Over a lazy cup of coffee in Versova, just before I was about to begin work on Kshay, I was asked the question that most actors hate to answer – but hear all too often – “So, what are you working on next?”
“A film,” I said, noncommittally.
Out came the barrage of followup questions: Who’s directing? Who’s producing? Who’s the co-actor? What’s the budget?
Advice was shortly to follow.
When I told my interrogator about Kshay, I got a frown, a ‘hmmm’, and finally ‘that’s not a film, it’s an illusion’.
Even at the time, I have to admit I found the line funny. But looking back, I see how Kshay could have been just that- an illusion- had it not been for Karan Gour’s perseverance.
Kshay was a low-budget indie in the extreme sense of the word. It meant lugging one’s own bag of costumes and props to shoot; it meant shooting in a tiny flat in Bhayandar with one rickety fan in peak summer; it meant a cast and crew of only 3-4 people; it meant the nearest loo was in a mall 15 minutes away; and it meant dubbing intermittently between traffic sounds in the director’s 2BHK.
But for me, it gave me a role that few actors get to play. The opportunity to shoulder responsibility for an entire film. With supporting roles in eight films, and an acting course in FTII, I was confident about finding my way within a scene. But to build a graph for a character across a film was something I didn’t have experience with. Working on Chaaya’s journey introduced me to that wonderful experience.
There were advantages, too, of not having too much money. Since there were only three or four of us on set on any given day, we took advantage of the flexibility this offered and shot several versions of scenes. We stuck strictly to the script, though. Karan wouldn’t have it any other way.
I recall long discussions with Karan on ideas we didn’t agree on. I respected the way he defended his ideas, but I wasn’t willing to do anything without conviction. Often, we’d convince each other of our ideas, and end up on opposing sides again! Shooting on digital, and our independent setup allowed us to shoot accommodating different ideas. And so while we stuck to the script, tiny nuances emerged with different versions.
There were several dream sequences in the film, more than what made the final edit. I have always been interested in dream sequences, both as a viewer and a performer. As a viewer, I’m always intrigued by how a filmmaker chooses to enter and exit a dream. And as a performer, I’ve always wondered how one should play oneself in a dream. Karan and I discussed this for hours and concluded that while playing Chaaya in Chaaya’s dream, I would have a sense of foreboding of what was to come, as that is how one feels in a dream – an eerie sense of knowing what’s going to happen. It was so much fun doing those scenes with that thought; it gave me something completely new to work with.
In a lot of ways, Kshay was a place where I could experiment with all I had learnt, seen and heard. I tested some processes I had learnt in film school, some I had read about, and some that I had only seen other actors use. I had heard of ways in which you can familiarize yourself with a space. So I helped Karan and Abhinay set up Chaaya’s house. I made some small objects that Chaaya makes (although the ones you finally see in the film were made by Karan, as the ones I made would have cast doubts on Chaaya’s artistic abilities!).
I tried doing a lot within a scene, I tried doing nothing within the scene, I tried listening solely to the director, I tried listening only to myself.
It was – a playground.
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