Reigniting Memories

Kai Po Che

The film Kai Po Che has come in for some criticism for eliding over the role of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat killings of 2002. This review argues that by faithfully recreating the social and political contexts of those times in the language of mainstream cinema, it helps remind people how dangerous is the politics that Modi represents.

It was said about Tolstoy’s works that the progressivism of his art through his fiction exceeded his own ideological beliefs, having much more radical implications. It is necessary to underline this in the context of the recently released film Kai Po Che based on a novel by Chetan Bhagat. This is doubly paradoxical because here we are not simply talking about Bhagat’s own ideological beliefs as expressed in his regular opinion columns but also about possible contradictions between two art forms – the novel and the film. It needs to be underlined, at the same time, that Bhagat was part of a larger team which adapted the novel for the big screen.

What is the criticism about the film? The controversy has arisen around the fact that despite touching on a sensitive issue like the Gujarat riots of 2002 in a “somewhat” sensitive manner, the film shies away from naming Narendra Modi, widely believed to be complicit in the riots (indirectly or directly), and instead passes the blame onto a local Hindu fundamentalist leader. What is being cited for this are two sets of evidences. First is that the novel is much more explicit about the role the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state government played in the riots and that the film is a much watered-down version. The second is that, in his recent columns, Bhagat has hailed Modi as a progressive leader. In fact, if one were to look at his most recent piece which appeared in the Times of India on the anniversary of the Godhra train fire, he actually went on to argue for a larger self-questioning instead of “entering into a blame-game”. I would argue, and this would become clearer later in this article, that it may be a moot question whether Bhagat actually believes in this or whether he is trying to prevent possible harm to the commercial prospects of the film because of its political implications.

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