Berlin Q&A: Director Abhishek Kapoor

Abhishek Kapoor H

The Indian filmmaker discusses his take on Indian youth culture and the excitement of getting his first festival premiere at this year's Berlinale with "Kai Po Che."

Abhishek Kapoor first made a splash with his 2008 award-winning hit Rock On!!, which captured a slice of urban India's youth culture. His latest film Kai Po Che is based on the best-selling novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat, which tells a youth-centric story set in a small town and is getting its international premiere at the 2013 Berlinale. Kapoor spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his Disney-UTV-backed film's unique take on the young in India and how he feels about getting his first premiere at a major international festival.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Following up on your previous film Rock On!!, are you extending the youth genre in some way with Kai Po Che? And can the two films be compared in any way?

Abhishek Kapoor: I don't like to think what people are going to think when it comes to comparisons with my earlier work. I chose Rock On!! but I think Kai Po Che chose me. With this project it was really about the story which is so rooted and Indian. Rock On!! was in an urban setting with the main characters from a higher social class, but Kai Po Che is totally different as its set in a smaller town. The three principal male characters want to start a sports academy and then each of them goes to pursue his own track. The story is set against the backdrop of the 2002 riots and earthquake which hit the state of Gujarat.

THR: The film's title is unusual for a mainstream film.

Kapoor: I didn't look at it as a mainstream or indie film or put it in any slot. The title means a victory call (in the Gujarati language) when you cut someone's kite. It fits right with my story, sounds energetic and youthful. I think we will market that to audiences and push it out there.

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THR: What drew you to Chetan Bhagat's novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life, on which the film is based?

Kapoor: Chetan Bhagat is a rare case of an author writing in English in India who is extremely popular with an audience mostly comprised of the youth. This book has been read by 10 million people or more. Its simple and easy to read but with an important story. The backdrop were the riots and the earthquake which are all facts and he blended that with a fictional story. As a film director I saw a good opportunity to tell a story and add some style to it.

THR: You have mostly new actors in the film. Was that a conscious decision of taking a risk by not going for well-known names?

Kapoor: If I had taken big names for this film I would probably not have made the film that I eventually made. After making the film I cannot think of anyone else but these guys (actors Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav, Amit Sadh and actress Amrita Puri) playing the principal characters. When you discover explosive new talent its a great feeling and that, to me, is the joy of filmmaking.

THR: What do you want audiences in Berlin to take away from this film?

Kapoor: This is my first film that's going to any major festival. I would like them to see what we have to share in terms of the story. I am hopeful international audiences will respond positively to the film.

THR: Given that the film is youth-centric, what is your take on the recent massive youth protests demanding justice and better security for women after the horrific gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi?

Kapoor: It feels like some force is out there. There was a sense of bondage as a society. I don't think India has seen a revolution like this in a long time. Though my film is youth-oriented, it cannot be directly linked to any youth movement as such. But the characters are relatable as its not just about the youth but the people of the country.

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THR: What kind of international trends in cinema have inspired you?

Kapoor: What I like about what's happening in some foreign films is that they are true to where they come from. They are not overtly trying to match up to anybody or anything else. They are understanding their own community better. I hope this also happens more in Indian cinema.

THR: Kai Po Che is backed by Disney-UTV. What is your take on the arrival of international studios in India?

Kapoor: It feels great as long as new territories and markets are being opened. I see more opportunities and it makes everything better and more organized. I don't see anything bad coming out of this.