“And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode”
A search for response to Karan Gour’s Kshay
By Pablo D’Stair
I am honestly at a bit of a loss as to why I cannot get my response to Karan Gour’s Kshay past purely aesthetic considerations, but since watching the film any palpable emotional response has been eluding me. But this I do not say critically, exactly—the film, as a whole, was striking and, to be frank, hit all of the buttons that would usually engage me wholly rather than prompt only an appreciation of component parts. And since this segmented appreciation, this dismantling of the cinema into portions I find nothing but admiration for yet cannot link to felt response, has been so unnerving to me, I take this time to investigate the question that won’t leave me be: Where is the disconnect for me, humanistically, from this film, a film which is a sensitive—even exquisite—corkscrewing investigation into the psyche and the lost hearts of the characters who people it?
To begin, I must say it is not the performances which keep me at arm’s length. To the contrary, every performance in the piece is pitch perfect—performances so naturalistic, complete, and unconscious the word “performance” hardly seems suitable. The players reach a level of ease with each other and with their claustrophobic surroundings that it is almost unnatural to think of the film as scripted. This verite, it seems to me, is ultimately necessary to a proper, non-melodramatic or ‘dependent-on-some-forced-pathos’ rendering of the events and, taken scene-by-scene, it makes me believe without doubt the gravity of the inner prompts of the characters, their frustrations, their secrets from each other as much as from themselves.
Chhaya’s (Rasika Dugal) revealed evolution into self-flagellation over the loss of her unborn child, her guilt as well as her tacit (and eventually total, even violent) blame aimed at her lover for leaving her “dead inside,” is presented as consuming and, indeed, consumed me as a viewer a step ahead of the character at each tick, creating a suspense based on a sincere hope she would not be pulled under despite my being aware of the water having covered her over before she realized there was no air left to breathe.
And her lover, Avrind (Alekh Sangal) so naturally and evidently consumed in the more surface level concerns of his life—not receiving pay for work he has done, losing his job, wanting something for himself (and himself alone) but attempting to keep this tinge of selfishness out of Chhaya’s perception—is absolutely convincing and even somewhat hypnotic. I would watch a film simply about Avrind eating, going to work, riding in taxis, talking to his boss, squirming to find some way out of hopelessness for himself and it would almost seem documentary, un-turn-away-from-able.
Mix in to this the understated fear on Chhaya’s part that (in addition to having lost her child and being deprived of her hope at having another—by way of Avrind not purchasing her a statue she fixates on and devoutly believes will return her fertility) Avrind is drifting from her, only able to connect physically, and her sense of complete isolation-in-desperation which she increasingly becomes convinced will lead to total abandonment and I, again, question myself: Where is my disconnect, emotionally?
When at its most naturalistic, the film succeeds most fully. But even the “otherworldly” sequences (the dreams, the nightmares, the hallucinatory elements of Chhaya slipping further into an anguish she feels necessarily must be kept hidden) in Kshay are singularly lovely, unique—they genuinely haunt.
I will say that certain of the surreal aspects are handled within the naturalism of the majority of the film and worked for me more than the ones that were totally set interior to Chhaya—the difference between her fully hallucinated conversation with the face of the goddess she hopes to sate in exchange for a child and the sequence of her laying on the kitchen floor, having two picture postcards conduct a more forceful dialogue on the same subject, is quite notable (and the latter carries far more of a disquieting imperative).
But none of these “otherworld” moments broke a connection, each captivated. And even a few of the seams showing, so to speak, in the composition of the film is, of course, no overall detriment and, indeed, the breaks (exterior-to-interior, interior-to-exterior) serve well as pace cars.
I suppose there was a bit of notable problematic for me with some of the “plottier” elements of the film, but I have to also admit that these slight gripes made me appreciate the more subtextual progress of the majority of the thing, all the more.
My gripe, as such, is thus:
As Kshay proceed into its final act, there is a mix of Chhaya’s state-of-mind and motivations in to Avrind’s, this leading directly to his tragic and violent confrontation with his boss. This seemed somewhat out of place or, at least, seemed a hand too forcefully played. I saw no need for a combination of the plotlines and (more than not seeing a need) felt keeping them severed would have brought the film to a truer, more organic impact, one it seemed to be cultivating.
Avrind being pushed, even partially, by Chhaya and, in fact, succumbing to hallucinatory moments himself seemed rouge, a peculiarity to the characterization, the storytelling-by-skirting-storytelling so masterfully on display throughout the film. And the film suggested that there was a bit of calculation in Avrind’s final choices on the part of Chhaya, that she was more satisfied with (even hoped for) the violent fallout rather than the success of the robbery which leads to Avrind’s death and her ability to finally obtain her statue.
Elsewhere, I have seen Kshay likened to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and I felt, for the majority of the film, that this comparison was spot on. But Polanksi was able to track the descent of his central character without allowing an infectiousness to those around her, doubly reinforcing the horrific distance, the ultimate quality of her noia—the secondary characters in Polanski’s film, while time was spent with them outside of the presence of the central woman, never left their own orbits, never connected, consciously or unconsciously, to the private madness of his woman.
In Kshay, however, the commingling of Chhaya and Avrind—through suggesting she somehow influenced him in his course of action—cross-stitched things in a way somewhat outside of the realm of naturalism (even naturalism mixed with supernaturalism) and added too late in the game a puzzle piece for Avrind, who was already so fully completed. I could see Avrind’s end in his beginnings without the need of it touching Chhaya’s struggle and, perhaps, it would have been all the more powerful had these two tracks run parallel and never touched.
Either way, it certainly struck me as outside of Avrind to empathize to the point of his own frustrations manifesting in nightmarish visions based around Chhaya and her deterioration—his moment of nightmare comes on him suddenly and incorporates Chhaya, while her drifting out of herself happens bit-by-bit and includes Avrind only in later stages.
With Avrind, I feel there was an accidental combining of two elements that would have been better served if kept in isolation.
Of course (here’s the rub) the result of the tracks colliding allows for the perfection of the final moments of the film. Chhaya obtaining the stature (after stripping her house of belongings, betraying friends, murdering—in effect—the person who it seems could have actually provided her with the child she wanted) drove home with devastating pointedness the dehumanization she achieves (or, it could be slanted, the utter, naked humanness, a state devoid of reason, left to pure emotional impulse). The final moment of Chhaya left standing alone, expressionless, staring at the statue as though it, by utter magic, can provide her, denuded of everything else, the child she so desperately desires is poetic perfection and, on second viewing, reveals the truth that even in the film’s opening moments, this is where Chhaya was, where she is, where she will forever be.
But still I find it leaves me there, blank faced, starring as well—wondering why the magic of the film did not kick in to me, why the empathy needed to understand Chhaya there, alone (more utterly than she ever feared) is something I cannot find.
Pablo D’Stair is a novelist, essayist, and interviewer. Co-founder of the art house press KUBOA, he is also a regular contributor to the Montage: Cultural Paradigm (Sri Lanka). His book Four Self-Interviews About Cinema: the short films of director Norman Reedus will be re-releasing October, 2012 through Serenity House Publishing, International.