The first truly Indian movie I’ve reviewed for the site, it’s like a milestone and stuff!
Written By: Karan Gour
Directed By: Karan Gour
I have never professed to be an expert on Indian cinema. In fact, I have never seen a Bollywood film, and the only Indian films I have seen were made by foreign directors and foreign production companies who happened to set their story in India. Needless to say having my cinematic exposure to India be limited to Slumdog Millionaire and Gandhi wasn’t something to write home about. Kshay is a million miles removed from either of those films, and it’s just as far removed from the little snippets of Bollywood pictures that I have seen. The experience of watching Kshay was an interesting one, my expectations were constantly being subverted by Karan Gour’s picture. For all I know Kshay may not be the typical Indian film, I know that it probably isn’t, but it does have me excited to check out more from the cinema of India and I am thankful for that.
Doubt is a peculiar thing, because when unchecked doubt can lead to obsession. And obsession left unchecked almost always leads to disastrous results. It’s never clear why Chhaya becomes as obsessed as she does with the statue of Lakshmi. The film supplies a few different reasons, but it very astutely chooses to never explain the actual cause of her obsession. This leaves it up to the viewer to decipher Chhaya’s actions. Is she a woman gone mad, or does she have a sound reason for her obsession? Or, maybe her actions are crazy and she is losing her mind but said craziness and loss of mind springs from an emotionally honest place? Sri Gour delivers a well crafted screenplay that does not provide any answers but leaves the floor open for the viewer to provide their own answers.
Another facet of the screenplay, as well as the direction, is the aim for a slow burn. This is where both the drama and horror elements of Kshay are strongest. Chhaya’s decent is a slow one, it unfolds at a pace that allowed me to get to know her and to care for her. She was not just another face in the crowd undertaking maddening actions. Chhaya was a character I felt for and as she fell further down the rabbit hole I wanted to help her back up while at the same time remaining engaged by her story. One key moment is near the end of the picture when Chhaya is rhythmically grinding a stone fragment with her knife. I knew what the outcome of that sequence was going to be, yet I was enveloped in the suspense of her madness and when the knife finally slipped I was chilled.
While the direction and screenplay of Sri Gour deserves a lot of the credit for the success of Kshaya, without the dynamic performance of Raskika Dugal as Chhaya the film wouldn’t amount to as much as it does. She is a beautiful woman with an expressive face, and large eyes that swallowed my attention whole. The scar on her face throughout the film does not detract from her beauty and she plays up that scar to the hilt. There is a yearning to her character, a believability to the obsession of Chhaya that is supplied by the acting of Smt Dugal. The rest of the cast is solid, but Kshay is Smt Dugal’s film and she carries the load with great surety.
The style of the film is a strength of the film, but it is also where Kshay does falter. The sound is excellent, it is eerie and piercing in all the right places. The black and white cinematography adds a crisp freshness to the film in addition to a level of macabre that would be hard to pull off were the film in color. However, I was not completely sold on some of the outward shots that were used from time to time. The effect itself was not a bad one, that of Chhaya looking directly into the camera as if she were interacting with the camera. But, the effect was overused and on the whole did not add much to the film. There was also one two minute stretch with Chaaya’s husband, Arvind, that I did not feel fit with the rest of the film. To have him encounter his own moment of craziness was not needed and distracted from Chaaya’s plight. When that sequence was over it did not serve to help the picture in any way.
I may not be an expert on Indian cinema, but I do know a great movie when I see one. Kshay is a great film, a surprisingly adept take on the psychological horror of obsession. It is a well acted, directed, and written film. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area on April 14th head over to the Hollywood Arclight where the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles will be spotlighting Kshay. If you’re not in the Los Angeles area on that day then keep your eyes open for Kshay in your local theaters or eventually on BD or DVD. Seek out Kshay when you can, it is a film well worth seeing.