Cricket film bowls over Berlin
Berlin - "Kai Po Che", an Indian film about cricket, love and politics set against a tumultuous backdrop of brutal sectarian violence and an earthquake, bowled over the crowd at the Berlin film festival on Thursday.
In a year in which the main Berlinale competition has failed to inspire much passion, "Kai Po Che" (Brothers For Life) sparked cheers and tears from a packed cinema as it screened ahead of its global general release next week.
Based on the best-selling book "The Three Mistakes Of My Life", the film charts the ups and down of three ambitious young Indian men as they set up a sport shop and cricket coaching academy in the Gujurati capital Ahmedabad.
After a slow start, business begins to boom - helped by a gripping Test series between India and Australia that sees cricket kit fly off the shelves - and they uncover a precocious young batsman, Ali, whose talent they nurture.
They expand their business, opening new premises in a swanky mall, but their world is shattered by the 2001 Ahmedabad quake which reduces their shop to rubble and destroys all their stock.
The devastating earthquake also strains the trio's friendship, as cricket coach Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) steals their remaining savings to pay to shore up Ali's house, causing the others to expel him from the partnership.
Inevitably it is cricket that brings them back together, as they bond again while watching India's astonishing Test victory against Australia in 2001, only the third match in history where a team following on has gone on to win.
The trio begin to rebuild from the ruins. The more business-minded Govind (Rajkumar) expands the sports equipment and coaching model into schools, with the help of Ishaan, while Omi (Amit Sadh) finds himself drawn into politics.
Meanwhile, Ali rises through the ranks of Indian cricket with a series of sparkling innings inspired by his mentor Ishaan while Govind falls in love with the coach's beautiful sister played by Amrita Puri.
But again, upheaval intervenes, this time in the form of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Omi's parents are burned alive when a group thought to be Muslim extremists torches a train carrying Hindu pilgrims and activists in the Gujarat town of Godhra, killing 58 people.
This unleashes a wave of brutal sectarian violence that draws in all three friends, rips apart their town of Ahmedabad and ends up pitting Omi, son of a Hindu priest, against the family of the Muslim rising cricket star Ali, with tragic results.
Director Abhishek Kapoor told reporters he wanted to make a different type of Indian film and shied away from the traditional Bollywood mix of song, dance and music, although the film contains plenty of the colour and spice of India.
"I don't think it's a Bollywood film, it's an Indian film," said Kapoor.
He said he hoped the film's format, which intersperses TV footage from the historic 2001 India-Australia Test series and features a cameo by Indian cricket star Aday Jadeja, would appeal to a wider audience.
"The world over, people are interested in Indian film. People are curious and want to see more films. But somehow Bollywood films don't connect with people," he said.
While the politics, religious tension and cricket were important, ultimately the film is about the unbreakable bond between the three stars, said Kapoor.
"Politics in India is in every area. This is what India is about: cricket, politics, religion and movies. But actually this film is about friendship.
"I think it is a very important story for India."
The 63rd Berlinale runs until Sunday. "Kai Po Che" is screening in the festival's Panorama section.