On Kai Po Che !

[Has spoilers]


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.

37 thoughts on “On Kai Po Che !

  1. first!!! ipad to banta he

    1. Please STFU about iPads. This fucking unfunny excuse of a joke has gone on long enough.

    2. stop saying “first” like a kindergarten kid and stop begging for electronic gadgets.

  2. I think it is absurd to say Kai Po Che shills in Modi’s favour. That is the kind of stupid extremist left wing thinking that gives liberals a bad name. I’d have preferred a bit more about the film itself though, in addition to the critiquing of Kafila-esque opinion.

  3. I agree. The same crowd is now referring to Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy as a “Subtle Right Wing Hindutva Treatise that’s subtly venomous”. Now either they’ve not read the books at all or I’ve missed something that I should have read between the lines. Same thing goes for this movie too.

  4. To be honest, I didn’t read the entire post but first four paragraphs, I would have commented here related to the post but since I have not watched the film yet I will keep the honor of writing the comment preserved with me until I watch the film.
    By the way I liked the thing you had written in first two paragraphs.
    Greatbong, your best ever post was on Gunda. Nothing can beat that.

  5. @Greatbong : Thought provoking post, even though I have not seen the film. But being an Ahmedabadi and having spent 22-yeras of my life there, I remember what it was like both at the time of 2001-earthquake and 2002-riots.

    I do remember the first day after Godhra train burning, and how all shops were closed out the next day. I remember smoke coming out of a colony about three blocks away from mine and faint shouts that very evening, which marked the start of the riots. I do remember my Ahmedabad closed down in curfew.

    I remember a relative of mine saying – “This is where these people (Muslims) have crossed the line, This is it. They won’t dare do it again.”, and I also remember the chilling story of my neighbor who had to run barefoot for about 20-minutes in the streets of Jamalpur (area in old Ahmedabad) away from a rampaging Muslim mob.

    Will surely be interesting for me to see the movie now.

    1. Sorry to hear your experience. We only hear of Muslims getting tortured. Share your story.

      1. @Souvik – That seems to be a good idea. I would write a blog post on how it was like in Ahmedabad shortly. Will do and let you know.

  6. Your review of Kai Po Che was spot on. This is a movie about 3 friends – the events that occur are incidental. On top of that, this movie clearly shows you who the ‘aggressors’ are – you never see any muslims fighting back – except for Ali’s father. How did this movie make it past censors – doesn’t it ‘portray a community in a bad light’ or the usual horse crap they trot out? The fact that this movie is _not_ banned in Gujarat makes me suspect the Anti-Modi campaign more and more and more.

    These days the avenues for entertainment are limited – therefore, when one goes to read the Kafila site, one usually sits back in one’s seat, heats up the popcorn, and chuckles away. And it is disappointing that you provide a link back to them, and give them added credibility, when these people belong in a institution for the differently abled. This is a blog that supports violence against people (they literally cheer whenever anybody from the ‘proletariat’ kills an ‘owner of capital’, they show their indirect disgust for Hinduism by making claims that Gujarat is malnourished because the bulk of people in the state are vegetarian and last of all, they attack anybody who attempts to challenge their narrative with vicious personal comments, and outright block most people with an opposing point of view. Please don’t give them any free publicity. They are everything that is wrong with India.

    1. You are right. I once posted a comment (non-abusive and non-religious) on Kafila simply asking them why there was no post on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. That comment didn’t even clear moderation 🙂

  7. Bhagat has hurt my sentiments when he spoke ill of Prabhuji’s Gunda .

  8. Debasish Choudhury March 6, 2013 — 9:09 am

    Of all the 127 minutes of the movie, which is brilliant in some parts and trashy in some other parts, every single reviewer is hell-bent on bringing the secular/religious/fundamentalist/propaganda angle to the movie. Did not see a bloody single review which analyzes the acting or the direction or the cinematography, which should be the essence of any movie review. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but yet to get a cinematic review of the movie.

    1. Amen. Me too. Its either cricket or politics -yet to get a review from a cinematic angle.

  9. Very well said..
    i just have one question to the person who posted on kafila.
    yes the movie did not show in details how the riots were held and what happened after that..
    but did the writer show how the innocent men women and kids were murdered and burned alive in the godra train?
    why no one is talking about that incident?
    why no question is raised about that incident?
    why those who oppose riots of 2002 never understand what started the incident..
    22 February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 Muslims of the attack and acquitted 63 Muslims.The court noted that the incident was a conspiracy and convicted the 31 Muslims under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 and 120 B

    i m very saddened by the fact that those who died in the train attack had nothing to do with all religious/political divide..

  10. Huh? You stooped low enough to watch Kai Po Che? What has happened to you?

    I guess fatherhood does strange things to men.

