A male-bonding Bollywood film that does not have 1) Rich men driving down to Goa in a Mercedes for together-time 2) Even more rich men, meterosexual enough to make David Beckham look like Merv Hughes, driving around Spain, struggling with first-world problems of designer bags and commitment 3) Genius men doing a baby-delivery using improvised devices or 4) Angsty men getting into deep depression of the breakup of their music band or 5) Shirtless men running through the fields, high on life.
All right. Kai Po Che does have number five. But it still is a breath of fresh air in the world of the dick flick (the male analog of the chick) crafting as it does three compelling and relatable characters who, for once, do not inhabit the history-less alternate dimension that forms the backdrop for almost all of mainstream Bollywood’s popular fantasies. History here exists and it is cruel and merciless as it tests their resolve, breaks them apart and unites once again, bringing success, ruin and tragedy to three friends—the pragmatist, the believer and the idealist.
What perhaps I could not have anticipated, but perhaps should have because no one can talk about Gujarat without evoking strong responses, was this.[Link]
In turning his decidedly political book into a feel-good Bollywood spectacle, Mr. Bhagat has, on the face of it, done nothing less than rewrite history in favor of Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi of the B.J.P., who has been dogged by questions over his role in the 2002 riots. Mr. Bhagat has, for the most part, kept the screenplay clear of damning references to Gujarat’s Hindutva nationalist politics littered throughout his book, such as a grand conference of “the Hindu Party,” where the subject of discussion is “until when does a Hindu keep bearing pain?”
To be honest, I have not read “Three Mistakes Of My Life”. Mr. Bhagat may well endorse Modi today, either because he genuinely believes in him or because it is the flavor of the season to be so. I have no way of knowing. And nor do I frankly care. But to blame Bhagat for rewriting history in favor of Modi in “Kai Po Che” is about as much as much as a bolt from the blue as the ball that Jadeja got Clarke out in the second innings of the Hyderabad Test.
First of all, four people are credited with the screenplay of Kai Po Che, of which Bhagat is just one. So to put the entire blame at his doorstep, if indeed blame is to be placed, is unfair in the extreme. Second, the grammar of cinema dictates departures from a novel—sequences need to be made more visual, exposition needs to be kept at a minimum, characters may need to be eliminated, changed or fused purely based on the diktats of the format. And so yes there may be valid cinematic reasons for the nephew for the book to become parents of the movie, without the need to suppose sinister motives for that change.
Another post in Kafila has a problem with, among other things, the dress that Muslims are shown wearing. [Link]
Every time we see a Muslim character, the males are wearing kurta pyjamas and topees and the females are wearing burkhas. The film only exacerbates a prevalent attitude that Muslims look and dress different. This may be true some of the time but it is not true all the time, as Kai Po Chewould have us believe.
Whoa. So let’s see. If Muslims are shown wearing shirt and trousers, the criticism would be that the only Muslims that are shown to be acceptable are those that un-Islamicize themselves in order to blend into the Hindu-defined “Indian identity. You almost feel that you cannot win.
As a matter of fact, you cannot. Because no matter how you slice it, what damns ”Kai Po Che” in the eyes of many is the ending. A Muslim boy, damaged by riots, attains fame as a national cricket player, the Indian flag flutters, the accidental murderer weeps and asks for forgiveness, and the…oh my God, are they showing closure? Oh boy. Bring out the air-raid sirens. Achtung ! Achtung ! This is Modi propaganda. I knew there was a subliminal message in that Subharambh song.
Phew. Talk about knee-jerk
The problem that there is only one narrative of Gujarat that can be brought to screen, or indeed be accepted, for it not to be castigated as Modi propaganda. That is movies of the “Firaaq” and “Parzania” type, where Hindus of Gujarat are shown to be, by and large, complicit in the genocide of their fellow Muslim Gujaratis, with the police and the administration being shown to be on the side of the rioters.
It does not matter if the movie is not interested in going into the politics of the riots, except in the way that it affects the dynamics between three friends and alters their fates.
It does not matter that the movie does not attempt to rewrite history in the places that it does touch it. Kai Po Che does not pull punches when it does deal with the divisions extant in Gujarat society. In one of the most dramatically tense sequences of the movie, a Hindu “right-wing” run refugee camp is shown turning away Muslim asylum seekers after the earthquakes, which brings about a stand-off between two friends, one of whom is eager to keep a distinction between “our people” and “them” while the other is not.
It does not matter if the Godhra violence is off-camera and Hindus attacking innocent Muslims is shown on-camera, in lurid shocking detail.
It does not matter that the villain of the movie is a member of the Hindu party.
If an intellectual environment in which one is obliged to show things only one way else risk being called a shill for a particular politician, is not an expression of the most acute form of cultural fundamentalism, I do not know what is.
Amidst all the outrage, what I believe is lost is that Kai Po Che does not end with a solution. Nor as is claimed by critics, even a reductionist resolution or the dreaded word closure. It ends with regret. And a message of hope—that in India, true ability, irrespective of religion or social standing , will attain success.
Is that populist? Too simple? Perhaps.
Well if you want complexity, here is an alternate point of view. Maybe the take-away of the ending is that in today’s Gujarat, the idealist becomes the victim, the believer the perpetrator and the pragmatist ends up successful.
Propaganda film no more? No more feel-good? Eh?
But leave aside the messaging, is Kai Po Che, which firmly tries to anchor itself in realism all through, let itself down with its ending?
In other words, was that conclusion even remotely realistic?
I don’t know.
What I do know is the story of two brothers, Muslims from Gujarat, sons of a muezzin of a mosque, who become millionaires from cricket and one of them, well one of them ends up canvassing votes for….
You know who I am talking about. [Link]
Which just goes to show one thing.
That there may be many endings for real stories.
And some of them may not be the ones you expected.