'Kai Po Che!' misuses filmmaking devices, falls flat

'Kai Po Che!' which screened on Saturday at the Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival, overuses montage and only skims the surface of its few merits.

What exactly should a montage do?

It can show a rise to power or a fall from grace, a humorous series of failures or a chain of successes. One thing it probably should not do, however, is perform most of the heavy lifting for a film’s central friendship or relationship.

The feeble middlebrow Bollywood drama Kai Po Che! didn’t get that memo.

The story follows three friends in Ahmedabad -- hotheaded Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput), penny-pinching Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav) and politician’s nephew Omi (Amit Sadh) -- who want to open a sports shop and academy. Ishaan plays mentor to Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), a Muslim boy who’s a natural at cricket, but his impulsive actions test his friends’ patience, while Govind tries to hide his attraction to Ishaan’s sister Vidya (Amrita Puri).

When an earthquake sets their business back and forces Omi to work for his right-wing uncle, their friendship is tested. When many of Omi’s friends are killed in the Godhra train burning of 2002, he and his uncle lead a riot against the Muslim population, and Govind and Ishaan are forced to take sides.

Kai Po Che! tries to tie together friendship, uplifting sports drama and social issues, but it doesn’t do any of these things very successfully.

Most of the racial drama falls in the margins of the film’s first half, where director Abhishek Kapoor relies on glossy montages featuring bland songs to sell his characters’ friendships and successes. The drama in-between the montages mostly reeks of standard sports drama that’s reminiscent of Remember the Titans or Glory Road. It wants to be inspiring, but the uplift is so broadly drawn, the attention to racial issues so cursory, that it mostly feels self-important.

For most of the first half of the film, Kai Po Che! follows an increasingly exasperating formula: three bland, one-note friends run into a minor setback, rectify the situation within a few minutes, and then spend a montage being happy together. It’s all rather flat, and the low-stakes drama of the first half makes the film’s use of real tragedy (the train burning, the riots) in the second half feel like risible opportunism. It’s a cheap attempt to inject emotional weight to a story that’s, at its heart, resolutely ordinary.

Kai Po Che!’s problem is that it doesn’t have any idea how to use any of the devices at hand. Melodrama should be high stakes and florid, not low stakes and turgid. Montages should be expressive, not bloated. Racial tension should be explored, not given passing glance and then exploited.

For any of this to work, the film would have to have some sort of a clue. It doesn’t.

Photo courtesy of Tula Goenka.

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