Reviewing ‘Kai Po Che’ Abhishek Kapoor’s Screen Adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s Popular Novel

SUMMARY: Abhishek Kapoor‘s Skillful Adaptation of Chetan Bhagat‘s Prosaic Novel Makes Kai Po Che A Rich And Engaging Experience Overall, However The First Half Is A Tad Predictable

Usually, I would not recommend a Chetan Bhagat novel to anyone. My lack of love for the author stemmed after reading ‘The Three Mistakes of My Life‘, his only work I’ve read. Finding his writing style prosaic and his characters’ world uninteresting, I could not push myself to touch any of his other books though I own all his earlier works (birthday gifts). But now, I think I have some people whom I would surely recommend his novels to: while anybody who reads great English works will not generally waste his or her time with a Chetan Bhagat book, I believe any talented scriptwriter or director should get his hands on a Chetan Bhagat book, which have proved to become great film adaptations, and turn it into a fine film with the help of a talented crew who rise above expectations, breathing some vitality and maturity into the stale characters penned by the author in his works.

In fact, Bhagat can change his profession by entering screen writing or start pitching good ideas for cinema. Take Three Idiots for example, which was based partially on ‘5 Point Someone‘ and proved to be one of the most watched films of the year and though ‘Hello’ which was adapted from ‘One Night At A Call Center’ tanked, Kai Po Che is the second time a Chetan Bhagat novel has proved to work as a great adaptation. Abhishek Kapoor, the film’s director and scriptwriter is able to visually present with great effect the motifs in the novel, and while his approach is safer and more faithful to the novel than 3 Idiots, KPC is very absorbing nevertheless thanks to the arresting background score and honest, understated performances.

The motif working best in KPC is that of the television which repeatedly appears to influence the lives of the film’s characters. When the film begins, the television appears first when Omi (Amit Sadh), just out of jail is taken by his close friend Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav) to a café/restaurant where people are watching a cricket match. In the next shot, an Indian batsman who is to play in that very match is seen watching the game. Then moment cuts to flashback where a young Omi is watching the game with his best buddy Ishaan (Sushant Singh). And as the movie progresses, taking us through the lives of the three men with differing attitudes and ambitions, the television motif recur, appearing as news presentations during the Gujarat earthquake and more importantly the riot segments. And with each appearance, something in their lives and kinship changes and Abhishek Kapoor is able to film his characters’ personal struggles rising from conflict internalization skillfully. It shows that the director has a good idea about the difference such motifs can create in transcending a simplistic plot to a rich and engaging experience.

The plot is simple and, if not for the tragedies struck in the second half, quite predictable. Ishaan is an ex-cricket player who opens a sports shop cum tuition center along with his buddies Omi and Govind, using Omi’s uncle’s money. So while Govind runs his mathematics classes, Omi handles the shop and Ishaan trains youngsters in the sport of cricket. Ishaan sees a great potential in young Ali, who hits sixes on the leg-side in almost every ball but does not have enough stamina to last more than a few overs and also never plays off-side, and he decides to train the kid so he can play in major tournaments and fulfill (vicariously) Ishaan’s own unrealized dream of representing the Indian team. Omi meanwhile tries to extricate himself from his uncle’s repeated insistence on joining his political party until later in the movie. Govind on the other hand dreams of shifting their business inside a mall, which he believes has a great possibility to flourish in the future (remember, the movie is mostly told through flashbacks and the time period is still the early 90s). Under Ishaan’s insistence, he teaches mathematics to Ishaan’s younger sister Vidya but their classes soon turns into romantic dates and the two soon fall in love. The first tragedy in the form of Gujarat earthquake hits just before the interval, while the second, the Gujarat riots, strikes just when everything slowly starts turning to normalcy for the characters.

Before interval, I heard a number of members in the crowd grumble that the movie was slow. It would rather say that everything until the earthquake segment felt like something we’d seen many times before. Actually, almost all the youth-centric films in India seem to progress in a similar patters: introduction of characters and their inter- relationships, one main romantic subplot, happy moments where the lead characters take long drives, drink and rejoice, all shot brilliantly (so in a majority of the movies, I find the cinematography flawless) but also quite predictably. The predictability of dialogs is another thing hampering almost every Indian film, and I believe that’s because the range and skill of improvisation in many Indian actors/directors is underdeveloped.

Post interval, things are set right when the trust and common ambition among the lead characters unravel with changing and worsening times. All three male leads are all right, but I found that they did as the script told them without the extra factor that lends complexity to their characters. For example, Sushant could’ve worked more on the plot involving his desire to see Ishaan in the Indian team, a desire he himself couldn’t fulfill; this is actually a condition in psychology and had Sushant conveyed this more through his gestures and expressions to the audience, it would’ve added depth to his role. It is Amrita Puri who gives the best shot, sounding more convincing as a Gujarati (Sushant’s accent slips a lot) girl who is spirited, charming and optimistic.

Most impressive attention-to-detail segment: Omi outside theater in queue for Basic Instinct, a film released in the 90s.

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