    1. Forgive my naiveté , but was waiting for a Sheldon esqe sarcasm sign …………. Still waiting!

  11. Louis C K once said on censorship by tv channels that no one has the right to be on TV. A channel has spent a lot of money put out satellites invested in infrastructure and so they have right to apply whatever censorship they want.

    Similarly movie makers put in a lot of money and passion, actors have worked their whole life for this break and even Chetan Bhagat has gone through a lot of dissapointments. They have a right to make whatever damn movie they want to and show or not show whatever they want to. No one can dictate them and if anyone has a problem let them make their own movie.

  12. Waiting for your take on “Django Unchained” and “Life of Pi”. IMO, Yann Martel/Ang Lee has done a better job of depicting India than Danny Boyle.

  13. ahh, been so long.. Finally.

  14. Not first but near enough! I was one of them, the crowd that knew if you blogged a bit irregularly, it wouldn’t hurt your genuine fans who expected each word of yours to carry the weight it deserves.
    How sorry am I to be proven right. Now come back to your blogging ways will you!
    Fawning apart, this is the first movie in a long time I am going to watch before reading the book. So wish me luck… And how about a thinkpad carbon touch for a change for those not quite ‘first’ boy material, eh?

  15. Delurking to say good job on the rebuttal-of-sorts.

  16. Kono kaipo che? Jahirbhai no?

  17. Reblogged this on My Blog.

  18. well.. you were not cynical in review and were pretty serious on it. looks like you really liked the movie and from your review it appears that movie script is pretty close to book. i am surprised and i am sure many others regulars of your blog also would be.

    note: i have not seen the movie but read the book

  19. Arnab,
    Nice post as always. Hope you are getting some sleep too once in a while.

    I have not seen the movie, so will refrain from commenting on its story. But as a Hindutva movement “insider”, I can only thank the pseudo-secularists and their friends in the media for the constant cadence of delusional paranoia against Narendra Modi.

    It empowers our rationale and helps build our narrative against Dhimmitude.

  20. 2004: India shining
    2013: Gujarat shining.
    Haribol. Krishna forever.

  21. I haven’t watched the movie but have read the book a couple of times. It seems to me that Chetan Bhagat made a story around the real events, from the grounds eye view of local boys from ordinary families. There is not much subtlety, allusions or allegorical references in CB’s books anyways, so to expect it in the movie would be foolish.The events of 2001/2002, the earthquakes and the riots are a matter of historical record and were broadcast on live TV. You don’t have to dig far to find out that the people who planned and committed the violence are proud of what they did, and would do it again. In that sense, showing the violence and villain as from the Hindu party, is simply showing the known facts without inviting a defamation lawsuit. They were right to focus on the main story of the three guys, which is the strong suit of the movie.

  22. Wasn’t able to elaborate in this detail about the film. My random takes on Kai Po Che are here http://nishantzworld.blogspot.in/2013/03/movienotes-kai-po-che.html

  23. Thanks for this review. I didn’t dislike this movie in any way but I found it rather cliché and totemic in more than a few ways. I appreciate this review because it distinguishes between the notion of being totemic and being offensive. There is perhaps a necessary set of shortcuts one must take in storytelling, of archetypes one must draw on, in order to have movies that are taut and watchable. The making of an entertaining movie may inherently require some sacrifice of subtlety. It does not automatically follow, however, that taking such shortcuts implies any generalization about any group that a portrayed character may belong to. It’s not always clear when to call out such generalizations and when to dismiss them, and reasonable minds can differ.

    I’m not Indian; all I am is a person who studies Indian movies and thinks about them in the context in which they are made and viewed, to the extent I have knowledge of that context. And so I appreciated both this review and Kafila’s article, for providing two different perspectives on whether the storytelling devices of Kai Po Che that I perceived as totemic were offensive, whether they had an agenda or not. I’m not sure which view I agree with – I’m not sure it matters; I don’t have to pick a side. I was very glad to get both perspectives.

    carla (Filmi Geek)

  24. Finally, could not wait to write this after Kai Po Chhe was relased. My post on my blog on my experience of the 2002-riots in Ahmedabad – http://agoldenduck.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/when-black-turned-red/

  25. GB, very nice review. By the way, when do you get the chance to watch movies and write reviews, if you are so busy changing baby diapers and buying baby clothes? j/k…

    Here’s a likely postscript to the link you posted:
    “Irfan Pathan meets Narendra Modi to invite him for Yusuf Pathan’s wedding”

    And I hope every rational-minded person can at least read this thought-provoking article by Colonel (retd) Anil Athale on getting the “facts right” about the Gujarat riots:

  26. Any reason why you referring to Chetan Bhagat as Mr Bhagat in this narrative..?

  27. GB are you not well? No post since long time

  28. Come on GB please put a post in new financial year

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