Abhishek Kapoor on why he chose Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh, Rajkummar in Kai Po Che: ‘A nightmare to handle 3 big stars’

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‘Kai Po Che’ — the battle cry used in Gujarat as kites’ strings entangle and only one opponent emerges victorious — became the title of the 2013 film that launched three new talents in the film industry, Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh. The film, however, had only one fleeting sequence of the sport impactfully placed in the storyboard. That’s because the title of the film stood more symbolically for the soaring spirits of its three main leads, each one depicting a different path undertaken by those kites.

“I feel it happened just yesterday. It was such a joy to make it, so exhilarating. It’s been nine years and we’re still talking about it, as if it is releasing today as well,” director Abhishek Kapoor told indianexpress.com, as he looked back at Kai Po Che that completes nine years of release today.

kai po che sushant singh rajput rajkummar rao Rajkummar Rao and Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from Kai Po Che. (Photo: Express Archives)

Kai Po Che was adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s 2008 novel ‘The 3 Mistakes of My Life’, and starred Rajkummar Rao, Amit Sadh and late actor Sushant Singh Rajput in the main roles. The movie came practically at the start of each of their Bollywood inning, and established their careers, including Abhishek Kapoor as a bankable director.

The plot majorly traced the journey of three friends intertwined through a span of 12 years, from their plan of opening a sports shop and a sports academy, to how their lives get heavily impacted post the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, 2002 Godhra train burning and the following Gujarat Riots.

Abhishek recalled that to translate the film’s multiple subplots and historical events on screen, was a challenge. But considering everyone gave their hundred percent, they managed to pull it off.

“It wasn’t an easy movie. It was shot in Gujarat at the peak of summer, in 50 degrees. That was extremely painful. I remember people used to faint on camera. Then to shoot those riots sequences and bring everything to life. Making it was so real for us, it was like being in the movie. It was our life at that point of time.”

“But one thing was consistent, like a thread running through every crew member — the excitement. Everybody was at the same creative trajectory. Everyone has a graph and we managed to find them at the right time on that graph to coincide all those energies,” Abhishek reminisced.

But a book adaptation is never a cakewalk, all the more when it travels timelines and ages. Abhishek said while the three characters of Ishaan, Omi and Govind stuck to the book, they had to rewrite several other tracks to give it a movie frame. “I like how Chetan touched upon cricket, riots and ambition. It is also a very culturally rich film. But when you write it meticulously, the next set of people who join in build from there. I had a very good writing team.”

kai po che sushant amit rajkummar Abhishek Kapoor with actors Amit Sadh, Rajkummar Rao and Sushant Singh Rajput, along with producer Siddharth Roy Kapur. (Photo: Express Archives)

Kai Po Che was a unique coming-of-age story, adept with friendship, aspirations, new love, heartbreaks, falling and getting back on your feet, with all three characters having a steep graph. Abhishek explained why he picked lesser known actors, despite the initial choice of bigger stars. He said Kai Po Che wasn’t a cheap movie. And investors getting their money back is always of utmost importance. But on the contrary, since the script was about three friends, popular names wouldn’t have been the best decision.

“We did try to have big names initially. But it wasn’t written that way. It was about friendship, where they were equals. It would have been a nightmare to handle three big stars. The next logical step was to find new people. And I’d already done that with Rock On, as Farhan (Akhtar) was also starting off then. I had a good sense of working with new people as long as I felt the connection with them,” Abhishek shared taking us through the casting process.

kai po che cast sushant rajkummar amit Kai Po Che was adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life.

Crediting casting director Mukesh Chhabra for putting his confidence in Sushant, Rajkummar and Amit, Abhishek added, “I was searching for that vibe. And these three just looked like they were friends. The way they interacted convinced me that they had the chemistry. That’s what method acting is. Even off screen, they were constantly maintaining the energy between each other and that manifested onscreen too. We cast all three of them together. You see their journey today, and then imagine how it would’ve been for me having all three of them on my set.”

Abhishek, who reunited with Sushant in his 2018 directorial Kedarnath too, said looking back at the memories of Kai Po Che leaves his numb. Though he refused to share much about the late actor, he did say, “I lost a friend, a fabulous collaborator. I made two films with him. People are going back and seeing Kai Po Che (to remember Sushant). That’s good. Remembering him is good.”

amit sadh kai po che Amit Sadh plays Omi, who looses his parents in the Godhra train massacre. (Photo: Express Archives)

While one cannot compare the prominence of each male lead who had equal weightage in the plot, Abhishek did agree that to him, Amit Sadh’s character Omi Shastri was the most complicated and closest to his heart. He shared, “Ishaan goes on to become more of who he was meant to be. And Govind is a businessman and a survivor. But Omi goes through a complete transformation. He didn’t have any direction and leaned onto his best friend Ishaan. But, when Ishaan goes on a separate path, somebody else grabs Omi’s impressionable mind. I remember Amit giving his everything.”

Kai Po Che’s tunes still echo in our minds. From the Navratri special “Shubh Arambh” to the one invoking dreams in “Meethi Boliyaan” and the friendship anthem “Manjha”, the film had just three songs, but each went on to become metaphors in their own right. “I got to work with Amit Trivedi who’s an extremely gifted man. His tunes have always been special. He’s also Gujarati and was the right person for this film. I am lucky,” Abhishek said.

Abhishek Kapoor, who has made movies as diverse as Rock On, Fitoor, Kedarnath and the recent hit Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, says he has to unlearn everything after wrapping up a film, and before hopping onto his next. “Every time I’m making a movie, I feel like I’m making my first movie. It’s not about experimenting and my modus operandi is to completely serve that film and that idea,” he shared.

So what if he has to remake Kai Po Che today? What would be his cast? “It’s just been nine years. We can talk about it after 30-40 years maybe,” he concluded.

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