If you show a gun in the first act, it better be fired in a latter act – is a famous dramatic principle proposed by the Russian playwright Anton Chekov. In Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che, we are shown this gun very early on when we are just warming up to the three main characters of this wonderful movie. If you know of Chekov’s gun, you are already thinking : “When, who, and at whom will this gun be fired at?”. You are waiting for the conflict even before the conflict – there is this sense of doom all through the sunniest scenes of this movie. I have not read Chetan Bhagat’s book on which this movie is based but I can say it with confidence that this movie is an example of how average literary work can be transformed into a beautiful cinematic adaptation.
A coming of age film about three male friends has been done a number of times in the past, most recently with Zindagi na milegi dobara, Rock on, and Dil chahta hai. How is this movie different? I wouldn’t be amiss in saying that the previous films dealt with problems of privileged people and hence their conflicts were at the best imaginary to most of us. With Omi (Amit Sadh), Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav), and Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) we get thrown into conflicts which could happen to you or I. They are ordinary youth of India at the turn of the century who just want to be a part of the “India Shining” crowd. However, they get caught up in the aftermath of the historical events that unfold around them. Events, that shape them in becoming the men that would define the rest of their lives – and not just the time we spend with them in the cinemas. We can see what they have become even after the end credits roll, we can imagine them living their lives. This is where Kai po che is a very different film from the other “3 friends coming of age” films and might I declare a bit presumptuously that it can very well be the best film of 2013 (of course, just my opinion).
Rarely do I come across a movie where I wanted to spend some more time with the characters. At just over 2 hours, Kai po che felt shorter than it’s duration. The direction (Abhishek Kapoor), editing (Deepa Bhatia), background score (Amit Trivedi), camerawork (Anay Goswami), and the production design (Sonal Sawant) are so in harmony with each other that they seem absent individually. I would want to give a special mention to production design which keeps cricket and religion in almost every frame without making it look deliberate: men dressed in religious garbs, pictures of gods on the walls, pictures of cricketing stars right next to those of the gods, a quiet prayer in the background, cricket matches telecast on TV, tolling of temple bells, vermilion smeared on foreheads, etc. The audience is literally “immersed” in the surroundings that Omi, Ishaan, and Govind live in. (Honestly speaking, you are never too far from cricket and religion in any Indian city, and the staging of the movie stays true to this in a very casual sort of way). The background score by Amit Trivedi is quietly stirring and non-intrusive to the proceedings. All of these film-making departments come to head in a wonderfully staged scene: India has defeated Australia in a test match, the mood prior to the match has been sour, Omi and Ishaan have had a fight in a previous scene, the entire neighborhood erupts watching the victory on television, friends forget their differences, and soak themselves up in the euphoria of “cricket” over Amit Trivedi’s brilliant “Maanja” – it is an enthralling piece of film-making. Just one sample of the amazing teamwork by the entire crew!
From the people behind the screen to those on the screen: all actors live their characters and deliver honest performances. Sushant Singh Rajput is already making waves and we will naturally be seeing more of this actor. Acting can be tricky when you are merely reacting to, or not in the focus of a scene, too often I have noticed forced reactions or awkward fidgeting even from seasoned actors when they are required merely to react to someone or something else that is in focus on the screen. Notice in this movie how well the three actors go through their non-focus scenes – example: when Ishaan barges into Govind’s math tuition class to teach some cricketing techniques to one of his favorite cricket disciples and takes over the class. Notice in this scene how Raj Kumar Yadav performs from the sidelines. You might have to go for a second viewing to focus on the actor who is not the cynosure of the scene to understand this acting-while-you-are-not-the-focus-of-the-scene concept.
Back to Chekov’s gun, the narrative eventually takes us to the firing of this gun, the impact is brutal and also underscores the validity of the showing of that gun in the first act. The way the movie ends, you might accuse it of being naive` and simplistic for problems that are so complex and widespread, however I saw it as simply a story of three friends who are caught up in these complex and widespread problems and never as a movie that tries to delve into causes and solutions of the said problems. It is about ordinary individual lives and hence the ending was entirely satisfactory to me personally. (I will also confess that I strongly identify myself as one of the intensely naive characters in the movie and hence, the ending worked for me : gives me and the people like me “hope” and what is life if not for a bit of “foolish hope”?)
P.S: Watch out for Sunita Rao’s long forgotten “Pari” make an endearing appearance!