Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che brings to the screen Chetan Bhagat’s tale of the hopes and aspirations of middle-class India

While Hollywood is making all these super movies out of sub-continental classics — Life of Pi, Midnight’s Children and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, we are not lagging behind with book adaptations. So what if our author of choice is Chetan Bhagat? After the hilarious (whenever Chatur’s speech comes on telly, it is difficult not to grin) and super successful 3 Idiots based on Bhagat’s Five Point Someone, comes Kai Po Che based on Bhagat’s 2008 novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life.

Ahead of its February 22 release, the film directed by Abhishek Kapoor, had its premiere at the 63rd Berlinale in the Panorama section. The film, like the book tells the story of three young men growing up in Gujarat. Set against the backdrop of the 2002 riots, the film tells a charming tale of the hopes and aspirations growing up in an economy that is opening up and the seismic (both literal and figurative) shifts this kind of economic growth brings with it.

Abhishek, who wrote and directed the groovy Rock On!! spoke of the challenges of adapting Bhagat’s novel. “Chetan approached me with the book. I had to decide how much to keep, how much to take out. If I was taking something out, then I had to put something in which would have an effect on the whole movie. The film is derivative but can stand independent of the book.”

Working with new talent

While 3 Idiots had an A-list cast — Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Kareena Kapoor, Kai Po Che is powered by youngsters. Telly star Sushant Singh Rajput plays the live wire Ishaan, whose life revolves around cricket and his friends. Amit Sadh plays the easily influenced Omi while Raj Kumar Yadav (Gangs of Wasseypur II, Shaitan) plays Govind, the entrepreneur in the making who has big dreams. Amrita Puri plays Ishaan’s sister and Govind’s love interest Vidya.

“While casting I was looking for energy and innocence,” Abhishek says. “Stars come with their own baggage. I did approach a few stars and they refused. I understand where they are coming from. The age bracket I was looking at, the stars are just establishing themselves and would be wary of accepting a three-hero project. I don’t take it personally if stars say no. So many actors refused Rock On!! Arjun Rampal agreed to work in the film and got a National Award! So it all works out for the best.”

Though both Rock On!! and Kai Po Che deal with friendship, bonding and growing up, Abhishek insists the movies come from different places. “I wrote Rock On!!. It came from me, while Kai Po Che is an adaptation. The distance between the upper class and the middle class in India is so vast, that it might as well be another country! In Rock On!!, the characters and responses were cerebral while Kai Po Che is in a more reactive space. In fact, I consider myself lucky to be able to make two films with similar themes in two very different ways.”

Detailing is an important part of the film — be it the basic mobile phones of 2002, the Basic Instinct poster or even the political party symbols. “Nothing is in a frame by accident,” Abhishek says. “As far as the party symbols and flags go, yes we didn’t want to offend people. Kai Po Che is about friendship and people. It is not about who did what. Enough has been said, now it is time to look for some sort of healing. It is time to forgive and forget or at least move on. Ishaan is the purest character in the film. He is not preachy, his loss is emblematic of all of us losing a vital part of our self. The movie doesn’t end on a sad note — rather it ends on an optimistic one, of there being hope for the future in the form of the batsman Ali. His cricket debut at the end of the film is emblematic of keeping dreams alive. This is not a Bollywood film, it is an Indian film. Politics, religion, cricket and movies — it is my interpretation of India.”

(The writer was in Berlin at the invitation of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan)