It’s safe to say that Hrithik Roshan’s friendship tale Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Aamir Khan’s Dil Chahta Hai has spoilt us rotten. These two coming-of-age blockbusters about three friends with deep pockets, posh accents, swanky cars and a penchant for fancy vacations had appeased our appetite for friends forever sagas. But when the trailers of Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che reached us, the big question was whether Bollywood still had an appetite for more male bonding? The trailer even included that cliched big-screen exercise of unadulterated joy among three boys as they hang out together and execute an impromptu jump into a water body (perhaps a trademark of director Abhishek Kapoor, who also used it in Rock On!!).
But my scepticism ended right there. The movie has a lot more than just thick friends, small misunderstandings and magical resolves at the end. Kai Po Che enters unfamiliar territory, where the heroes are scruffy and their misunderstandings real.
Set in troubled the Indian state of Gujarat in early 2000, the first-half introduces three friends trying to make it big in the world of highly competitive business by opening a cricket academy and sports store for hopefuls. There’s Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) the effortlessly confident and passionate one, Omi (Amit Sadh), the hot-headed one, and Govind Patel (Raj Kumar Yadav) the pragmatic one. The first hour establishes their deep friendship. They belong to the middle-class India where money is not easy to come by and fun times don’t always mean hitting swanky nightclubs. The first half cruises along comfortably as we get used to their endearing camaraderie. Perfectly cast, we feel invested in all these young boys. Rajput, with his effortless acting is a mix of Hrithik Roshan’s looks and Shah Rukh Khan’s impish on-screen charms; Sadh, with his mercurial temperament, exudes a nervous energy that defines his character Omi and Yadav wins you over with his earnest logic.
The going was so good that as a viewer you felt as if the good ride will be marred soon by the proverbial love tangles. Fortunately, drama doesn’t always come in the female form in Kai Po Che. Kapoor uses the backdrop of two epic events that rocked Gujurat in early 2000s to propel his film forward.
The 2001 earthquake that killed thousands and the bloody Hindu-Muslim communal clashes that divided Gujurat are used as an effective backdrop for an explosive second-half. There’s lots going on — with their dreams, business and society crashing down around them — but director Kapoor manages to keep the chaos under control.
It was also refreshing to see that all the three actors, who had substantial roles, did not stoop down to one-upmanship. The result? The viewers were rooting for all the underdogs.
Another plus: no songs to dilute the event-filled narrative. The background remains in the background but complements the film. Kai Po Che, a victory cry in kite flying festivals, emerges triumphant.