A few minutes into the second half of Kai Po Che, you see events unfold against the backdrop of the historic Test match between India and Australia in 2001, where – riding on VVS Laxman’s 281 and Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick – India came back from a losing position to win miraculously. The montage, spread over five days of the Test, shows interactions between the film’s characters, their moods and behaviour reflecting the ups and downs the national cricket team undergoes in the match.
When India wins on the fifth day, residents of a bustling area in Ahmedabad break into a rapturous celebration, and two friends – upset with each other after a tiff – run towards each other from different parts of the locality, forgetting personal differences and joining in the festivities together. It’s a very real moment, executed with the help of a clever build-up that culminates in that scene.
It’s a feature that is constant with director Abhishek Kapoor’s third film – he builds plot brick-by-brick through its running time, all the while aiming for an emotion-ridden finale. While the pay-off is surely rewarding, the lack of a strong story for a large part does bother. Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of my Life, which forms the basis of this film, lacked narrative heft to begin with. Screenplay writers Pubali Chaudhuri and Suprateek Sen, along with Kapoor and Bhagat, do well to pad up the rather plain structure with warm, genuine moments. The ending is tweaked too, and it’s for the better.
The first half focuses on little other than the camaraderie between the three protagonists – Ishaan, Omi and Govind – and other characters like Omi’s politician mama (a Hindu hardliner), Ishaan’s sister Vidya and a boy called Ali. While the three actors bring freshness to the drama with their unpractised ease and earnestness, the male-bonding scenes seem straight out of Rang De Basanti, where shirtless boys running through fields and diving into a lake in slo-mo seemed a lot cooler.
What makes the film rather enjoyable, then, is the acting – the cast has been picked with commendable precision by Mukesh Chhabra – and the effective use of some brilliant cinematography and music. Bhagat’s fictional story is set against the backdrop of real events (the 2001 earthquake, the Test series and the 2002 Gujarat riots), which in itself is a novelty for Hindi film audiences. The last 40 minutes is where the meat lies, and unlike many Hindi films that fall apart in the third act, Kai Po Che pulls all the right strings when it matters and leaves you on a high.
It’s refreshing to see young actors cast in lead roles purely for their ability to portray their characters better than others, and each of them – Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh and Raj Kumar Yadav – makes the character his own. Rajput, presented as the leader of the pack, displays boyish charm and is supremely confident in his debut film effort. Sadh gets the least play among the three actors, but shines when it counts. Manav Kaul (as the politician), Amrita Puri (who plays Vidya) and Digvijay Deshmukh (as Ali) are all brilliantly cast.
The film’s standout’s performance, though, comes from Raj Kumar Yadav, an actor who’s managed to leave a mark in every role he’s enacted so far, irrespective of screen time. In Kai Po Che, he gets his meatiest part yet, and bites into it with self-assuredness and rare understanding. From the cocky Delhi chap who shot a sex video on the sly in Love Sex aur Dhokha to the hardworking Gujarati boy in Kai Po Che, Yadav has shown enough grit in a short career to be counted among the actors to watch out.
Kapoor makes good use of the tools he has at his disposal – actors, visuals, sound, etc – to narrate a mediocre story engagingly, like a good filmmaker should. Props must be given to cinematographer Anay Goswami, who brings the film alive with his sepia-tinged frames, while the three Amit Trivedi songs blend in beautifully with the narrative. Hitesh Sonik’s background score is special.
Kai Po Che seems to have been made with much passion and dedication, and its intentions override its shortcomings (a patchy first half, thin plot). Casting, cinematography and music are the film’s three heroes.
By Aniruddha Guha on February 21 2013