March 21, 2020
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Kai Po Che

The focus is not on Modi, Godhra, or the quake, but the implications of political eve­nts in the personal space.

Kai Po Che
Kai Po Che

Starring: Raj Kumar Yadav, Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh, Amrita Puri, Digvijay Deshmukh, Manav Kaul
Directed by Abhishek Kapoor
Rating: ***

Judge it on the parameter of the time-honou­red cliches of Hindi cinema—there are eno­ugh strewn in Kai Po Che to rile and irritate you. In fact, broad brushstrokes hit you right from the start—the quintessentially Bollywoodian ‘coming out of the jail’ sequence—to the ‘tie up all the loose strands’ ‘all’s well that ends well’ resolution. From the lust and longing in the dandiyas to the ‘Hindu’ saffron and the ‘Muslim’ green. But somewh­ere Abhishek Kap­o­or’s film manages to find its own distinct voice bey­ond these general simplifications. Primarily, because it builds well on the relationship of its three lead characters.

Yes, it is about spo­nta­neity, fun, jokes, irre­ver­ence and banter—quite like a DCH, RDB or Rock On. But there’s substantially more. Through Govind-Ishan-Omi, the film affectingly portrays what for many of us was one of life’s most central experiences: of friendships torn asunder by ideologies, of negotiating friendships while keeping politics at bay and standing by your non-negotiable beliefs while keeping friendships at a distance.

Things unfold against the backdrop of contemporary Gujarat. Altho­ugh names and parties are not mentioned outright, it’s hard not to figure things out—unless one is Goodbye Lenin’s coma-struck Mother. Kapoor is not concerned with hardcore politics here. The focus is not on Modi, Godhra, or the quake, but the implications of political eve­nts in the personal space.

The backbone is the great casting by Mukesh Chhabra. Each of the handpicked actors bec­o­mes the character. The­re’s the reticent, hem­med-in, but razor-sharp Govind (Raj Kumar) who wants a future outside the restrictive life in the pol (community). The frustrated, angry and agitated local cricketer Ishaan (Sushant), who will tame his restl­essness by teaching batting to a poor, malnouri­shed, marbles-obs­essed, puckish Ali (Dig­vijay). Then, there’s the troubled and torn Omi (Amit). Will he become complicit and compromised in the violence that surrounds him or will he manage to find peace within himself and with his friends?

It’s a world of political parties mounted on the bedrock of polarising religion. But there’s also hope, however small, of a utopia where a third religion called cricket will bridge widened div­ides. Where the bat and ball will sort out the badly entangled str­i­ngs of relationship (as goes the lovely Swanand Kir­kire-Amit Trivedi piece Suljha denge uljhe rishton ka manjha). Where friends, unable to enjoy an India-Aust­ralia game in isolation, will rush to each other upon an Indian victory. Where Ishaan will help make Ali the best batsman in the country. Where this child in a skull cap will rest under a picture of Durga—not to speak of that stunn­ing intro shot of Ali, bat in hand. A bat to win the day for India. Naive it might be, but that’s the image I have in my mind’s eye.

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