THE ANATOMY OF OBSESSION
A young woman stares at the peeling, pock-marked walls of her sparsely furnished flat where she seems locked up for hours, days on end. Her reveries merge into surreal black and white imagery—a giant flower popping out of a small glass bowl with some soil she has just watered and sat looking at with longing, willing it to provide a miracle, a sign for her fertility. When she's not daydreaming, Chhaya (Rasika Dugal) has a proper routine—she cooks, she cleans, she dries her hair noisily on the terrace overlooking a dense neighbourhood—something most wise men will tell you is a recipe for retaining sanity.
Chhaya's life isn't any worse than that of millions of people living in cramped, crummy flats in places like Mumbai surrounded by the cacophony of a myriad intrusive sounds—inventively designed, in this case, by the multi-tasking filmmaker Karan Gour, who has written, edited and co-scored the film shot by a two-man crew comprising the director and cinematographer Abhinay Khoparzi. The camera, nearly always hand-held, is often scrutinising the characters' faces too closely—the way Chhaya looks longingly at a neighbour's baby who's left with her for some time. You start feeling uneasy as she hangs a make-shift swing from the ceiling fan.
Early in the film she sees a giant, unfinished idol of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, in a roadside shop and falls in love with it. The vendor quotes a high price, well beyond her modest means, even as her husband Arvind (Alekh Sangal) is haggling with his boss next door about getting paid on time. His eyes wander to a crude paper-weight, a miniature of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. There is a wad of notes under it, which the boss quickly retrieves and locks up in his drawer. This is a marker for the film's subtext.
Chhaya has instructed the idol-maker not to coat her goddess with distemper. She likes her pristine purity and promises to raise the money to take her home. Meanwhile she sketches, furiously—a replica of the design on the idol-maker's T-shirt, but with tiny babies hanging from the branches. It's a terrifying, yet fascinating image. Then she sketches Laxmi—with no sense of proportion, she uses up an entire wall and has no place left for the goddess' head. She has lost perspective. As she walks through the market buying vegetables, all that her eyes can see are Laxmi stickers on cash boxes and weighing scales. The suspenseful, jarring soundtrack captures her inner turmoil.
Suddenly she can't get through the day's tasks and sits around obsessing about the idol her harassed but loving husband can't buy her, and which, she irrationally believes, will fertilise her barren womb. The neighbour wears a small Laxmi pendant, and Chhaya takes it from her and caresses it, the camera closing in on her face. The neighbour is rattled, so are we. When Arvind leaves her for a 10-day trip to start a new venture with his friend, we know things are going to take a turn for the worse. Only we can't imagine how.
Gour's screenplay is littered with clues about not just his character's interior landscape, but also her eventual fate, though we shouldn't second-guess him. If the narrative was even tighter, we may have actually been left with no room to think or breathe—making us one with Chhaya's neurosis. At 92 minutes, Kshay is perhaps 15 minutes too long, and that's its only drawback.
Dugal's performance is raw and unnerving. She goes from a reasonably sorted if dreamy girl-woman into a ghostly figure devoured by her strange fixation, without getting hysterical in a filmi way—her's is a slow, dangerous slide. Sangal's Arvind and Nikita Anand's friendly neighbour provide her with adequate support, but ultimately it's the inventive, surreal imagery, the edgy camerawork and haunting music that give this film a distinctive quality, apart from its layered theme that blends an individual's tragedy with society's mindless obsession with money to the exclusion of everything else and the emptiness it spawns.✑