Kai Po Che (2013): The war call uttered during kite-flying in Gujarat is not what this film is about. In fact, there is just one fleeting sequence, very effectively positioned in the meticulously structured narrative, where the characters actually fly kites. But 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 in the atmosphere 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 eminently 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 protagonists 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 that lives on the edge where toppling over the abyss is a real possibility. Sure enough, by the end of the film, one of the 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 re-born. Kai Po Che is about the shared aspirations of three friends: the reckless and devil-may-care cricketer Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput, 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 an ideological imperativeness.
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 point in Gujarat’s history, the earthquake in 2001 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. Greatness sits lightly on this film. 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 say 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 Chettan Bhagat’s novel Abhishek Kapoor weaves together a tapestry of thoughts, characters and lives that embrace an entire ethos and culture without sacrificing their 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 of protagonists, 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 punctuations. 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 favoured his character. And he repays the compliment right back, with a bonus. With his compelling screen presence and ability to render restless energy in a restrained pattern, Sushant had immediately established 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 dost 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 that have a bearing on life. Kai Po Che just tempts me to tell the escapist merchants of Bollywood to go fly a kite.
David (2013): Bejoy Nambiar’s second feature film after Shaitaan interconnects the lives of three characters named David, played with outstanding conviction by actors belonging to three different generations. The three protagonists who by chance share the same name didn’t have to be linked in the plot at all. Each David occupies a distinctive emotional spatial and chronological dimension. Each story is told with a muted flourish that eschews the flamboyant edginess of a recent, highly favoured and over-flavoured genre of Hindi cinema...you know the Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj genre where the characters are darkly drawn from life’s most sombre colours. Nambiar’s universe is populated by victims who refuse to bow down to what we call destiny and what in many circumstances is plain cowardice. In the hard-hitting story about a young rock musician’s conflict with religious fundamentalism Vinay Virmani (a prized find) confronts Hindu radical Rohini Hattangadi in a lift to ask why his Christian father was defaced. That small mobile cubicle becomes the cosmos for a question that swirls and dances around the narrative posing questions that go far beyond the moment. Bejoy Nambiar’s command over the space that his characters occupy is supreme. Whether it’s Vinay Virmani giving guitar lessons to single-mother Lara Dutta on a leafy verandah or Southern maverick actor Vikram sozzled in the Goan seascape perched on palm tree making eyes at the mute-and-deaf Isha Shravani....the characters seem to inhabit places where their mind heart and body are intrinsically at home.
Then there is Neil Nitin Mukesh, making a glorious impact as a Muslim don’s chief lieutenant in the London of the 1970s. Shot in a shimmering brooding bewildering play of light and shadow by cinematographer Sanu Verghese, this episode in Nambiar’s trilogy is both a brutal depiction of internecine gang war and an intense love story, a Shakespearean tragedy set in the 1970s and yet conveying a contemporariness that grips us from the first to the last. Just how Nambiar manages to bring the stories of an identity-challenged gangster in the 1970s, a fun-going-into-fundamentalism musician in the 80s and a sozzled moony-eyed fisherman in the 1990s into one line of vision is a question that only Bejoy and his compelling co-writer Natasha Sahgal can answer. By the time the three stunning stories converge on March 3, 2012, we are so involved with the three protagonist’s moral and political awakening that the lines dividing the different eras simply evaporate, leaving us to look into that chasm in the individual’s soul where life’s worthiness is weighed against human relationships that may or may not last for as long as the individual desires. Nambiar’s three-tiered screenplay is a marvel of architecture. Some credit for holding up the three-storeyed edifice must go to the technicians. Cinematographers Shanu Verghese, P.S Vinod (who has shot Vinay Virmani’s musical odyssey) and R Rathnavelu (creating a Goan idyll for Vikram’s story that goes far beyond touristic titillation) collaborate with the film’s editor, the indomitable Sreekar Prasad to bring to bear an infinite lightness of being on the potentially top-heavy plot.
Bejoy Nambiar’s film could easily have collapsed under the weight of its cleverness. Miraculously the director imparts a ceaseless sense of spontaneity into what appears to be the story of three lives connected only by their first name. Not the most promising of premises to hold up a plot. Yet David is unflinchingly engaging. Nambiar’s command over his characters’ destiny is masterly. And there are so many of them! Big or small the characters leave an enduring mark in the script. Each of the three actors playing the title role provides an evocative centre to the screenplay. It’s hard to choose a favourite since all three actors occupy entirely distinctive spaces. Neil Nitin Mukesh as a gangster whose loyalty is under murderous pressure works hard to achieve oneness with his character. He looks at the part and gives to it a feeling of lived-in familiarity. This is a new beginning for Neil. Vikram is the fisherman who shares a rather eccentric relationship with his dead dad (Saurabh Shukla), living mother (Rubi Chakravarti) and the neighbourhood massage-parlour owner (Tabu) is in one word, spectacular. His body language and spaced-out expressions of drunkenness and love (sometimes both at the same time) are to die for. But it’s Vinay Virmani as the musician who finds his life changed by politics and religion who takes us by surprise. A very appealing screen presence and a non-rehearsed charm ensure that Virmani stands tall in the formidable cast. This newcomer is here to stay. Every actor in the smallest of roles shines in the plot’s huge canvas. If I had to single out names in the supporting cast it would be Aakarsh Khurana (as Neil’s ganglord surrogate-father), Neil Bhoopalam (as the ganglord’s punk wastrel of a son), Nasser (as a Christian priest under attack), Rohini Hattangadi (as a Hindu fanatic) and Satish Kaushik ( as a silently observant neighbour in Naseer’s chawl).
Tabu and Lara Dutta are effective but underused. Every character and location conveys a remarkable degree of inevitability. The cinema of Bejoy Nambiar is imbued with a paradoxical sense of surrealistic credibility. The characters are dreamers nailed down to a grim ground-reality which they cannot escape. Despite the strident sounds of violence, and enchanting lyricism underscores the narrative. There is a sequence on a boat in a river on a moonlit night when Isha Shravani and the love-smitten Vikram break into a jig. You wish it wouldn’t end. You carry that moment with you out of the theatre. There are many such stopovers into splendour and the tender even when the world of the characters is falling apart. David is world shot in deep-focus darkness lit up at the edges by a sense of joie de vivre that the characters preserve even when their soul is under siege. Bejoy bleeds brilliancy into the film. This is a rugged pulsating parable of passion and redemption shot in three time zones unified by the theme of love’s loss and the soul redeemed. David is many things at the same time. Finally, though, it is a magnificent morality tale that tells us it is trendy to be bad. But being good is timeless.
Image Source: youtube/t-series/sonymusicindiavevo, betaseries,wikipedia
Image Source: youtube/t-series/sonymusicindiavevo, betaseries,wikipedia
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