47th Chicago Film Festival: ‘Kshay’ a dark Indian portrait of obsession

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Written and directed by Karan Gour

India, 2011

If you were to get the briefest of possible introductions to Kshay, you would probably walk away from it not expecting anything more than an adequate black-and-white drama from India. Despite initial appearances, Kshay is a dark, depressing, and sometimes even surreal portrait of obsession that’s wonderfully conveyed, and well worth the time of anyone attending the Chicago Film Festival this year.

Like many stories of its kind, it starts out innocently enough: a young woman finds herself face-to-face with a beautiful sculpture of the

goddess Lakshmi, and has a desire to buy it. But when she’s driven to the brink of madness by the thoughts of the prosperity the goddess could bring her, her desire turns to obsession and she finds herself going to great lengths just to get her hands on it.

It’s Rasika Dugal’s lead performance as the warped Chhaya that plays the biggest role in bringing such a story to life. By the end of it all, she’s only a shell of the person she was before, and seemingly chooses to portray the character as being under some sort of possession. And it’s a wise decision on her part. It’s the moments of silence (and there are a great many) where these elements come out the most, and these are some of the most chilling sequences in the film. But her spoken lines ooze character as well, as they become more quiet and pitiful as the story progresses. Overall, it’s one of the best character arcs you’re likely to see this year.

And helping her along in this journey is a top-notch use of sound and imagery. Writer/director Karan Gour went into this film with just a two-man crew, and as a result he was able to go through an obsession not unlike that of our main character. This shows, as the film’s use of music and sound, and even a cutaway image or two, help to amplify the ideas of want, or loss, or despair, or pretty much any emotion under the sun. It also adds a layer of surrealism to it all, which only helps as it brings the feelings of uneasiness to the forefront. It’s far from an easy watch, but in the best way possible.

It’s the script itself that holds Kshay‘s only, minor fault. While the story is very strong, and commands the attention of anyone watching it, at times it feels as if it was a story better suited for a short-subject piece. While the 90-minute runtime does allow ample time to spend with Chhaya and her downward spiral, some moments in the film feel as if they’ve been stretched out for the sake of it. It can make getting through the film tedious at points. But sticking with it yields great rewards.

Kshay is an independent film through and through. It was made with a small crew, stars a small cast, and has the smallest number of sets possible to the story. But in the end, this all helps to create the best-realized film possible. Despite a few lagging scenes, it’s a tense and thought-provoking drama about a woman driven a little too far by desire, and it’s one of the most stimulating and satisfying film experiences I’ve had this year.  The haunting visuals and results of her actions are bound to stick with you long after the film ends, and might make you think twice the next time you give something a little too much thought.

William Bitterman


The Chicago Film Festival runs from October 6th-20th. Visit the festival’s official home page.

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