The Three Amigos
Some 3 years ago, Chetan Bhagat's novel 3 Point Someone was made into Rajkumar Hirani's film 3 Idiots starring Aamir Khan, and the movie was an instant blockbuster success, despite some controversy surrounding the placement of the writer's credit. In Kai Po Che! adapted by director Abhishek Kapoor, there's no such dispute given the opening credit to Chetan Bhagat as the original novelist with The 3 Mistakes of My Life, and from the get go you may see some shades to 3 Idiots, especially when the story deals with three friends, but this time round the narrative spins into a darker territory, against an explosive time in Gujarati history in the early 2000s.
The first Indian film to feature in the World Panorama section of the Berlin International Film Festival, Kai Po Che! has all the artistic trappings of a film that's quite unlike the usual mainstream Bollywood masala fare, sans deliberate song and dance sequences, and possessing an extremely strong storyline centered upon detailed and deep character studies on all three protagonists. There's hardly a scene that goes wasted here, as we're drawn into the world that these three friends inhabit, experience how things around them start collapsing, and permanently changing their relations forever.
In a way it reminded me of an entrepreneurial session I attended many years back, where a businessman dispensed some advise to those budding and raring to head to the world with their big ideas, that if possible, avoid running a business with friends. You can become friends with your business start up partners, but never quite the other way round, where you'll likely risk relations souring because in a way, familiarity breeds contempt. That's about what happened to Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi (Amit Sadh) and Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav), three friends who decided to open a business made up of a sports store and an academy combined, steeped towards cricket which is the national sport, and potential cash cow on the demand side. And things looked rather rosy with their firm camaraderie oblivious to the hardships and obstacles placed in front of them, such as the lack of finances and having to be sponsored by Omi's uncle Bittoo Mama (Manav Kaul), who is also an active member of a Hindu political party.
What I thoroughly liked about the film, is its equal opportunity provided to all three leads, such that each story arc does not overshadow the other, giving every one of them a focus, objective and dream of their own, that will inevitably converge towards the finale, making it so gripping, and heartfelt all at the same time. Ishaan finds a cricket prodigy in the kid Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), where he becomes like the big brother, protective and ever so concerned about his professional development and welfare, sometimes at the expense and patience of his friends. In Omi, he has to fend off, and finally having to give in to help out in his uncle's political campaign, drawing him away from what he loves in life, to put his skills into work in another field against his wishes. And in Govind, the calculative one who had seen his lofty plans to expand their shop in a mall go up in smoke, he has the romantic angle to tackle when he falls for Ishaan's sister Vidya (Amrita Puri) and they maintain a secret relationship for fear of Ishaan finding out.
Making things more complex, is how politics, race and religion all play a part in the proceedings, leading everything to a heady and explosive mix with fear, tragedy and loss all being featured in this tale that dealt with plenty of darker themes. Many have cited the story by Chetan Bhagat to be amongst the weakest in his bibliography, but I suppose Abhishek Kapoor found the right formula in translating this for the screen in just a little over two hours. How the story arcs finally converge and come together was handled expertly, with that perfect mix of its limited songs, and adopting a cinematographic style and production values that opted for realism in the vast outdoors than having to cower in studios, bringing to life that real sense of urgency and tension as events escalate into an inevitable crescendo.
Whether it's a devastating earthquake, or the dangerous cocktail of race/religious based politics, armed violence and senseless killings, Kai Po Che! has these put in the background as tests of the friends' resolve to being larger than that hate and catastrophe around them, using their friendship and love for cricket to try and transcend negativity, albeit to varying degrees of success. Each actor, being relatively new to the scene, also bring about a certain breath of fresh air with their earnest performance, and are just about the perfect cast, sans big names and their associated egos, to bring Kai Po Che! to the big screen. My favourite Hindi language movie this year to date! A definite recommend!