Based on the success of Chetan Bhagat’s bestselling novel ‘3 Mistakes of my Life’, and the fact that it comes from the makers of BAFTA nominee Rang De Basanti, expectations for Kai Po Che were understandably high. Thankfully, director Abhishek Kapoor manages to do justice to the novel’s impeccable plot, strong emotions and intense characters.
‘Kai Po Che’ in Gujarati, is the cry of victory yelled out when an opponent has been defeated in a kite flying challenge. Literally translated, it means ‘Gotcha!’ In many ways, Kai Po Che is a triumph – its about friendship, emotions and integrity, and succeeds on many levels.
Kai Po Che is the story of three friends set in the state of Gujarat in 2000. Ishaan, an ex regional-level cricketer, Govind, a business minded nerd, and Omi, nephew of a local politician, share a very special camaraderie that’s not always perfect, but always pragmatic.
The friends plan to start their own business, a sports shop and cricket academy supported by a loan from Omi’s politician uncle. While Govind manages the shop, Ishaan trains local kids and scouts for cricketing talent. Although their business looks promising, their friendship is challenged by real-life tragedies such as the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 2002 communal riots. Unable to repay the loan to his uncle, Omi is forced into familial politics and distances himself away from the business and his friends.
The rift between the three becomes more evident as we delve deeper into the complexities of the communal violence between the Hindus and Muslims. Ishaan has his differences with Omi, who is part of a right wing Hindu political party. Govind, meanwhile, becomes romantically involved with Ishaan’s feisty sister, Vidya, whom he’s been tutoring in math. He tries to keep this a secret as Ishaan tends to be highly protective of his sister even though their home has a fairly chauvinistic feel to it.
Kai Po Che portrays the sensitive issue of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence in a very diplomatic manner, blaming neither side, while supporting none. It does however, contains scenes that clearly show the presence of deep-rooted hatred of each community for the other at that point in time.
The music also has a subtle feel to it. Music director Amit Trivedi’s previous work includes masterpieces Dev. D and Udaan, winning the National Award and Filmfare Award. With only three songs, it definitely isn’t an ordinary Bollywood production filled with pointless songs, but what music there is, is just fabulous. The main song, ‘Manja’ is an inspirational track that has a lovely fusion of Indian and western string instruments, giving a very touching feel to it.
Whether it’s the portrayal of the trio’s friendship or the chemistry between Govind and Vidya, much of the success of the Kai Po Che‘s characters must be attributed to the director for having extracted the best from each of the leads. Sushant Singh Rajput delivers a powerful debut as the young and talented Ishaan, while Amrita Puri plays an impressively understated role as Vidya. Amit Sadh also gives a stellar performance as Omi, a young and aimless man who has great difficulties dealing with his inner conflicts.
The story builds itself brick by brick, until the climax delivers a sucker punch. With a fiercely dramatic and emotional end to it, Kai Po Che announces itself as one of the best Bollywood films of the year. It reaffirms your faith in low budget Indian cinema that’s continually done better than the big budget, starrier films. All in all, this isn’t your typical Bollywood musical filled with cliché dialogue, but a film that cuts through the clutter of conventional cinema and goes the extra mile with its strong individual performances and terrific storytelling.