September 10, 2013: Kai Po Che! is not your usual 3-way bromance

Jenny K: When I read Julie’s reactions to her latest DVD, Kai Po Che!  (2013), I was flooded with waves of déjà vu…I know that sounded familiar to me, that plot…and it was!  I went to see Kai Po Che! at the theaters with my friend Pat back last February.  Julie was kind enough to dig up my original reactions so we can compare them…as follows.

Jenny K:  Sometimes I wish I research films more before I plunk down my hard-earned-paisa at the movie theater!  The trailers are right out there, but did I watch them?  No.  Check it out.

Not saying that I didn’t like parts of it, but I had skimmed the positive review in Rediff (planning to review it myself, so didn’t want to prejudice myself) and had seen the director’s name, Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On!) and the Chetan Bhagat tie-in…well, I went in expecting a Dil Chahta Hai/ZNMD buddy-comedy-drama about cricket, and didn’t get the sentimental feel-good film I expected.

What we expected

What we expected

Julie M:  I must say that I was expecting the same thing, based on that trailer which did seem to focus on the bromance aspect and the joyful title (a shout of triumph in Gujarati, from kite flying), and was a bit disappointed as well, but I still liked it for what it was…mostly.

What it's really like

What it’s really like

Plot summary: Omi (Amit Sadh), Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Govi (Raj Kumar Yadav) are best friends from childhood, now all grown up and out of college but going nowhere. Their dream is to open a cricket supply store/coaching school, but they have no money. Omi ends up borrowing what they need–twice–from his rich uncle Bittoo (Manav Kaul).  The boys open the shop and it goes very well, but ironically, they start to drift apart just as they have made their dream a reality.  Omi is guilted into assisting Bittoo in his political ambitions, and finds that he likes the work and believes in Bittoo’s ultra-conservative Hindu party beliefs.   Ishaan discovers Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), a young Muslim cricket prodigy and the son of Bittoo’s political rival, and he spends more and more time coaching him on the field and befriending him and his family.  Govi secretly takes up with Ishaan’s sister and in order to feel less bad about deceiving him (and to avoid Ishaan’s wrath:  he is very protective about his sister), spends less time around his friend.  Things come to a head when political feuds turn personal, and a final confrontation turns their mutual lives into a tragedy.

 Jenny K:  I was very off-put with Ishaan’s short-fuse, touchy character, at least until he started teaching Ali.  He kept acting as if everything was owed to him, the shop, the money to start the shop, success, everything, when all he had going for him was playing talent (so he says) and the arrogance of the young.  When he snaps at outsiders, and also his partners, I found it very hard to sympathize with his problems, at least in the first half…and in the second, the change in him comes almost too late for me.

Julie M:  That didn’t bother me so much.  I felt it rang fairly true that this washed-up (at age, what, 22? 23?) cricketer would have intense amounts of anger and feel the world owed him.  It’s not made explicit what derailed his career, but it makes sense that once he finds a protégé he would mellow out and feel that his life had purpose again.  He’s even willing to risk his friendships to keep that relationship going:  witness this scene where Ishaan steals money from the business in order to help Ali’s family rebuild after a devastating earthquake:  

Jenny K:  When the film went very political about two thirds of the way through I, not knowing enough of the local political subtleties, was rather lost about who was affiliated with whom, and why things escalated so quickly. I got the Hindu versus Muslim part, but I wasn’t sure if any of the three guys was, in fact, Muslim. Didn’t think so, but it might have made things clearer for me.

Julie M:  None of the guys was Muslim, but Ishaan was protecting Ali and had come to love Ali’s family.  He was acting in the family’s interests and that’s how he ended up where he did.  I had the same problem you did:  I felt that this final premise tearing our trio irrevocably apart seemed overly contrived and almost TV-movie-ish:  set up for the purposes of this narrative. Yes, I know it was an actual historical event but the narrative seemed squeezed in around it.

Kai-Po-Che PosterJenny K:  The actors, all relative newcomers, gave very realistic, affecting performances (Raj Kumar Yadav had done a nice bit in Talaash) but I felt the plot of the three life-long friends pooling their talents to start their business had been done better for me in Shuttlecock Boys, even though this film is more polished. It seemed to me that in stretching his scope as a director, Mr. Kapoor may have left the clarity and focus that he had achieved so well in Rock On! a film that I have watched several times, each time liking it more. Too much diversity of theme and intention is not always the best thing, especially in the shorter two hour format. Everything felt a bit thin and unsatisfying for me. I’d be interested to know how desi audiences took to it, or fans of the book.

Julie M:  Yeah, I thought that the fact it was taken from a wildly popular (but critically panned) Chetan Bhagat book would speak well to it.  Not as bad as that horror Hello that Bhagat wrote the screenplay for.  At least he surrounded himself with a team this time.

Jenny K:  Have you read The 3 Mistakes of My Life, the book this film is based on?

Julie M:  No:  I couldn’t stand attempting another CB book.  Not my style.  But his books tend to be humorous on at least one level, and this film had zero humor at all.  Only one brief scene where they all smiled simultaneously, and that’s it.

Jenny K:  Though I haven’t read any of Bhagat’s books, I’d tend to agree, having seen 3 Idiots, that this interpretation was abnormally solemn.  The songs brought some lift to the spirits, but not enough.  I liked this song, but it felt like one from DCH and sounded like a Shankar-Eshaan-Loy one from ZNMD 

Julie M:  It’s almost becoming a trope, three guys “coming of age” and facing tragedy, to the strains of singer-songwriter music.  I liked Shuttlecock Boys better—it just felt less self-conscious about being a Message Movie.

