Title: KAI PO CHE (2013)
Stars: Amit Sadh as Omi, Sushant Singh Rajput as Ishaan, Rajkummar Rao as Govind, Amrita Puri as Vidya, and Digvijay Deshmukh as Ali
Director: Abishek Kapoor
Music: Amrit Trivedi (composer), Swanand Kirkire and Shruti Pathak (lyrics), Hitesh Sonik (background score)
Singers: Amrit Trivedi, Mohan Kanan, Shruti Pathak, Divya Kumar, Mili Nair
Other: Special appearance by former cricketer Ajay Jadeja
Basic Plot: Three middle-class slacker friends in Gujarat change and grow, even as Indian cricket becomes not just a livelihood but a life-changer that overcomes communal boundaries.
Ishaan, a former district-level cricket player; Omi, the son of a priest and nephew of a local politician; and Govind, the “geek” with a plan, have been friends from childhood. The film opens with Omi being let out of jail and Govind picking him up. On the way to a cricket match, we see what they’re remembering from a time maybe ten years ago, and that’s the time frame in which most of the story takes place. They’re young adults who are drifting — just hanging out and not doing much with their education or abilities. Their parents are getting sick of it and not too inspired by their motivation and attitude, but Govind convinces Ishaan’s dad to back them for a sports store/sports academy … right before Ishaan blows it all with his temper and arrogance.
The dad tears up the signed check, and the guys are back at square one. They end up getting help from Omi’s uncle, a local politician. The uncle helps gladly, but it seems to be a help with hooks that will ultimately pull Omi deeper and deeper into the world of Hindu politics.
Meanwhile, Ishaan turns out to be a genius at coaching kids and really puts himself into developing and being there for a local Muslim kid, who’s something of a prodigy as a batsman. Govind manages the business and gradually falls for Ishaan’s sister Vidya, whom he’s tutoring, and they begin dating secretly.
In the end, everything is brought to a crisis by an earthquake, the Ghodra train burning, which caused the death of Omi’s parents, and local communal riots in which Hindus led by Omi’s uncle seek revenge for the killing of innocents on the train at the hands of Muslims (different Muslims than the ones in their neighborhood, obviously, but that doesn’t make a difference).
I was prepared not to like the guys because self-centered, life-sucking rude slackers tend to annoy me. I simply have a hard time sympathizing with arrogant users who give nothing back while treating those they rely on with the utmost contempt. Ishaan, in particular, had an attitude and temper that were out of control. (Bashing in the windshield of a guy for honking his horn … really?)
What I did like in Kai Po Che was seeing them grow, and watching those golden moments of being young and free, jumping into the clear blue sky to the water far below.
I liked watching Vidya flirt with Govind, seeing her free enough to do that (and knowing he was the kind of guy she could trust to treat her well regardless).
I liked seeing Ishaan’s devotion to Ali, the Muslim boy who’s a genius at bat, and who has no idea how good he really is — or what it could mean to his future.
I liked that the guys made mistakes and screwed things up royally, but it was never quite enough to end the friendship.
I especially liked that once Ishaan had taken Ali under his wing, nothing could change it — not his temper, or Ali’s immaturity, or the communal violence that followed. In that area, I began to see what others might see in Ishaan: his devotion, his natural gift for leadership turned to good purpose. Because just as he could be so unswervingly certain he was right when he was tearing up a stranger’s car, so, too, he was unshakeable in the face of public opinion, the stances of his friends, or real danger. It was a shining kind of bravery and, when I saw it, I could admire him even if I couldn’t fully like him.
I’d give Kai Po Che maybe 4 stars out of 5. The acting and cinematography are good and the story decent. It’s not a family film — the language and violence make it right for about high-school age and up. It also had what I’ll call “mature themes” but nothing graphic (meaning you know only by conversation precisely how far Vidya’s relationship with Govind has gone). Still, good fodder for discussion, particularly regarding the misuse of religion to divide neighbors and infuse politics with a destructive fanaticism, as has historically been the case for India. (Think the Goa Inquisition … Partition … Gandhi’s assassination … anti-Sikh pogroms … anti-Hindu/Muslim/Christian/Buddhist, etc., violence. I don’t have room for it all here. It’s frightful.) Also good for pondering how to cross that divide.
Some have said that in India, cricket is a religion. It’s certainly a bridge. That’s one of the best things this film does: Much as Lagaan did, Kai Po Che shows how even religious differences can take a backseat to the accomplishment of a common goal, as with cricket. And while faith is important in the life, death, and experience of a human being and should be embraced for its beauty and the meaning it brings — the “why” it gives to all the “whats” we do — it is the common goal that’s needed to unite India (or any place) as a nation.
The movie also shows the random ugliness of these communal riots meted out strictly on the basis of categories, without regard for the individual’s character, or whether he or she is really an enemy — the cycle of violence as each side craves revenge on the other. In this case, we see how the communal violence is not only (and obviously) destructive to the intended victims, but also to the ones who perpetrate it.
In that vein, I think Kai Po Che shows the ugliness that results from being what you’re not. If Ishaan and Govind begin to come into focus as they embrace and develop their natural gifts — cricket/coaching and business/love, respectively — Omi starts to blur. He succeeds yet loses himself as he is shaped more and more by the uncle, becoming something he never wanted to be.