Brothers for Life (Kai Po Che): Berlin Review
The Hindu-Muslim clashes that shook Ahmedabad in 2002 frame a Bollywood tale of friendship in Abhishek Kapoor's film, which will be released in the U.S. by Walt Disney subsidiary UTV.
A rollicking male-bonding picture about three buddies who open a cricket academy in India’s exotic Gujarat, Brothers for Life turns extremely dark and violent in the last half hour, becoming a far more significant film holding strong crossover potential as well as festival interest. Actor-turned-director Abhishek Kapoor (his 2006 Aryan was a boxing drama) puts muscle and passion into the game, but comes into his own in depicting the horrors of the ferocious Hindu-Muslim clashes that shook Ahmedabad in 2002. The Walt Disney subsidiary UTV, which also produced, is releasing worldwide on Feb. 22 in the U.S. and U.K. following its Berlin Panorama premiere.
It’s the year 2000, and India is riding a wave of hope and prosperity. In the ancient city of Ahmedabad, three determined youths beg their relatives to finance their dream: a sports shop and school which will train tomorrow’s cricket stars. The check is already in the pocket of sensible, accountant-minded Govind (Rajkumar Yadav, who had a role in Gangs of Wasseypur) when the moody Ishaan (dancer and popular TV actor Sushat Singh Rajput) loses his temper over his sister’s suitor and bashes in a brand-new car. Uncle naturally thinks twice about bankrolling the enterprise.
Luckily, their serious pal Omi (TV actor Amit Sadh) has an uncle, too, one who is running for political office and has plenty of cash on hand. They set up shop inside a Hindu temple complex and are soon rolling along. But Govind has set his sights on a bigger place in a new shopping mall going up across the highway.
While he makes business plans, Ishaan finds personal satisfaction in coaching Ali, a pint-sized talent from a Muslim neighborhood. At Ishaan's house, Govind tutors his pretty but unscholastic sister Vidya (Amrita Puri of Aisha) in math. Her head is full of other ideas, however, and she uses her feminine savvy to make him fall for her. Naturally, they keep Ishaan in the dark, even when they spend the night together after a colorful dance festival.
The scene of the three boys going to a fortress on the beach to celebrate their first paycheck is choreographed to the sound of Amit Trivedi’s joyful score. Their bare-chested horsing around shows they know how to flex muscles in front of a camera and ends with all three making daredevil leaps into the sea.
Had the film continued in this vein, it wouldn’t stand out from the many Bollywood stories revved up by catchy songs and gym-trained young actors with toothy white smiles. Instead, Kapoor boldly plunges into two major historical events: the 2001 earthquake that killed 18,000 people (and which sends Govind's dreams crashing down) and the controversial Ayodhya temple dispute.
Few viewers who are unfamiliar with scriptwriter Chetan Bhagat’s novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life, on which the film is based, will be expecting these happy-go-lucky characters to get involved in the violent Hindu-Muslim clashes of 2002. At least 58 people died, many burned alive, on a train carrying Hindu activists wanting to build a temple in Ayodhya on the site of a 16th century mosque. In the wave of rioting and violence that followed, thousands more were killed in Gujarat. Kapoor stages a single, terrifyingly vivid attack of Hindus against the population living in the Muslim quarter, who are barricaded in fear behind strong doors, torn down by the fury of the mob. The involvement of all the young characters in the massacre turns the final scenes into very powerful drama. The film ends on a well-handled note of reconciliation that allows audiences to leave the theater with a tear in the eye.
Though all three main actors are well cast, Ishaan is the true hero of the tale and the handsome, impulsive Sushan Singh Rajput embodies him as a mesmerizing presence. Cinematography by Anay Goswamy works hand-in-hand with Sonal Sawant’s production design to bring the labyrinths of the ancient city to life and give them an integral role in the modern story.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 13, 2013.
Production company: UTV Motion Pictures
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkumar Yadav, Amit Sadh, Amrita Puri
Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Screenwriters: Pubali Chaudhuri, Supratik Sen, Abhishek Kapoor, Chetan Bhagat based on Bhagat’s novel
Producers: Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur
Executive producer: Ajay G. Rai
Director of photography: Anay Goswamy
Production designer: Sonal Sawant
Costumes: Niharika Khan
Editor: Deepa Bhatia
Music: Amit Trivedi
Sales Agent: UTV Motion Pictures