Overall I felt that KPC had a lot of potential but in the end just left me cold.  Because the action of the film was a giant flashback you know the ending–most of it, anyway–and once the political situation comes to a head you’ve figured it all out, and the denouement is almost boring.  Except for the final scene, which I felt was tender and perfect and brought me almost to tears.

I agree with you that the cast was excellent and it is worth watching for their performances, and to me, for Sushant Singh Rajput alone. And it seems that he comes by the cricket knowledge honestly:  his sister is a state-level cricketer!  He’s definitely one to watch.

Jenny K:  He sure is the flavor of the month, these days.  Did you see…he has a new movie out, Shuddh Desi Romance, that has been getting pretty good reviews. I’m planning to go see it, soon. 

Julie M:  I noticed that one too—made a mental note to follow it up in a couple of months, because by the time I get the time to go out to the theater it is likely to have left.

Feb. 18, 2012: Smacking it Over the Net

Jenny K:  Recently Julie and I got the rare treat of watching an Indian film…

Julie M:  Not SO rare, since we do it several times a week around here!

Jenny K:  Well, let me finish…the rare treat of watching an Indian film, not in our local cinema, but getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a new filmmaker, Hemant Gaba, and his first feature film, Shuttlecock Boys, before it reaches the multiplexes.

Filmmaker Hemant Gaba

Julie M:  And we didn’t have to eat one kernel of stale popcorn to do it.

Jenny KShuttlecock Boys is quietly making its way around the international filmfest circuit, hitting New York, Chicago and Seattle along with home festival venues in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Shimla, finding its audience city by city.  I found it through Facebook…of course, where else?

I home in like a guided missile on anything on the net tagged India and Cinema, and when browsing one day, I found mention of Shuttlecock Boys and was delighted by the sweetness of the trailer.

The difficulties that they faced getting it made at all, as chronicled in an article on dearcinema.com, were daunting.  I was won over by this “Little Engine That Could” style of film promotion, and was determined to catch the film when it was shown in New York last fall at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival…until work got in the way, again.

Thankfully, Hemant didn’t let it rest there.  When I wrote to ask where there would be other chances to see it, he wrote back and told me that he could let me, and Julie, too, check it out for ourselves…

Julie M:  So glad we were too, because it was a real treat to feel like such a film insider, at least for me, who rarely goes to film festivals.

Jenny K:  The premise of the film, not to give anything away that’s not in their trailer, is a classic dilemma with a unique solution.  Four friends who have grown up together sharing their hopes and dreams, usually while batting a badminton shuttlecock around in their neighborhood streets, decide that their only hope to escape their uninspiring, middle-class fate is to become a team off the court as well.

All of their individual strengths are needed to achieve their seemingly hopeless dream of opening a corporate catering company.  One of the young men is a talented, if currently unemployed cook; another is a student accountant with no interest in passing his CPA exam, but who manages to keep the group’s finances balanced.  One is the “face,” handsome with quite a gift for dealing with the public due to his full-time call center job.  And the fourth, the man behind the plan, can’t see himself selling credit cards for the rest of his life, so decides to take the plunge into his future, dragging the rest of his dosti with him for the ride of their lives.

It is a quiet film, as I’ve said, almost too quiet on occasion, and the lack of a continuous soundtrack disoriented me a bit and made me think it was too rough, but as the film rolled out its story, the very lack of so-called polish gave it a bit of the cinéma vérité feel of the director’s background with documentary work.  The same is true of the young, unknown actors.  Without traditional star pull, the story had to stand on its own, no item numbers, no high gloss, on just the heartfelt performances of these young men.

Julie M:  The characters are supremely engaging, particularly so when we get glimpses of each of their individual lives and tribulations without going into too much backstory. Contrary to my co-blogger, I thought that the folk-rock background music, used very judiciously, was absolutely pitch-perfect in creating the mood.  Wouldn’t have wanted any more.

Jenny K:  The mainstream and highly entertaining rom-com Today’s Special, starring Aasif Mandvi and Naseeruddin Shah (my DVD finally came!), flaunts polish and charm galore while giving us a restaurant success story that glosses over the actual work that goes into this kind of project.  In contrast, Shuttlecock Boys paints the trajectory of the boys’ almost painfully naive business plan with heartbreaking detail.  What were they thinking of?  How could they have gone into this with no preparation, on a wing and a prayer?  No one would expect them to succeed…and so you’re held on pins and needles as to what the outcome will be. Happy ending or cold reality?  Perhaps a bit of both.

Julie M:   And the ending was perfect given all that went before.

Jenny K:  We all know how hard it is to get a film launched, particularly in an industry like India’s where there is such a tradition of “Filmi-Family only” membership, that it’s a huge wall to climb to get your picture seen.  However, with new filmmakers like Mr. Gaba and his compadres at Pennywise Films in the picture, if they are all as engaging as Shuttlecock Boys there may be reason to be hopeful that more and more new independent films will find a home. Check out the audience reactions at the festivals.

Julie M: In short, if you have the chance, go see it.  And if you feel inclined, “like” them on Facebook and check out their web page.  Write them a note of support as well.

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