Framing the divide
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Abhishek Kapoor's recent film Kai Po Che, like the Chetan Bhagat novel on which it is based, revolves around the lives of three young men in Ahmedabad between 2000 and 2002. In both book and film, the personal trials of Govind Patel, Ishaan Bhat and Omi Shastri — and Ishaan's young cricketing protege Ali — are tied to larger events that have shaped the history of our collective present: the 2001 Bhuj earthquake, India's fabled cricketing comeback against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001, the Godhra train burning incident of 2002 and the widespread communal killings that followed.
Revealing the power of Hindi cinema as compared to popular fiction in English (even a small multiplex hit versus a best-selling novel by India's highest-selling English novelist), the film's release — timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Gujarat killings — has led to a flurry of editorial commentary that takes more notice of Bhagat's fictional politics than has probably ever been taken before.
The film, and Chetan Bhagat, have been accused of whitewashing Gujarat 2002, by excising those parts of The 3 Mistakes of My Life that might displease Narendra Modi, now the BJP's unofficial prime ministerial candidate. These commentators argue that Kai Po Che is a feel-good Bollywood spectacle, that it steers clear of the damning references to the "Hindu party" that litter the book, that it rewrites state-sponsored killings into local-level, near-spontaneous vendetta, and lastly, that it provides justification for the post-Godhra violence by having a central character, Omi, lose both his parents in Godhra, rather than just a nephew.
Having watched the film and read the book, I must confess to being baffled by the conclusions these commentators have come to. To me, the film (whose script, it should be stressed, is the result of Bhagat's collaboration with Pubali Chaudhari, Supratik Sen and director Abhishek Kapoor) is not just less clunky and better characterised than the book, but arguably also a more effective and affective comment on the politics of Gujarat.