Review: Kai Po Che
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Director: Abhishek Kapoor
IE rating: *** 1/2
The Gujarati phrase Kai Po Che approximates closest to the Hindi Woh Kaata an exultant, full-throated cry used when young boys are flying and 'cutting' kites. Abhishek Kapoor uses it as an apt metaphor and crafts a lovely, emotive film on abiding friendship and the values that make life worth living.
We first come upon Ahmedabad residents Govind, Omkar and Isshan (Yadav, Sadh and Rajput respectively) as they dither at a crossroad : the choice is between minor accretions and rapid growth, a hole-in-the-wall dukaan in an Amdavaadi pol (mohalla) and an airy glass-fronted mall store. Govi is the most focused of the trio, intent upon counting the money and getting ahead, tossing aside half-affectionate half derogatory epithets like bania ; Issh, the most cricket-mad of them all, dreams of opening an academy in every school in the country, and Omi, the nephew of a busy functionary of a right wing Hindu party, is happy to go along.
Three boys, having grown to young adulthood from being inseparable kids, has now become familiar Bollywood trope. Kapoor does a good job in making us believe that his threesome have intertwining backstories : Omi, the easy-going son of a priest, Govi, the guy who cracks the numbers, and Issh the dreamer. One of the pleasures of Kai Po Che is how well these three mesh, working around each other, talking to each other, and coming back to each other. Friends fight. These three do too, with catastrophic results.
The build-up is fine, but it is in the way the film realises and resolves its multiple catastrophes that it falters. The source material of the film is Chetan Bhagat's 'The 3 Mistakes of My Life', which uses major events in the early 2000s as signposts: the earthquake which caused so much devastation and loss of life, the burning of that train at Godhra, the widespread riots in Gujarat that followed, and, in a parallel stroke, the test match between India and Australia which the former won. The film, which in the first half is as smooth as a Patola silk, stutters as it tracks its characters weaving their way in and out of these situations. There is also some early telegraphing of events: within a few minutes of the film's opening, Isshan takes a young cricketing protégé named Ali under his wing, and you know from then on where that arc is going.
These strands wouldn't even have been worth a mention in a less pleasing film. But Kai Po Che is such an unexpected delight that I wanted it all to be as good. I haven't seen such an insider's view of Ahmedabad in a while: even the mandatory dandiya is done without an ounce of peddling exotica. The characters don't feel as if they've been parachuted into the city; they live here, it is home. I liked the way none of them is made to sound exaggeratedly Gujju, just an occasional throwaway phrase is enough. Their clothes are daily apparel, not costumes. The bubbliness of the bright-eyed Amrita Puri, who plays sister to one of the boys, and sweetheart to another, is kept, rightly so, in check. Sadh and Rajput do strike a couple of preliminary poses but then settle into their parts. Manav Kaul, as Bittoo Mama, is excellent in the way he juggles matter-of-fact thuggery and menace. But the one who kept me watching all the way through is the wonderfully restrained Raj Kumar Yadav: there is not one place he puts a wrong foot forward.
Kapoor's Rock On had its moments, and I liked it, but Kai Po Che is so much better, despite its tired saffron-and-trishul-infused scenes, as well as those that show the too-familiar bloody rampage through the terrified-Muslim-housing-colony. This film rises beautifully above its faults. It does not allow simplicity to descend into simple-mindedness, as it transmits real emotions, and gives space to a stand-out performer. And the music from the Amit Trivedi-Swanand Kirkire combine spills out, into the tangled skeins of our lives : I have been humming rishton ka manjha non-stop since I walked out of the theatre.
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