After playing the South Asian International Film Festival last month, picking up the Best Director award for debutant Karan Gour along the way, I get the opportunity to check out his hyped Hindi language psychological drama Kshay (Corrode)
When Chhaya (Rasika Dugal) stumbles across an unfinished statue of Lakshmi in a young sculptor’s workshop she feels an indescribable connection to it, but with a price tag of 15,000 rupees it is more than her and her husband can afford. Barely living month to month with the wage from his construction job, life is tough for the couple. But as time passes Chhaya’s desire of the beautiful statue steadily grows until she will do anything to acquire enough money to buy her beloved Lakshmi.
There aren’t many better feelings as a film fan than being surprised by something that you had no expectation for and that’s what makes Kshay’s impact that much more appreciated. An obviously ultra-low budget fair, it’s stripped down dirty approach to a tale of obsession cuts down to the bone with shattering effect. Obviously, a story handled with care I loved the evolution of the relationship between Chhaya and the statue as we follow it from desire to want, want to need and finally need to obsession. As it unfolds on screen it seems manic but you can feel the guiding hand of Gour keeping everything on track and not allowing it to dive off into madness and spiral out of control. We see Lakshmi’s influence over Chhaya slowly grow as the obsession digs even further into her mind.
It’s under the hood where Kshay really excels as it delves deeper into some women’s yearning to be a mother and what it means when they are unable to have that happiness. You see the loss and guilt of Chhaya after the miscarriage of her first child and how she turns to the statue as a solution to this. It’s also worth mentioning what Lakshmi as a symbol signifies, the God of wealth, fortune, fertility and courage to name a few. All these things are void in Chhaya’s life, they don’t have enough money, they can’t have children and Arvind is having trouble standing up to his boss who is refusing to pay him his work. Yes, it’s an obsession for the statue, but even more it’s an obsession for the better life that the statue represents.
It’s an unsettling experience watching a person want more than they can provide and finally give into the stresses of life, but it’s the strength of Rasika Dugal’s performance that keeps us watching. She sells the film and the character with her depiction of woman’s cracked psyche as it bleeds into life and blurs reality.
Shot in black and white, it’s is able to not only create intimacy in the scene’s where it is needed but also menace for the more extreme moments when we see Chhaya’s obsession really take over. The several uses of POV really stick out in my mind as it heightens the disturbing atmosphere of the dream/hallucination sequences that when used alongside the superb sound design from those scenes really leaves an impact. And although it does strive for a shocking ending in the final third it never ruins the overall story as you can see what the director is trying to say and you understand why he went in that direction.
Kshay is one of the surprises of the year for me, superbly written and directed from a filmmaker that seems to have much more to offer. Gour’s has made a film with relatable universal themes of struggle and motherhood that are evident in any society and twining that together with a story of obsession leads to a feeling of empathy for all the characters involved. He succeeds with what will have been a shoe string budget and the use of a skeleton cast and crew as well as minimal locations really help Kshay keep its focus. This is top ten of 2011 stuff, gripping, atmospheric and unsettling filmmaking of the highest order.