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Height of buddyhood!

Sometimes there comes a film so good you are scared to write about it. Scared that you might kill it by writing about it. Because original material so mediocre has been turned into a motion picture so moving that putting it back into words might undo the magic.

Abhishek Kapoor has struck, again! And even though this too is about friends and fracas and reunions, Kai Po Che! is not cut from the same manja as Rock On!!. Adapting Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life, Kapoor creates a world that’s innocent yet ominous, friendly yet foreboding. Far, far away from the world of flashy, affluent SoBo (South Bombay) boys strumming their guitars and wooing their girls, to three young hard-working men trying to set up a sports business in trouble-torn Gujarat at the turn of the millennium.

Imagine his hazards on the job. How intimidating it must have been to follow up a film like Rock On!! with another buddy movie. How risky it must have been to move out of Excel (Farhan Akhtar’s production company) and make a film with another banner (UTV). How challenging it must have been to work with three newcomers when the biggest of stars were a phone call away. How courageous it must have been to not repeat his main crew — from music director to director of photography.

But when you reach for the skies, the clouds they take care of themselves. And Abhishek Kapoor has Kai Po Che’d through the clutter!

The film is faithful to the basic plot and the major characters of Bhagat’s book but in its adaptation for the screen, Kapoor and his writing team (including Rock On!! writer Pubali Chaudhuri and Supratik Sen) do away with all the manipulation and melodrama — ironically synonymous with Bollywood — and manage to create this beautiful tapestry of organic highs and lows that make the journey enriching and the characters endearing.

Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi (Amit Sadh) and Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav) are the three friends who open a sports shop in a temple compound in Ahmedabad with more than a little help from Omi’s Bittoo Mama (Manav Kaul). It’s smooth sailing initially as Ishaan, once quite a cricketing talent, starts coaching young boys in the field adjacent to the shop and discovers Ali, a local kid who can hit the ball many a mile, ball after ball.

As Mamaji’s help swells, Omi starts campaigning for his Hindutva-injected political ambitions. And Govind learns a thing or two about biology while teaching mathematics to Ishaan’s sister Vidya (Amrita Puri). All these particles would collide for an explosive mix when actual historical events — the earthquake in 2001 and the communal riots in 2002 — rock Gujarat.

It’s beautifully shot (Anay Goswami), brilliantly scored (songs by Amit Trivedi; background by Hitesh Sonik) and judiciously edited (Deepa Bhatia), but the real power that Kai Po Che! exudes comes from the breathtaking performances. In a day and age when craft and technique have taken over our cinema in such a major fashion and almost try to cover up weak acting jobs, to see this kind of solid histrionics lead the way is a rare, welcome sight.

Abhishek had a brief, unsuccessful acting career in the 1990s but those few failed stints in front of the camera must have helped him understand the pangs and passions of an actor, to help him create a rapport with his cast as a director. We had seen it in Rock On!! and now in Kai Po Che!, how he can dig deep inside the minds of his actors and create an atmosphere that brings out their best.

Sushant and Amit are the real new faces, although the latter has done a couple of films. Ishaan’s the most volatile character, fluctuating between brood and burst, and Sushant plays him with a lot of heart. It’s the most showy act and hence has the most easy access to audience favour. Amit gives Omi the kind of bull-headed wrapper that is easy to stretch in any direction. Such is the intensity of his performance that you never question the character’s decisions, no matter how implausible it may seem (perhaps the only convenient plotting in the scripting).

But the best performance of Kai Po Che!? Raj Kumar Yadav as Govind. Seen in brilliant cameos in films like Shaitan, Gangs of Wasseypur and Talaash, the actor does so much by doing so little. It’s the innocence in his smile, the pain in his stare, the anger in his walk that reaches out to you. Even as swords are drawn and bullets are fired and lives are taken, you somehow feel safe that Govind is still around.

Manav Kaul is the other standout act and it’s his cold-bloodedness that accounts for much of the menace in the middle of all the mirth. Amrita Puri, seen in Aisha, is adequate although a better actor could have brought out so much more from a couple of her scenes.

The film’s replete with many a great moment but no review of Kai Po Che! can be complete without mentioning a couple of scenes. Of course there is the emphatic group jump in the river from atop the fort — perhaps the only moment reminiscent of Rock On!!. Then there is the big reunion between Ishaan and Omi in the middle of the celebratory mood of India beating Australia in the historic Eden Gardens Test. Watch where Abhishek brings back Trivedi’s anthemic Manja. And then there’s the touch-and-feel making out scene cheekily choreographed to Sunita Rao’s Pari hoon main.

Hopefully someone somewhere is jotting down notes for a future biography/biopic on Abhishek Kapoor. A man who makes his debut as an actor, fails miserably, does nothing for close to a decade, directs a Sohail Khan-starrer (Aryan), comes back after two years and casts an established director as his leading man and scores a hit in Rock On!!, then goes into hibernation for half-a-decade only to return and slice through all the kites in the Bolly sky! Now that would be a bestseller. Mr Bhagat, are you on it?

And if you are still reading this… go fly this kite.