You can make a half decent, subtle Dil Chahta Hai-esque film, especially if Farhan Akhtar is your co-writer. So when Rock On happened, debutant director Abhishek Kapoor’s contribution was probably underestimated. Rock On went on to get great reviews.
You can also make a mass-based masala entertainer, if Rajkumar Hirani is co-writing it. So when 3 Idiots happened, novelist Chetan Bhagat’s contribution was probably underestimated too. 3 Idiots became the highest grossing Bollywood film that year.
But to make a film that outclasses and outshines both Rock On and 3 Idiots, without having an Akhtar or a Hirani, without having an Arjun Rampal or an Aamir Khan... Wow! Sheer vindication of talent for director Abhishek Kapoor. And writer Chetan Bhagat who has constantly been the butt of all jokes for the dumbing down of Indian literature.
Even after Kai Po Che, the hubris of Bhagat critics will insist that if the film is as classy and sublime as it is, it’s not BECAUSE of Bhagat but IN SPITE of him. (The film is based on his bestseller The 3 Mistakes of My Life.)
That would be unfair.
While he might not be the greatest writer alive, Bhagat certainly knows middle class India better. He knows to capture and pack many facets of young India into simple characters that truly represent the complex realities of the country.
Kai Po Che reminds us of another mostly fantastic approximation of India — Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, a melting pot of culture and boiling communal tensions. A film that resorted to a Utopian ending after neatly facing off one community against another, through strategic character types in a microcosm of India.
Kai Po Che that’s set in Gujarat, another volatile melting pot (known for both Sabarmati Ashram and Sabarmati Express) does what Bombay does more realistically, minus the Utopia, and goes beyond the type.
Three friends in Kai Po Che, each represent one side of India — the capitalist (Rajkumar Yadav as Govind Patel), the political (Amit Sadh as Omkar Shastri) and the emotional (Sushant Singh Rajput as Ishaan Bhatt).
Govind lives by math, probability and profit, Omi by his loyalties, allegiances and conveniences, while Ishaan is all heart, selfless and easily angered. Yet, they all have echoes of each other and end up shaping each other to do exactly the opposite of who they are, by the time the film winds up.
Abhishek Kapoor and Chetan Bhagat pull this off with refreshing restraint and sublime subtlety and continuously keep us at the edge of the seat with a compelling, unpredictable narrative that’s brewing with the tension and volatility of an India torn between capitalists, politicians and dreamers.
This is us. The real middle class India. Real people, not stars. Real houses, not sets. Real clothes not fancy pants. You’ll fall in love with everything about India. And Gujarat.
Kai Po Che is everything that Rock On and 3 Idiots were, put together — dreams and aspirations, friendship standing test of time, the pursuit of excellence, a commentary of our education system and a coming-of-age film with not a single moment of dishonesty. We haven’t seen stronger characterisation, economy in words, visuals or time, in recent mainstream films.
The three leads are a revelation. Rajkumar Yadav, Amit Sadh and Sushant Singh Rajput are the best things to happen to Hindi cinema in a while — intense performers with an electric presence. Amrita Puri, employed as the compassionate personification of love here, will steal your heart once again, after Aisha.
The screenplay of this flawless film is credited to Pubali Choudhari, Supratik Sen, Abhishek Kapoor and Chetan Bhagat and the technical team of Anay Goswami’s cinematography, Amit Trivedi’s music and Deepa Bhatia’s editing couldn’t have tuned this ensemble better, visually and aurally.
The true triumph of a film is how it makes you feel, when you leave, when you look back at it and when it refuses to leave you long after you’ve seen it.
Kai Po Che will leave you choked and feeling good. It will leave you bittersweet. And breathless.
Go watch it. Again and again.