Kai po che!
Direction: Abhishek Kapoor
Actors: Amit Sadh, Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav
Kai Po Che! is a moving portrait of friendship, loss, forgiveness. Working from Chetan Bhagat's best-seller The 3 Mistakes of My Life, co-writer and director Abhishek Kapoor lovingly constructs camaraderie so deep and abiding that you know it must be splintered. Ishaan, Govind and Omi, three middle-class boys in Ahmedabad, are swept away by currents beyond their control. Great horrors unfold and yet, when the deeds are done, a sense of redemption remains.
The story begins with the three -Ishaan played by Sushant Singh Rajput, Govind played by Raj Kumar Yadav and Omi, played by Amit Sadh - embarking on their first business venture, a sports shop with coaching facilities. Ishaan was an aspiring cricketer but like thousands of boys in India, his talent was lost in the maze of selectors and politics. He morphs into a hot-tempered but unusually generous coach. Govind, the cautious and brainy one, keeps a strict eye on the finances - the other two call him baniya. And the loutish but unquestioningly loyal Omi, serves as the financer. He manages to routinely extract money from his uncle who is a political leader in a right-wing Hindu party. Ishaan's star pupil is a scrawny Muslim boy. We are a few months away from the Gujarat riots. You know that no good can come out of this.
Abhishek Kapoor's biggest accomplishment is that he and his writers have created three-full bodied characters - these boys with their towering ambitions and aching vulnerability, are people you and I know. And then, most critically, he has also found three wonderful actors who inhabit the characters wholly. Sushant, Raj Kumar and Amit become Ishaan, Govind and Omi. Their lack of stardom works in their favour (though I'm fervently hoping that post release, each one becomes a sought-after star). We believe them. We partake in their joys and struggles. Kai Po Che! is beautifully shot by Anay Goswamy but it's not glossy. You can almost feel the sweat and dust of the narrow lanes. And the icing on the cake is the song Manjha by composer Amit Trivedi (who has also sung it) and lyricist Swanand Kirkire. It has a sweet melancholy that reminded me of Kirkire's other gem, Baanwara Mann (from the 2003 film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi).
What doesn't work as well is the screenplay. There are stretches in which the film slows down enough to make you restless. In places, the narrative is jerky and not fully convincing - the boys recover from a big financial blow with little stress. I also found the Gujarati dialogue a little distracting. Kapoor's portrayal of the Gujarat riots doesn't lacerate you like Rahul Dholakia's Parzania or Nandita Das' Firaaq. This version is far more comforting and palatable. But perhaps that is not such a bad thing.
Kai Po Che! is Gujarati for "I've cut". It is used as a cry of victory in kite-flying contests. Here victory is hard-earned and tinged with tears and regret. But it's also deeply satisfying.
(You can watch Anupama Chopra review the latest release on The Front Row, every Friday at 8.30 pm on Star World)