Let me start by apologizing publicly for what seems to be a criminal sin these days among the Twitterati: I have absolutely no bias against Chetan Bhagat. Judging by everything I read in my timeline it feels like I should, because everyone with a brain does, so I do feel entirely inadequate here, but... well... I just have nothing against the guy. I read Five Point Someone and actually found it much better than the movie. [insert gasp] Not in the way it's written necessarily, it's certainly not great prose, but for what it has to say. I actually felt that 3 Idiots failed glamorously at capitalizing on the true messages of the book. In fact, it completely missed the point in its attempt to glorify Aamir Khan's character. [moar gasp] But oh well, the movie was a huge hit, so what do I know? And to be fair, even I liked it and saw it 3 times.
But having learned my lesson, I decided against reading the book that inspired Kai Po Che, The 3 Mistakes of My Life, so even though I went in with many other biases, the book was not one. That said, I unfortunately can't comment on whether or not the movie was better, so I guess that's my loss (but hey, it makes the review shorter, so your gain!).
I'm not sure why but it feels like Kai Po Che has been massively anticipated. Has it? Sometimes I can't tell if it's just the crowd I chat with or the whole universe (the two entities tend to merge in my head), but it feels like it's been talked about forever. Despite all that, I couldn't get into the trailer, and ultimately the only two reasons why I went to see it were a) the irresistible company of blog pals Katherine and Larissa, and b) THAT song by Amit Tridevi. You know which one.
The comparisons will be inevitable, so let's get this out of the way early: it's no Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and it's no Dil Chahta Hai. Well, apart from the fact that it has three male characters and the relationships between them. But whereas in those two films the characters sucked you in principally because of the brilliant dialogues between them, here the dialogue almost sabotages the characters by giving them so little to fall back on. The script is the ultimate dude-communication showcase: brief, snappy and only when absolutely necessary. It's not loaded with meaning either, so you won't take away any brilliant quotes or anything like that. And somehow that worked really well for me because when they do get emotional, it's powerful and primal.
Luckily for it, Kai Po Che is more than just a bro-story about how Ishaan, Omi and Govind grow up, become responsible and face their inner demons. Sure, there's that too, but on top of that there's this other layer of growing up in the world as it is right now, a world that forces you to pick sides. This is no Rang de Basanti where corruption was something that the elders were involved in while the heroes were pure as snowflakes. It's not Shanghai where politics exist only to be fought against. And it's certainly not the easy living spirit of Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi.
No one is an idealist in this movie, and the fact that every one of the 3 heroes walks a fine line between selfish prick and devoted friend is what makes them real. I appreciated the ambiguity of their "why"s: why is Ishaan so adamant about protecting Ali: is it to satisfy his own ambitions, or because of his fatherly affection for the kid? Why is Omi so easily sucked into his uncle's political shenanigans: does he truly believe in it or is he just trapped? Why is Govi so ambitious: is he the only one acting like a grown-up or is he just greedy? We're free to think of our own answers, and I'm sure some will pick the worst answers and outright dislike all three characters. Me, I just found them believable, which sometimes is more valuable than finding them likeable.
Sadly what stops it from being a great movie is the pace, and the unnecessary accent on details that everyone knows. We didn't need to be shown the communal riots in Ahmedabad in such detail, even I knew about them. We didn't need to see every single run of every single cricket match, we get it, they're down, then they win (apologies if this is a spoiler but it's supposed to be a historic cup match, so even more of a reason for people to already know what's gonna happen). And we certainly didn't need to see the wounded carried away from the sites of the earthquake crashes. This plague of underestimating your audience's intelligence seems to still be going strong in Indian film makers, and that's sad for a movie as polished as this. The events shown are part of the story, it's true, in fact they make the story, but they should be recognized as catalysts and not given centre stage. Because at the end of the day all we care about is how they'll affect the characters.
One leitmotif that I did appreciate however has to do with the cricket matches and for this I will forgive some of the excessive attention given to the various crickety episodes. I found it telling that almost every make-up scene happens during a cricket match, and throughout the movie it's a theme that keeps coming back: money, politics and religion separate people, sports bring them together. There's one scene in particular that is masterfully done, and that's Omi and Ishaan making up after one of their fights against the backdrop of a cricket match. No words are needed, and no explanations for the audience either, we can feel how powerful that moment was and why such passion simply had to be shared with a best friend. And while on the topic of cricket (of which there's a lot in the film, too much even), I have to say that as a hockey fan I chuckled every time Ishaan would make everyone stand still during an important play. Superstitions are such a big part of watching sports, maybe one of the most fun parts, so it was cool to see that acknowledged, like an inside joke that everyone knows.
Of course none of this whole exercise would work without the performances and, especially with such a sparse script, it's impressive how natural the chemistry is between all these characters. Sushant Singh Rajput is a live wire and we can see why everyone gravitates towards him, he's that guy who makes everything more fun. Raj Kumar Yadav is not surprisingly fabulous in his understated way, and he wins you over from the first scene with Amit Sadh when he breaks into an uncomfortable smile. Speaking of that first scene, Amit Sadh didn't impress me in the whole movie as much as he blew me over in the "present day" scenes. The sorrow in his eyes, his slouched posture as if the weight of the whole world was on his shoulders, his hesitant gestures, we forgive him before even knowing the story. And let's not forget the radiant Amrita Puri who has the difficult task of playing an innocent airhead and a relentless seductress at the same time.
Though I doubt we can forgive her for dressing poor Govind in THAT:
Don't get me wrong, that dandiya song rocked, but was that terrible outfit really necessary? Ugh!
But anyway, since we're talking about songs, I'll spare you the requisite Amit Tridevi homage and just talk about how much I loved the way the songs were juxtaposed with the story. It truly felt like they were traveling with the movie, a string sewing together the different scenes in the story. And with a movie as beautifully shot as this, what more can you ask for?
If there's one objection I have against Kai Po Che is that it tries to be too many things: a sports movie, social commentary, a bromance, a love story, a drama, a disaster movie, and as expected, it can't possibly succeed at all of them. But even while realizing that during the film, by the time the end credits roll up you have to think long and hard about what didn't work for you. And that's what makes a movie worth while. I'd be surprised if this one did poorly at the box office, though if there's a country you can count on for surprises at the box office, it's definitely India.
Kai Po Che (2013, Hindi)
Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav, Amit Sadh, Amrita Puri
Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Music: Amit Trivedi
PS: Last but not least because this has been bugging me: WHICH makers of Rang De Basanti?? Dear Indian trailer copywriters, please stop trying to subliminal message us. It may backfire on you. I for one was put off by the mention of RDB because it's one of my favourite movies and I wasn't in the least bit curious to see a movie that claims to be similar to it. Luckily for me, the two have nothing in common. Well, except for the producers, who happen to also have their hands in just about every moving image that comes with a censor certificate in front of it. So yeah... whatever.
6 hours ago