The one advantage of an indie feature, amongst the many difficulties mainly related to resources, is that it need not compromise on content. There would be no studio to force you to make changes in your script or even worse, include an item song in your film. Even a Dibakar Banerjee film wasn’t spared from the latter. Karan Gour who is the producer, writer, director, editor and also the music composer of Kshay(Corrode), has made full advantage of the creative freedom that an indie film permits.
In the film, a young couple Arvind and Chhaya have migrated to Mumbai in search of a livelihood. But despite their wishes and much to Chhaya’s disappointment, she hasn’t been able to bear a child. Arvind works hard for very little money for a real estate contractor called Bapu who is a man of doubtful integrity. Once when Arvind is on a visit to Bapu’s office, a statue of the Goddess Laxmi in a shop just next to the office catches Chayya’s attention as she is waiting outside for Arvind. She feels an instant connect with the statue but can’t buy it due to severe financial constraints. Her neighbour(Shruti) further, but rather innocently, plants a thought in her mind that a statue of Goddess Laxmi in the house helps a woman overcome her infertility. Chhaya ‘s desire for the statue turns into an obsession, making her slowly lose her sanity.
Kshay(Corrode) is so well made that the general excuses of an indie film don’t exist here. The lack of resources usually makes such films a little weak on the technical side. But here the technical department has done its job very skillfully. The sound design again by Karan Gour along with Siddhartha Bhatia is very effective. Very rarely in Indian cinema are sound effects used with such an impact. The visual effects in some scene are passable. The prosthetics too serve their purpose.
Acting is another department where some indie’s usually falter. But here it is Rasika Dugal’s incredible performance as Chhaya that is easily the biggest strength of the film. Perfectly cast, Rasika Dugal doesn’t hit one false note. Though the descent of a female character into insanity has been played superbly before by Julie Christie in Away from Her or Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Rasika Dugal and Karan Gour give Chhaya a rooted Indianness which certainly gives a freshness to the character. Chhaya steps down into insanity one step at a time and Rasika’s performance is completely successful in portraying that slow inward spiral. There is absolutely no melodrama despite there being a lot of scope for it. Her slightly nasal voice and her hindi clearly lets you know that she is from Delhi. The change in her voice when she is shown speaking directly to the goddess is both chilling and moving at the same time. Rasika is so spectacular in some scenes like the one where she almost forcibly tries Shruti’s locket on herself that you really wonder whether it is time to say ‘Watch out Vidya Balan, here comes Rasika Dugal’. Without doubt the most crucial part of the film, her performance alleviates the film to another level.
Except for the unconvincing dialogue delivery of Sudhir Pednekar who plays Bapu the other actors are all up to the mark. Alok Sangal gives a good performance as the hard working and rational breadwinner Arvind, though at times you do feel that he is acting. Nitika Anand as Shruti is again perfectly cast. She makes the character of the kind and helpful neighbour to be very believable.
Abhinay Khoparzi’s camerawork gives the film an edgy look. Karan Gour opts to make the film in black and white which makes it even more difficult for the camera man as he is devoid of any colour to play with. But Khoparzi skillfully uses light to create eye-catching compositions. There is also an interesting mix of camerawork and sound effects to show the perspective of Goddess Lakshmi which Chhaya feels is talking directly to her. Also for once, the decision to shoot in black and white does add to the film giving it a grim look.
The man of the moment Karan Gour deserves every last bit of praise. It is the most confident debut in recent times. He has done a good job in all the departments that he has chosen to handle. Special mention for the eerie background score. It clearly shows that he has made the film with a lot of love and dedication. He should also obviously be given credit for the performances that he has been able to extract from his actors(especially Rasika). Gour keeps the film engaging right throughout and also makes us empathise with the characters. The few surreal dream or hallucinating sequences are expertly directed and help in creating a palpable tension. But at times you do feel whether they are a little too many. The detailing like the muezzin’s voice in the background as they are living in a muslim dominated area or the torn pyjama of Chhaya giving an indication of their financial conditions, is quite impressive.
I also quite liked the Mumbai shown in the film. It is the Mumbai which a middle-class individual experiences. No slums. No high rises. But BEST buses and vegetable markets. There seems to be a lot of effort put into the scouting of location for the dingy apartment where Arvind and Chhaya live. One of my favourite scenes is when Chhaya out to shop in the market notices only Goddess Laxmi everywhere. The Goddess is on cash-boxes of vegetable vendors, on the bags of a jeweller, etc. Chhaya, in that scene, is shown smiling all the time as she probably realises that Goddess Laxmi is revered not only by her but by many in the financial capital of the country.
Now, Karan Gour’s rock solid contribution to the film leaves very little scope for any negative criticism. But it is his script which does falter a bit towards the end. The trigger for Arvind’s reaction is not convincing. Arvind is shown to be a pragmatic individual and you are left wondering whether such a man would react in such a knee-jerk manner. Also you can’t understand why he too, like the mentally disturbed Chhaya, should start hallucinating.
But the negatives are too few to spoil the movie. Kshay is a powerful film made with such skill by a debutante director that it would humble even a few veterans. Add the technical finesse and the superlative performance of Rasika Dugal and that makes Kshay an absolute must watch! Every film aficionado worth his salt must make an effort to watch this amazing film when it releases in the theatres on June 15th.
Watch the trailer here: