This is not a review; these are just my humble (and personal) reflections on the several meta-narratives of “Kai Po Che”. Watching this movie was a nostalgic experience for me, as I could relate its many instances with my lived experience of Ahmedabad.
Some of the elements that stood out and made me connect with the narrative are as follows:
Cafe Coffee Day
It was interesting to note that Govind took his friend Omi, who was just released from Jail, to Cafe Coffee Day, where sipping on cold coffee Omi delved into the past (flashback technique), the cricket commentary acting as a catalyst in the reminiscence, acknowledging its (cricket’s) constant presence in Omi’s and any average Indian’s life, directly or indirectly.
This made me reflect on how the Cafe Coffee Day outlets which were once a modern phenomena, have come to be internalized in the daily or usual practices of urban India, it is not unusual to go there for a coffee (by say someone from Middle Class economic background). No wonder one also gets Vegetarian or Chicken Tikka Sandwiches and Samosas along with the Latte’.
Since it is a non-conspicuous part of your newly grown consumption, it is perhaps normal to take your (just released from prison) friend for a halt there. Your stop would have been at a Chai stall maybe ten years ago, but with economic liberalization, your business has grown, your image and perception of consumption has changed. Perhaps this isn’t the sort of luxury, you assume, that could overwhelm your friend anymore?
Also, the cafe was shown as brimming with people, which indeed has been my experience whenever I stepped into CCD at Ahmedabad. There would be customers varying from tourists to youngsters bunking tutorials or celebrating birthdays, professionals, couples and also groups of elderly men discussing resident welfare and development. However, these cafes face tough competition from the amazing coffee one gets at local cafes such as Danny’s! Also the experience which Omi probably had at CCD was much colder than he would have otherwise had at a more localized joint.
Secondly, it wasn’t a surprise that customers were watching cricket at CCD. The proliferation of LCDs displaying crude jokes and juvenile puzzles along with alienated music, has somehow never worked in creating a standardised ambience at most of the outlets I have been to. What does prevail is the choice of one visiting your outlet. Interestingly, the CCD outlet near Paldi, would often be playing religious (Hindu) channels in the morning, and a medley of Indian and Western music (re-mix) from the 80’s and 90’s, in evenings.
The Flashback which I mentioned above, took the audience back in time (to March 2000) where Omi was watching cricket with Ishaan at his home (Old Ahmedabad) . Ishaan’s Tshirt spoke volumes of the fascination and passion for cricket which a multitude of youngsters in India harness, and live with throughout their lives.
At the back of his T-shirt was his name with the number 10, signifying a cricketer, an aspiring cricketer, or an admirer of cricket. In either case, it is the kind of T-shirt one must have come across at least once in a lifetime (beyond the official players) if they have lived in urban India (enthusiasts in the bus, bikers supporting India during tournament, audience in stadium, budding players in neighbourhood park cum field, studs in school sports period and so on).
I stayed as a Paying Guest in a tiny flat in Ahmedabad, and my landlady’s son would often sport a similar t-shirt, his name and number at the back. His fitness and practice were on the other extreme as compared to Ishaan though, but all that ceases to matter when sporting your love for the esteemed sport.
Religion emerged as an integral element throughout the narrative. The three protagonists were Hindus, where Ishaan and Omi belonged to deeply religious as also conservative households. The Pole in which Ishaan stays has a Jain white Mandir in close proximity of his house. Temples are often found maintained by particular families, or even within houses in Old Ahmedabad. These areas in Ahmedabad also serve as religious enclaves other than fostering close bonds within community.
What was interesting however were the different levels of religious thought the three portrayed in their characters. Omi epitomised the dangerous intertwining of religion and politics, which dominated his choices as well as rationale towards extremes. He personified the youth capable of being influenced in the desire for growth, development and power.
Ishaan reflected a more humane and of-age approach to religion which could be seen by others as utopia or foolishness also. Unlike Omi, he had no qualms in teaching a boy from the Muslim Community and helping them in times of need, even when he put his own life in danger for doing so. He seems to be a mix of youthful daredevilry and contemporary idealism; he dares to question as much as he loves to answer back in his impulsiveness.
As compared to both Omi and Ishaan, Govind seemed more neutral, pretty occupied with his own existence, survival, growth and consequential fears than particularly expressing thoughts on religion or God.
It would have been interesting though if the three weren’t Hindus. What would have the narrative been if Ishaan instead of the physically fit and agile, benevolent Hindu protagonist (helping Muslims in need and their leader in crisis) was a smart and strong Muslim youth?
There is a tension between the two opposing parties (Hindu dominated vs. Muslim dominated) which is referred to throughout the movie. I find it realistic, because irrespective of the discourses on inclusive growth and temperament, Ahmedabad often displays clear demarcations geographically as well as symbolically between the two communities which are indeed hard to miss. When Bittoo (Omi’s maternal uncle) goes to the Hindus for his political propaganda he greets them with “Jai Shri Krishna” which is symbolic of Hindutva beliefs and imageries. This form of greeting is a general trend in Ahmedabad across classes. In the movie however, one can clearly see posters of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, or other symbols, in the background often conflicting with the subtle presence of the Indian Flag and its suggestive secular nationalism.
Later in the movie religion exhibits a larger than life presence with its influence looming over political, communal as well as individual behaviours and reactions. The mobilising of sevaks and rioters is the dreadful reminder of loss of individual rationale in a mob, personified in Omi.
This pre-occupation with starting their own Dhanda/business amidst dreams of growth, would definitely find resonance in Amdavad.Where Gujarati’s and their sharp business skills are a general discourse, I have had the opportunity of interacting with people in professions varying from ironing of clothes to shop owners and landlords. And the most interesting insight which emerged from those conversations was the fact that most of them would handle more than one profession at a time, in fact multiple professions.
For instance: there was a small Dhaba where most of us (students and bachelors) would go for an economical and simple meal. The Dhaba owner would also rent rooms on the second floor of his house to students. Furthermore, he distributed newspapers in mornings and was also trained in quarantining your house from pests. In fact he epitomised the term “Jugaad” , for every need that occurred in his vicinity, he would attempt at a solution in his capability. This juggling of more than one thing is reflected in the shop owned by Omi, Govind and Ishaan in the temple area, where they handled tutorials, sports academy and also shop for sports goods.
Also, the idea of independence and self-esteem associated with your own work or Dhanda, is a very common expression in Ahmedabad.
Modernity, Sophistication, Growth
Once their “Sabarmati Sports Club” is established, the three friends begin to dream of a better life, a better shop (Though Omi had his reservations to that). Their desire to own a more sophisticated shop in Navrangpura Mall (Full AC) was an ambition as much theirs as that fuelled by the prevailing images of escalation. I place this in the context of Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, and the rhetoric of development, world-class city and beautification that envelopes Ahmedabad. The idea to buy a shop in an upcoming mall is Govind’s, who though apparently wary, dreams of moving up in class hierarchies as well as pacifying his friends.
It was interesting to note, how towards the movie’s end, Omi is looking at the pitch from a space with transparent glass walls. The association of glass with achievement is reflected in most contemporary urban architecture.
Daaru and Diu
Daaru and Diu are indeed synonyms in Gujarat, where alcohol is officially banned. No wonder the three friends chose to go to Diu for some respite from the slowly enclosing captivity caused by their increasing reliance on Omi’s uncle. The conflict between reliance and freedom as well as their interdependence is well established when Govind reminds a drunk Ishaan that his philosophical rendering of temporary freedom was possible only through the money earned under reliance, thoughtfulness and dedicated hard work.
It was interesting to note the chemistry between the three. Where Ishaan chose to talk idealistically and behave impulsively, Omi would catalyse Ishaan’s emotions (mostly) than opine on his own. Both of them displayed lesser fear in spending their money than did Govind. He was more cautious (out of the three firends) and at times even petrified of the ambiguity that lay ahead. However despite being mocked at or teased, he would hold his own, than give in to external influences (barring the love of friends and Vidya) as would Omi. Together, the three reflected the co-existence of fear and inertia with dreams and risks.
Vidya and Vidya
Ishaan’s sister Vidya, had many essential characteristics of a young woman in Ahmedabad. Her sense of power, strength and straightforward criticism or wisdom reminded me of my land lady’s daughter. Her confidence in her sexuality as contrasted with her fear of pregnancy, could be related to, by most young women in Indian middle class.
Vidya’s scooty, was an essential part of her character. Scooty is not just a vehicle, scooty is empowerment, it is a form of asserting one’s right to mobility outside the walls of the house, on streets that anyways in Ahmedabad are not male dominated. I wonder if it was deliberate that in her moment of weekness (during her anxiety over erratic menstrual cycle), she was in an auto with Govind, being enclosed yet watched, and well aware of the gaze of the other (auto rickshaw driver).
Vidya could be dominating and also encouraging. She chose to date her brother’s friend (her tutor), while the latter was inhibitive for he feared his friend’s wrath and also societal norms. Their relationship bore evidencenot only to the hypocrisy and notions of morality surrounding sexuality, love and marriage, but also makes one reflect on the unspoken rules of bonding in men (bro-code?).
It seemed slightly stereotypical to have Vidya dislike Mathematics, what if she loved the subject and detested Biology? Why are her aspirations limited to marriage with Govind or fulfilment of her brother’s dream? She is supposed to be Mother Nature perhaps, because as much as she could reprimand others in their cowardice, she could soothe Omi during his repentance while sitting in the stadium.
The other Vidya: The prevalence of coaching and tuition centres was reflected, which is quite evident in most cities and towns in India. In Ahmedabad there was a vehement focus on English language during my stay.
Vehicle and Status
When they were holidaying in Diu, there is a sequence in the movie, where they are playfully riding in a new car which is one of the many being carried on an extended truck. At that point, Govind is sitting at the back seat and the other two are fantasising about the future, where Omi would help Ishaan start his sports Academy.
A car, especially the one where you still havn’t removed the covers from seats, is such a crucial benchmark, which proclaims that you have arrived. You are an esteemed member of the Middle class moving higher up. You own, possess, your own vehicle with four wheels. Many families wait for years together, and the day the car arrives, it is indeed a matter of celebration and joy, incomplete sans religious blessings. My landlady’s son bought a car from his salary and savings, I was treated to sweets prepared for the occasion, while the entire family went out to the temple and then for snacks. For years they had been managing to fit on a single scooter, and later sat divided on a scooter and bike.
In the movie, Govind drives his own car when he goes to receive Omi. Govind is dressed in a business suit, a far cry from the humble attire he adorns earlier. These seemed to be markers of a much desired status.
The three protagonists portray different flavours and nuances of friendship not just with each other but also with other actors in the narrative:
They Shared their passion for cricket, which also leads them to starting Sabarmati Sports Club.
They displayed Complementary skills and temperaments, While Omi could get access to the shop and money, Ishaan was the trainer, and Govind handled the tutorials as well as the practical saving of money being earned. Where Ishaan could be carefree and Omi would follow suit, Govind would be more realistic and at times even paranoid. It was Govind who was attempting at convincing Ishaan’s father for lending them money to start business. They trusted each other for working together. They believed in the strength of their bond. While Ishaan made claims of giving life for friends, Omi spoke of starting a sports academy for Ishaan. Though Govind would not generally overspend or go out of his line, he did take calculated risks for his friends (trip to DIU). However, when Ishaan was at Ali’s place during riots, Govind risked his safety and went up to the Muslim community so that he could be with his friend.
They fought when differences of opinion arose. Once Ishaan seeked their forgiveness, Govind seemed to handle it with maturity as compared to Omi, who took a while to let go of his grudge. Omi’s character would often fluctuate. He could be persuaded by his uncle and the persuasiveness was not limited to the money they owed. From accessing power to revenge for his parents’ death, Omi could be swayed, unlike Govind and Ishaan, who stuck to their rationale. Even though, Govind’s character is shown as slightly nervous or under confident, he emerges as more stable of the three.
Repentance, Having shot at his own friend, and having spent years in prison, Omi is overwhelmed at the forgiveness he receives from Govind and Vidya, at the realization of his loss, and also the continuance of his friend’s existence (Govind and Vidya’s son + Ali’s career in cricket).
Vidya, backup friend
Govind’s friendship with Vidya gave him a space to vent out what he couldn’t directly say to his friends. She encouraged and motivated him to fulfil his dreams, to be himself. Also, she reminds him to not be judgemental about his friends, she is indeed a positive influence in his life. It was not surprising though to witness Govind’s inhibitions in dating his friend’s sister (as mentioned earlier).
The tutor and his Tedhi
The camaraderie between Ali and his trainer Ishaan was based on mutual admiration and respect, which grew over a period of time. Initially Ali was unaware of Ishaan’s achievements (trophies) in cricket, while Ishaan lacked empathy towards Ali’s other interests. With Ishaan’s relentless pursuits, Ali’s confidence in Ishaan’s honest desire to see him (Ali) grow emerged.
Ishaan’s empathy for Ali extended towardsAli’s community as well. The desire to help them made Ishaan overlook (at times) the short term inconvenience it may have caused to his friends .
Gol Gappas: The global and the local, that is the actuality of any place in urban India, let alone Ahmedabad. It was interesting to note that Omi was eating Gol Gappas while waiting for Ishaan to join in, for the movie Basic Instinct. During my initial days at my PG, I was stunned when offered a huge plate of Gol Gappas for dinner, it took me quite some time to get accustomed to such facts of life. Later on I came to realize that there were a variety of flavours available in Gol Gappas as well, however that is another story altogether.
On weekends it would seem as if the whole of Ahmedabad would eat out. There could be huge queues outside a shop which would sell vada paav and daveli and similarly so outside an Italian or South Indian Restaurant.
Further Stereotypes: I wonder if this reading is not too far fetched but I felt that the actors representing Hindu Community appeared as physically stronger (with moustache and buland awaaz) as compared to their Muslim counterparts. So much so that Ali faced malnutrition and his father had a squeaky voice. It was surprising to find his father begging Ishaan to save them from Hindu rioters.It was disconcerting to watch the Hindu youngsters pull down Ali’s pyjamas, and him being pushed down by his trainer.
Stereotypes in Sports: Goti vs. Cricket: As is with most other sports in India, cricket steals the show, so much so that the other localized sports or genres are almost subaltern. This is quite evident in how Ishaan admonishes Ali for giving more relevance to his Goti tournament as compared to Cricket practice.
Stereotypes in Education System: Education vs. Sports: Similarly, the voice of sports is often subdued in front of the rationale given in favour of studies. Ishaan and Govind had a tough time convincing administration at Kendriya Vidyalaya school to support sports education. I could definitely relate to this, for I have myself spent time in trying to convince the principal at KV in Ahmedabad, for allowing me to conduct a workshop with their students.
The movie therefore seemed to be a simple and realistic narration of the many complexities that exist in actuality. The intricate web created by religion, socio-economic as well as cultural structures, politics and individual motivations or desires was hence displayed in the context of Ahmedabad.