Monday, February 25, 2013

Kai Po Che

No: there is nothing like "Kai Po Che." When we fly kites in Gujarat, we cry out a "Kaapyo!", and even with the unnecessary addition of Gujarati equivalent of "is," that would be "Kaapyo chhe" no "che", no "kai po". The film's reviews worldwide are a perfect example of the glut of information we take to be wisdom these days: from Berlin to Mumbai, everyone explains what "kai po che" means because that's what they heard from a source. They don't know what it means, they can't "kai po che" is meaningless but they still will tell you what it means. How strange! In any case, let's get on with the review.

I narrated the story of the title just to indicate that the film Kai Po Che does work through, and depend on, milking stereotypes - not just about Gujarat but also about this sudden trend in Indian cinema of male bonding post Rang de Basanti. Nowadays, everyone jumps into a lake or sea or something, and struts drunk on top of a fort wall or some big height: it seems sometimes that a Mountain Dew ad became interminably, and insufferably, long. Indians haven't yet learnt the art of a Vincent, François, Paul ... et les autres. That kind of film would flop miserably in today's India, as Khamoshi the Musical did in this country; it's good though, for otherwise it would become fashion, and then we will have at least a dozen films exploiting the genre.

What is far more seriously wrong about a film like Kai Po Che is that it also continues to pander to the distorted history presented in India by a leftist-leaning intellectual milieu:  those intellectuals who only see what they want to see and what they have already determined to seek and find and see. It is a pity that much of our colonial and pre-colonial history has been interpreted by leftist intellectuals, but why are we continuing to interpret our modern history through their eyes? No! The story of Gujarat riots does not go like this: it wasn't always a mob of Hindus descending upon hapless Muslims who just wanted to talk about Gandhi and peace. To imagine a leader giving a speech to a Muslim audience with the words "Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye" goes over the top: to not to show Muslims getting ready with weapons stored up in their mosques and attacking Hindus is criminal if you are showing the Hindutva goons doing the same with Muslims. If a film works with a historical backdrop, it should limit itself to the backdrop: not try to portray one side white, the other black. That is where Kai Po Che is more than an ordinary film: it is a disgusting film.

Speaking of the ordinariness, in spite of great acting performances all round, in particular by Amit Sadh (as Omi) and also by Sushant Singh Rajput (as Ishaan) and Manav Kaul (as Bittoo Mama), the film lacks humour in spite of trying to show bonding: three people jumping in the sea doesn't create bonding, but humour does. The editing is seriously suspect: at the beginning itself, if you are showing Omi to be in jail and then moving the story ten years back to 2001, you know what will happen; any person having knowledge of Gujarat's 20012002 history will tell you immediately how Omi will get more and more influenced by Bittoo and then kill someone during the riots. If all the story is apparent right at the start, what's the point, really, of watching a movie that does not offer you much visually, anyway? The film also tries to package in as many Gujarat stereotypes as possible: from Garba that didn't look like Garba, to kites, from the three friends' living in a pol to some eating of patra and then to ... some bloopers! There's not enough "jai shri krushna"; the scenes of earthquake relief camps are poorly filmed: too clean and unchaotic and the extras not looking Gujaratis; Bittoo cannot pass off as a Gujarati, ever; and so on ... and of course the wrong title!

What surprises me most is the increasing inability to think: in the '80s any film with song, dance and some dishoom worked; in the '90s, any film with "somewhere someone is waiting for me" concept; these days, any film that makes it appear as a serious film works: everyone is in the race to belong to the intellectual class. Alas! How they not know to which pile of dead bodies these maggots want to join!