A woman’s slide into blinding obsession rests at the heart of Karan Gour’s debut feature Kshay (Corrode, 2011). Ambitious – both conceptually and in its execution – the film’s tight budget and small crew belie Gour’s achievement. Kshay is intriguing, well-paced and full of arresting visuals that seem to strive beyond the limitations of the indie movie.
Chhaya (Rasika Dugal) is relatively content with her humble life until she happens on a statue of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of fortune and fertility. We follow her gradual tragic demise as she becomes increasingly consumed by the need to own the statue, driven by the belief it will bring her the baby she so desperately craves. But it carries a hefty price tag, one which will take more than its financial toll. Perhaps one of the most striking moments rests with the first time Chhaya lays eyes on the statue: she is drawn to its pure, unglazed state, as the distemper has yet to be applied. Yet ‘distemper’, understood as a mental state, seems to linger in the air over Chhaya’s descent into deranged obsession from that moment onwards.
Gour toys with opposites throughout the film, vying between light and shade (the film is entirely in black and white), interior thoughts and exterior effects, divine beauty and life’s ugly asymmetry, which all swirl around the most fatal opposition of all: as Chhaya attempts to construct and craft a world for herself with Lakshmi at its centre, she paradoxically annihilates everything she has, wreaking havoc in her wake as if she were Shiva, the destroyer, herself.
The film has been compared to Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), but there are also distant Lynchian echoes and reminders of early Nolan work in the use of slickly layered editing to blur our perception of reality, culminating in an often dreamlike vision which explores the mind’s complexity. The viewer is even privy to a Lakshmi-eye view of Chhaya’s antics, with the lens focused firmly on the depths of earthly human obsession rather than a spiritual connection. However, despite such a detailed approach, Kshay very nearly falls into the pattern of becoming rather heavy on predictable symbolism.
This is a lovingly-made film, every part of which seems to have been handled with time and dedication. As well as writing and directing the piece, Gour also collaborated on the soundtrack, a stripped down score which compliments the intensity on screen. Rasika Dugal is notably outstanding as Chhaya.
Kshay will screen this Friday at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, and one can only hope it eventually reaches the wider audience it truly deserves. With such an assured debut, it will be interesting to see where Gour goes from here.