With the positive reviews pouring in from all quarters, i was waiting for some contrarian views. Because what’s the fun if we all are on same page. Though there have been few such views too, and criticism mostly have been looking at the big picture and the issues involved. But Runcil Rebello believes that the film is about “the smaller picture”. And he also writes about how the film is different from the book.
In Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che!, it’s all about opposition – ideas clashing with each other, and sometimes both winning, sometimes just one. There is the age-old money versus passion squabble, further highlighted in the academics versus sports issue omnipresent throughout Indian homes. Then there is the overarching notion on which the film is built: friendship versus ideology, and friendship does not always win. There is also Mathematics versus Biology.
Kai Po Che!, adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s The Three Mistakes Of My Life, is a story set in Gujarat around the turn of the millennium. The nineties were done and dusted with. Internet, Nokia mobiles, malls were making their introduction into daily Indian life. The Indian cricket team would become a leading Test-cricket playing nation in the following decade. Religious politics had not yet reached a fuming and flaming high.
But Kai Po Che! doesn’t have its eyes set on such large-scale issues. Rather, it is content telling the story of three friends: Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) – flamboyant, impulsive, passionate, Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav) – logical, ambitious, money-minded, and Omi (Amit Sadh) – simple, lovable, easily swayed, who set up a sports equipments store-cum-cricket training academy-cum-Maths tuition classes. This film is as much an ode to friendship as it is about the decay of that lovely bond.
The idea of opposition isn’t hammered into our heads. It’s brought up now and then, never over the top. Just like the film. The story (written by Abhishek Kapoor, Chetan Bhagat, Pubali Chaudhuri and Supratik Sen) does not veer much from the book, and if you’ve read the book, you’d realise then that it is a story tailor-made for Bollywood. And yet, the writers and the director stitch the film into an altogether different piece of fabric. The film is removed from typical Bollywood treatment. No star actors, no item numbers, no over-the-top treatment, just three songs (Hell! The soundtrack by Amit Trivedi [with lyrics by Swanand Kirkire] includes a garba-beat song in Shubhaarambh, but the film’s garba scene isn’t picturised on it. Unexpected.) Instead, Kai Po Che! is about the small moments in the fabric. Don’t lose sight of the smaller picture.
Characters, especially Omi’s, oscillate, not able to settle on one thing. He, at times, goes where the wind blows, and sometimes marches to the beat of the other drummers of the show. He may not always like what he does, but he is loyal to any cause he signs up for. Govind and Ishaan, on the other hand, are the proverbial immovable object and unstoppable force. They’d go to any distance to get what they want, albeit what they want is in diametrically opposite directions. Govind has to let loose, has to understand that not all things in life are solved by Mathematics, but some by Biology too. Ishaan’s sister Vidya (Amrita Puri) would be his teacher in this regard. Ishaan has to grow up, has to not let anger affect his decisions, but his mind. Ishaan, and to a lesser degree, Govind too, do not care about how religion plays into their plans. They are fine with sitting on the fence when it comes to this particular power struggle, letting Omi handle the dirty work.
What these three have in common, though, is something India is obsessed with: cricket. Cricket (and films) are said to heal wounds. In this film, it is the historic 2001 Calcutta test match between India and Australia that plays the role of mediator and doctor. It is also cricket that brings together children of two opposing homes, Omi and wiz kid Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), under one roof.
Abhishek Kapoor has a knack for staging event situations. In Rock On!! earlier, he staged rock concerts in a way no Indian film had before. In Kai Po Che!, he goes large scale, but doesn’t make them the focus of his movie. The eye firmly remains on the three friends. Earthquakes, cricket matches and the Godhra Riots form the trifecta of incidents around which they break and mend. Tough decisions are made, mostly on impulse and emotion. When calamities strike, there is no time to think. Govind, Omi and Ishaan choose their respective sides all on basic instinct.
The film, though, has been meticulously planned. If Anay Goswami’s cinematography portrays Gujarat in a favourable light, Hitesh Sonik’s background score livens up the lives of the three friends. Deepa Bhatia transitions from one date to another finely, giving her best cut in the crucial scene during the riots.
Sushant Singh Rajput and Raj Kumar Yadav play their roles well. They really look the part, and so does Manav Kaul, being crafty and smart as Bittoo mama, Omi’s political leader uncle. Amrita Puri is cute and plucky adequately. In fact, the casting (by Mukesh Chhabra) is impeccable. The one actor, though, to make the most impact is Amit Sadh. From portraying a simpleton to a political henchman, Amit Sadh’s eyes, and hair, speak.
All these people, eventually, are just holding the manja. It is Abhishek Kapoor flying this kite, cutting every other kite in his path. He’ll be the one screaming kai po che! at the end of it. And what a delight it has been to watch this kite soar great heights.
P.S.: If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the flashback and the conclusion has changed; all for the best. Below are a few details of what is different in the film.
Chetan Bhagat, in his book, The Three Mistakes Of My Life, had Govind as the lead character. The biggest change is towards the end. In the riot scene, Omi is the one who protects Ali, Ishaan and Govind from his uncle. Omi dies in the process, and Ishaan doesn’t talk to Govind for years because of the revelation that his sister and he were in a relationship. Govind eventually, before committing suicide many years later, writes a letter to Bhagat, who he is inspired by, thanks to his two books Five Point Someone and One Night At The Call-Centre, who then intervenes and brings all of them together again. An utterly melodramatic end to the story, which thankfully was changed.
Another important section that was missing from the film was the part where the three friends finance a trip for Ali and themselves to Australia to receive cricket coaching. The Australians, seeing the marvel that Ali is, offer to train him but only if he eventually plays for Australia. Ali here in an outright dramatic fashion proves his patriotism for the country by shouting that he’ll play only for India and then they return to India.
Also, Vidya and Govind sleep together on Vidya’s eighteenth birthday at her home itself in the book. This too was changed in the film.
Also, missing in the book is the Diu section. The three friends are basically saints in the book, not leaving their pol to do things normal twenty-something guys would do i.e. to drink.
Abhishek Kapoor also changed the narrative by making all three characters equally important, thereby removing the crux of the story from the ‘three mistakes’.
The rest of the movie is pretty faithful in its adaptation.