'Kai Po Che': Marvellously-made coming-of-age account

Film: Kai Po Che; Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav, Amit Sadh, Amrita Puri; Directed by by Abhishek Kapoor; Rating: ****

It really can't get any better than this, can it? The year has just begun and we have one of the finest, most vibrant and fulfilling coming-of-age films in living memory.

"Kai Po Che" (the war-call uttered during kite-flying in Gujarat) is not about kite-flying. In fact there is just one fleeting sequence, very effectively positioned in the meticulously structured narrative, where the characters actually fly kites.

"Kai Po Che" is about spirits soaring skywards, as the characters - each one so vividly etched into the compact narrative that you come away with people whom you will probably carry with you for keeps - let their spirits roam wild and free, soaking in the sunlight of desire, longing, aspiring, stumbling and getting back on the feet.

Set in Gujarat during times of peace and unimaginable stress, "Kai Po Che" takes Chetan Bhagat's engaging novel about friendship among three dissimilar young people struggling to find their voices in Gujarat in and around the year 2000, and converts the written word into an enrapturing entity far beyond just a story well told.

The three, joined by a fourth - a girl who happens to be the sister of one of the heroes secretly involved with the hero's best friend - bring to life a world where the accidents of existence collide gently but powerfully with man-made and natural calamities that shake the very existence of an Indian middle class, living on an edge where toppling over the abyss is a real possibility.

Sure enough, by the end of the film one of heroes Omi (Amit Sadh) does fall into the abyss of bigotry. Though he is finally given a chance to redeem himself, it's too late. A dream has already died, though another one is reborn.

"Kai Po Che" is about the shared aspirations of three friends: the reckless and devil-may-care cricketer Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput in a remarkable film debut), his cautious, shy friend Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav) and their somewhat confused friend Omi, the son of a liberal temple priest who tilts towards Hindu radicalism more out of an economic necessity than a ideological imperative.

Into these lives, screenplay writers Abhishek Kapoor, Chetan Bhagat, Pubali Chaudhuri and Supratik Sen introduce a socio-political perspective that is rare in mainstream Hindi cinema.

There are many reasons why "Kai Po Che" is one of the most compelling products of the post-renaissance era in Indian cinema. To my mind its greatest achievement is its fusion of "cinema" and "history", a synthesis that filmmakers today would consider unpalatable for viewers. Hence they serve up the junk-food equivalent of cinema. Quickly ingested and easily forgotten.

Not this time!

In "Kai Po Che", the characters and situations created to bring out the personality conflicts emerge from the two crises points in Gujarat's history - the 2001 earthquake and the post-Godhra carnage in 2002.

The sustained palpable tension of the riots towards the concluding lap of this riveting tale is the stuff that great cinema is made of.

The virtues of the film are many: songs (Amit Trivedi) and background music (Hitesh Sonik) that seem to echo the protagonists' inner world without making a song and dance, cinematography by Anay Goswami and editing by Deepa Bhatia that says it all without a single shot being redundant, and most of all, a terrific gallery of actors who make the brotherly bonding look so real you feel other celebrated films about male bonding (including Abhishek Kapoor's "Rock On") were mere teasers.

And yet to describe "Kai Po Che" as a film on male bonding would be akin to treating "Dr Zhivago" as a film on the medical profession.

Taking the core idea from Bhagat's novel, Kapoor weaves together a tapestry of thoughts, characters and lives that embrace an entire ethos and culture without sacrificing individuality.

Fearless and almost flawless, "Kai Po Che" bubbles over with the warmth of lived-in experiences and with central performances that are so unstudied you suspect the actors were born to play these parts.

Among the trio, Amit Sadh as the fence-sitter turned Hindu radical gets into the skin of his character and remains there till the end, and not for the first time. He was also admirable as a narrator-journalist in Kabeer Kaushik's "Maximum". Here's an actor who deserves a lot more.

Raj Kumar Yadav as the voice of reason among the trio of friends yet again displays his amazing ability to come to grips with the body language, speech and inner world of the people he plays. I've not seen any actor deliver his lines in recent memory so naturally without artificial punctuation. Raj Kumar's triumph is the triumph of refined acting in Hindi cinema.

And let's not talented the spontaneous Amrita Puri as Ishaan's sister. She is at the periphery of the pivotal axis and yet makes her presence felt with such an endearing lack of vanity.

As for Sushant Singh Rajput, the script favours his character. And he repays the compliment right back, with bonus. With his compelling screen presence and an ability to render restless energy in a restrained pattern, he immediately establishes himself as one of the most articulate actors of the post-Ranbir Kapoor generation.

His relationship with the cricketing prodigy Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh) is in many ways the core issue of the multifarious plot. You cheer for Ishaan's streetwise heroism in a way you haven't cheered in a long while.

Take a bow, Abhishek Kapoor. You have proven that "Rock On" was no flash in the pan. "Kai Po Che" takes the theme of friendship to another level.

Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge, indeed. Sometimes the best of friendships get swept away in politics and history. It takes a master storyteller to remind us that cinema is finally a mirror of forces which have a bearing on life.

"Kai Po Che" just tempts me to tell the escapist merchants of Bollywood to go fly a kite.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

The former England batsman will have to lead the franchise as he is out of the match against Bangalore with a finger injury. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Michael Klinger has revealed he felt compelled to leave South Australia after being told he would be only a fringe part of the Redbacks' plans for next season, and disputed the suggestion that he left… More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

The revival of Indo-Pak Test ties could take place in UAE. More »

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

'This time around we will hope to go few more steps ahead and actually get that trophy' More »

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Apart from the foreign players a lot of behind-the-scene activity has taken place in selecting the Indian domestic players. More »

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and former cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian… More »

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

Kiwi all-rounder wants to utilise the India leg to explore the country’s tourist attractions. More »

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Says his mother made him change his mind. More »