, before fate and circumstance cut them down to size.
One could argue (and many have, already) that the movie doesn’t go into enough detail and the characters aren’t explored to their full potential. But I suspect that this is actually part of the beauty of this film—you walk away both entertained and moved, without feeling drained by its complexity or hardcoreness (considering the issues the film deals with, things could have been pretty grim). So it’s a film that tries to find a balance between the two, and manages for the most part.
The chemistry and camaraderie between the three protagonists is lovely—every actor’s performance will delight you in different ways, the cinematography and editing both score plenty of points, and Amit Trivedi uses music in a way that ensures it does its job, without ever being in your face.
Definitely book your tickets for this one. Kai Po Che one of the better films of the year so far, and I’m really, really looking forward to seeing all three of these boys in a lot more movies. (Also, maybe Chetan Bhagat should stop trying to make us read his books so much and instead keep Bollywood producers busy with story ideas.)