Kshay: A shout for quality cinema

Plugged for by a close friend, Kshay left me intrigued by its under-the-radar release. Made by debutant filmmaker, Karan Gour, the 100-minute-long film, which hit just a couple of cinema screens this past Friday in Mumbai, explores the internal struggles of a woman as she flits the emotional spectrum of desire to obsession.

Arvind and Chhaaya are a couple just about eking out a daily subsistence, when the otherwise contented Chhaaya (‘Bas itna hi kaafi hai ek behtar zindagi ke liye’) starts coveting an idol of the goddess Laxmi. Chhaaya sees the presence of the goddess in her home changing her fortune for the better. The problem is Arvind’s frugal income (he is a construction supervisor) doesn’t allow the couple an outlay of Rs. 15,000/- on the idol. This causes Chhaaya to flip the switch – her urge for buying the idol going from wishful longing to acquiring an outright Machiavellian tinge that includes thieving and deceit.

Kshay is a black-and-white movie where cinematographer, Abhinay Khoparzi, uses close-ups to bring out the emotions that the film’s characters constantly grapple with. He doesn’t try any odd, unusual angles, but instead gives the actors the maximum opportunity to display their repertoire by keeping things simple. In doing so, he also allows the viewer to concentrate entirely on the unfolding narrative without getting carried away by the possible distractions that some other ‘inventive’ DOPs may have provided in what is certainly a very unusual film.

The performances, too, are strong with Alekh Sangal (playing Arvind) convincingly portraying the role of Chhaaya’s husband as he contends with his wife’s increasingly dysfunctional behavior. The montage where he returns home after a long tour, brimming with the joy of being back, to his flying in to a bout of rage at the discovery of Chhaaya’s having sold off the household items, to his subsequent hesitation in assaulting his former employer – all point to an actor with a good future ahead. Nitika Anand, in the small role of a neighbor (Shruti), touches a chord as well.

Ultimately, though, Kshay belongs to Chhaaya, played by Rasika Dugal, and its filmmaker, Karan Gour. Dugal, seen mostly in television advertisements and on Mumbai’s bustling theatre circuit, alone makes the film a must-watch. She plays wife, devotee, mother-in-waiting, a cold, calculating and neurotic woman with equal aplomb.  She emotes with her eyes and never goes over-the-top where many others would have done so at the first possible instant. In a screenplay, which depends entirely on her to succeed, she leads the way with veteran composure and is refreshing in the role of a housewife driven to the edge by her own maniacal machinations.

Equally, Gour is the other reason to watch Kshay. Having written, directed, cut and scored the music for the film (music credit shared with Siddharth Bhatia), Gour gives us a movie very different from the regular Friday fare dished out at our multiplexes. As much as he would like the viewer to believe that Kshay is only about Chhaaya’s idol obsession, he cleverly packs in social comments about Indian society – ranging from child labour, ‘karza wasooli’ and the secular ethos of Mumbai (call for ‘azaan’ while Chhaaya discovers yet another image of the goddess Laxmi from the terrace of her lower middle-class apartment) – within his screenplay.

There are other gems he provides the audience with in terms of punning on the film’s characters or in introducing an overall element of irony. So, Arvind’s employer, the unscrupulous contractor is called ‘Bapu’ while Chhaaya is found asking Arvind to buy her some colour (for painting her portrait of Laxmi) in a film bereft of any. Above all, Chaaya’s fascination with the goddess of wealth stands out in stark contrast to her own impoverished state and her subsequent journey down the path of malice while coveting something holy can only be viewed with a sense of absolute tragedy.

Kshay, apparently, has been made by Gour on a shoestring budget of a few lacs over a four-year period. Far more average films, with big-bang budgets, made over a quicker span of time, without any desire of breaking the mould, enjoy splendid runs at the box-office. Watch Kshay to voice your support for quality, independent cinema.

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