Debut filmmaker Karan Gour tells Janani Ganesan how the humdrum notes of everyday life can build up to a crescendo of terror
AN UNSEEN force lurks behind the screens. But the terror in Kshay is not invoked by a spirit. It is invoked by the protagonist’s unhinged mind. In his first directorial venture, 29-year-old Karan Gour uses music to weave a psychological thriller. “I wanted to give a visual form to my music and that is why I made the movie,” says Gour, who also composed the music for the film.
Gour communicates through sound. The prolonged strains of the violin, the decibels of a construction site presented in quarantine and the amplified, monotonous humdrum of a middle class household in Mumbai, add depth to the everyday sounds of our own lives. It took Gour four years to achieve this. “Sometimes, we reshot one scene over four days. If a production house had funded the movie, we would have had to stick to deadlines. I had all the time to make the movie I wanted to,” he says.
Along with music composer Siddharth Bhatia, Gour had the perfect setting to let loose their music — a story that largely unfolds in the protagonist’s head. In the film, the recently married Chhaya (Rasika Dugal) becomes obsessed with the idea that her problems can be solved by bringing a statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi into her home. An amateur artist herself, who sketches at home when her husband Arvind (Alekh Sangal) is out at work, Chhaya is also fixated on the statue as a piece of art. Over the course of Kshay, Chhaya sells all the utensils in her house, steals from a neighbour, and eggs her husband into getting a gun, all to possess the statue. Gour charts the journey from infatuation to madness.
“Rasika incorporated some of herself in the movie,” says Gour, “she has this way of intensely looking at an object. Chhaya looks at things around her the same way.” He adds that he “allowed the actors to bring in what they could. In fact, some of the craft objects in Chhaya’s house were made by Rasika”. So deep did Gour and Dugal immerse themselves into her character that they still think of ways they could have enabled the audience understand Chhaya: “We were wondering, after the movie’s release, if we should have shown Chhaya eating the peeling paint off the walls, which would have been symbolic of her ruining her home for the statue. But it was too late.”
Gour has made a movie that is not only audacious in its experiment but also astute in its execution. Kshay has won awards and recognition abroad but was only released in India on 15 June, a whole year after the film had been applauded by festival audiences from New York to Dubai. The story is that of independent cinema in India — the script had to be written to suit the low budget; the house where the film was shot had to be vacated on the house owner’s demands; and the cast and crew held full-time jobs. Even after theatrical releases in Delhi and Mumbai, the film reclaimed its paltry cost of Rs 5 lakh (borrowed from friends and family) only after it won the Best Picture award at the recently concluded Shanghai International Film Festival.
Critics who have seen the film suggest it is an allegory about the middle class’ enduring concern with money. The constant presence of Lakshmi’s image is the obvious metaphor, they say. But Gour demurs, “I was not documenting middle class life.” Kshay, he insists, is a feature film and should be assessed as fiction. It demands to be experienced as a work of art.
Gour, who works as a writer for a Mumbai-based magazine devoted to specialist audio-video equipment, is already onto his second script. His debut film has left him wanting more, even if audience reaction has been decidedly mixed. “People either hate the movie or love it,” he says, “and I love that my movie creates such extreme emotions.”
Janani Ganesan is a Correspondent with Tehelka.