If Bollywood director Abhishek Kapoor of ‘Rock On!’ fame lived in an ideal world, he would have nabbed established stars for his friendship film ‘Kai Po Che!’.
“But during my engagements with them, I realised that they were not really interested in their parts or roles. What they were more interested was knowing what the other two boys were doing,” said Kapoor as he wolfed down a potato salad at a restaurant in Mumbai. But he didn’t let such a hiccup stand in his way of taking forward his ambitious project, based on Chetan Bhagat’s best seller ‘The 3 Mistakes of My Life’.
“I understand their predicament. They were all in a stage in their careers where they want to do solo projects that focus on them. I didn’t want to make a film in which there was one hero and two flunkies as his best friends. When crew members come on board, they think: ‘what can I do for the film?’ and when a star comes aboard, he asks: ‘what can the film do for me?’ I get them. They are insecure and vulnerable,” said Kapoor.
But a Bollywood hero’s reject turned out to be a newbie’s gain. Enter three unknowns in the form of Sushant Singh Rajput (who plays Ishaan), Rajkumar Yadav (as Govind Patel) and Amit Sadh (as Omi). Between them, they have a few hit TV serials, talent hunt shows and off-beat indie features.
“I held auditions for all the three boys together. It was an extensive search but the hunt paid off. What I had in my hands were some fantastic actors. They are collectively 99 per cent more actors than the actors we have in business today,” said Kapoor.
It’s not a tall claim. At a press screening of the film last week, Rajput and his comrades got a standing ovation. Might I say, we were even slightly teary eyed. There, I said it.
‘Kai Po Che!’ isn’t your typical cloying Bollywood friendship drama (you know the ones: rich, urbane boy characters; stars high in the food chain getting the best lines and opportunities to flex their acting and dancing skills). Here, there are no posh convertibles or exotic beach destinations as welcome distractions. ‘Kai Po Che!’, set in the early 2000s in troubled Gujarat, is a tale about three restless friends with empty pockets and big dreams — gritty, real and not synthetic.
“We were not selfishly acting. We were reacting to each other on the big screen. There wasn’t a hint of rivalry among us,” said Rajput.
The chemistry among the close-knit trio is palpable on screen. Refreshingly earnest in their portrayals, viewers will root for these three childhood pals to make it big in the bad world of business. The movie begins on a positive note, with three young guns establishing a cricket training academy to churn out India’s future stars. But twists and turns in their business and the world around them change the dynamics of their friendship.
“Friendship is a universal emotion. If you have something interesting to say, then the world would connect to it. Whether you are in New York or Dubai, people will connect to this movie. When I read the script, I had not yet read Chetan Bhagat’s book. But I found the script compelling. My character has almost 51 shades to it. There are so many layers to all of us,” said Rajput.
The 27-year-old TV actor from Patna was already a household name prior to ‘Kai Po Che!’. His role in the complicated soap opera ‘Pavitra Rishta’, in which he plays a good-hearted mechanic with a fractured love life, had millions of takers.
“I didn’t realise how popular Sushant was until I saw the crowd gathering in Ahmedabad screaming out for Manav. I was like: ‘who is that?’,” said Kapoor. “I didn’t even know he was a ‘Jhalak Dhikla Ja’ dancing champion. But when I did, I told him that there was not really much scope for dancing in my film.”
Rajput didn’t mind. According to him, a film that can move a person to tears with dancing and songs in less than three hours is an admirable feat.
“Plus, I can’t do everything in my first film. Can I?” joked Rajput. He is now tipped to be the toast of Bollywood after being plucked from obscurity, with prestigious production house Yash Raj Films offering him a role alongside rising star Parineeti Chopra in their next venture, helmed by director Maneesh Sharma (‘Band Baaja Baarat’).
But things weren’t always be this rosy. Rajput has served his time and put in several years in the television industry before his big screen break. So, what took him so long to take that plunge?
“I did theatre for five years, television for three years and I was thinking of studying filmmaking in the US when ‘Kai Po Che!’ audition calls happened. Once I read the script, I knew that this is it. Before that, I received three or four unexciting offers. I didn’t want to settle for something that I wasn’t convinced about,” said Rajput.
He isn’t alone. Conviction in their product is that one emotion that binds the ‘Kai Po Che!’ team. Writer Chetan Bhagat, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kapoor, Pubali Chaudhari and Supratik Sen, feels the screen adaptation does justice to his book.
“I have seen the film and it’s really good. I am not saying it because I am involved in it. It has this incredible connect,” said Bhagat. It wouldn’t be the first time: Aamir Khan’s blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’ was based on his book ‘Five Point Someone’. Bhagat believes with ‘Kai Po Che!’, which refers to the victory cry that kite flyers holler when their string manages to strike off competition, a winner lies in their hands. The film opened to good reviews when it premiered at the recent Berlinale Film Festival.
“I just knew we had a great movie in our hands when I saw the scene in which Ishaan and Omi re-unite. It’s my favourite part,” said Rajput.
Fortunately, the movie moves beyond close friendships and re-unions and doesn’t gloss over the realities that dominated Gujarat in early 2000. Communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims and the devastating earthquakes have been depicted realistically.
“We are not taking any sides. Communal clashes were the pretext to a story essentially about friendship and three boys growing up,” said Rajput.