When Govind wakes up on the morning of January 26, 2001, to find the ground beneath his feet shaking and the walls surrounding his rickety bed caving in, his reaction is to run to the nearby mall to see if his newly-purchased shop is still standing. The haunting image of a grown man wailing in despair as he watches the mall crumble, along with his dreams, is one of the many powerful moments in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che!. While the film is based on Chetan Bhagat’s bestseller The 3 Mistakes of My Life, Kapoor’s gripping storytelling (he is also co-screenwriter) and direction surpass Bhagat’s simplistic plot, making the film a pure delight.
Set in Ahmedabad in 2000, Kai Po Che! — which means “I have cut”, a popular phrase chanted during the kite flying festival of Gujarat — is the story of three friends, Ishaan Bhatt (Sushant Singh Rajput), Omi Shastri (Amit Sadh) and Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav). Fiercely loyal, they routinely cover up each others’ shenanigans, yet are remarkably different. While Ishaan is the opinionated, undisputed “group leader”, a former district-level cricketer but now a jobless drifter, Omi is the gullible son of a pujaari whose loyalties are continually divided between his friends and the cunning ambitions of his politician-uncle, Bittu mama. Holding the group together is the ambitious Govind who helms their dreams. Together, they set up Sabarmati Sports, a talent agency, hoping to capitalise on the cricket-loving Gujaratis, and soon, the country. The story traces their success and downfall through two devastating events — the earthquake of 2001 and the post-Godhra carnage of 2002.
The film isn’t another visual odyssey on “bromance” — between Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Rock on!! (2008) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), we’ve had our fill of films on male bonding —, but a mature portrayal of young ambition. Sick of selling papad and giving tuitions, Govind wants to be a successful businessman; to compensate for his own failures, Ishaan takes under his wings the batting prodigy Ali Hashmi (Digvijay Deshmukh), a decision that changes their lives. While Omi aspires to be a mere vocal element initially, he goes on to become a prominent player in the political events in the state. Ambition also comes with innocence that is easily exploited — it is this paradox that Kapoor portrays with great expertise. His characters cling to the belief that “youth hi future hai”.
There is no effort to preach or pass commentary on the two calamitous events that shaped Gujarat’s political landscape in the coming years; Kapoor depicts the devastation caused by the earthquake and the riots as isolated events — we only see their significance in the lives of the three men, ripped apart by circumstance and choice.
Kai Po Che! is an ensemble effort. While Sadh and Rajput are television have-beens, their performances are applause-worthy. Rajput, who gallops, runs and struts across Ahmedabad (mostly shirtless), fits into the role of the smug, yet insecure small-town celebrity with ease. His dialogue delivery is explosive and he dominates most scenes. Sadh gives a restrained performance, transforming expertly from the naive Omi to a commanding voice while campaigning for Bittu mama. Kumar’s Govind is the most relatable character, driven to succeed, yet vulnerable to female attraction. Watch out for Govind’s terrific tirade when he finds that the shop’s meagre savings had been given to Ali’s family after the earthquake.
Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack creates memorable moments. “Manjha” is beautifully shot and comforting. The film meanders into the age-old debate between sports and academics and has a rather unconvincing resolution. But beyond that, Kapoor delivers a powerful film with stellar performances.