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Interview with Karan Gour
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Writer-director Karan Gour’s Kshay is all set to have its world premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF), as part of the Spotlight South Asian Section. It's the only feature film from India in competition at the festival. Black and white and 92 minutes in duration, Kshay (English title: Corrode) revolves around a housewife’s obsession with owning a sculpture of Lakshmi which leads to severe consequences. The film features Rasika Dugal, Alekh Sangal, Sudhir Pednekar, Adityavardhan Gupta, Nitika Anand, Asit Redij, Ashwin Baluja and Sidharth Bhatia and will screen at CIFF on October 8, 9 and 11. Here features an interview with Karan where he discusses the journey of making Kshay.

Your film, Kshay, is having its World Premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival in October 2011. Tell us more about that.

It’s fantastic to get our premiere over at CIFF and it gives Kshay a real opportunity to get on its two feet and fend for himself. We’re all awfully excited about this and wish our little guy the best of luck. At the same time we’re nervous because this will be the first time we’re showing Kshay to an audience who don’t consist of friends and family. It’ll be fun.

What other film festivals will Kshay screen at?

At the moment we’re not too sure about that. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes off the CIFF screenings.

Okay, let’s backtrack a bit. Tell us about Kshay.

Kshay is about one thing and one thing only, obsession. You can say it’s about Chhaya, a lower middle-class housewife living in one of the many cramped apartments of Bombay, but the main character of this film is obsession. We follow it from its birth to its thriving point, observing it from the point of view of this little family, holding nothing back.

The film deals with the concept of obsession…

It’s one of the only things that we humans have created and nature had no part to play in its evolving process. I think nature gave us passion and most people who want something bad enough, tend to twist the passion around and turn it into obsession. So there’s a fine line between being passionate and being obsessive, with the former being contained in a finite space and the latter not knowing its boundaries. And, it was this uncontrollable characteristic of obsession that excited me enough to write Kshay. I wanted to give obsession a setting that it could thrive in, sort of like setting up a chemical experiment. Except in this case, I knew the test tube wasn’t going to be able to contain the reaction.

What are some things you obsess about?

I think I obsess about anything that I am going after. Sometimes I know the limits and sometimes I don’t. But after making this film, I think I’ve become more aware of when to limit myself and just breathe.

What inspired you to write Kshay? Also, what led you to pick the statue of Lakshmi as an integral symbol throughout the film?

Like I said, it was all just about telling the story of this character called obsession. The Lakshmi sculpture was sort of like the catalyst, she helped spark it all off, although it could’ve easily been anything under the sun that Chhaya could want. I just went with the flow of Chhaya’s character - being somewhat artistic, living in Bombay, which has a yearly festival of immersing sculptures into the sea. And some of these sculptures are beautiful enough to make someone want it for their sheer beauty alone. I think that’s where I was coming from. The connections made about Lakshmi all just came from Chhaya, and what she wanted to believe, by getting the sculpture, would make her life better.

I read something about how difficult the journey was for making Kshay. It took four long years. You faced a lot of difficulties with casting and the locations and even while editing…Tell our readers about that…

It was really tough getting through this film, primarily because of the budget. Initially, it was just me doing all the pre-production work after the writing, which meant that I had to make lists and reminders about each and every aspect of the film’s production that’s usually done by a team of people. And every time I thought that it would get easier, it only got harder, with location fallouts, running out of money, unimaginable post-production challenges, etc. There was just so much, more than half of which I just can’t remember any more. I think that happens once it’s all done, you just tend to forget how hard every step was because you’re just so glad you got through it.

Were there moments when you felt like giving up? What got you through those moments?

I’d like to say there were these spurts of thoughts of giving up, but every time they came up, I would just look at what I’ve gone through to get to this point. It just seemed an awful waste to stop now that we’d come this far, even though I had no real idea of just how far we still had to go. After a while, it became about taking one little step at a time, without thinking about when it’ll all be done.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into films.

I think I was always making little films, or actually just scenes in my head ever since I was like 10 or so. And they used to always just be these silent, action driven scenes, with no dialogues. Because even when I was a little kid I used to think that there was no way that the actors in a film were actually speaking lines from a script. I mean I knew there was some sort of dialogues on a paper, but I always thought that a lot of it was just improvised. It all just sounded too ‘real’. I’d been involved with school plays and all of that, but since it was like your friends saying the lines, it just never reached this level of believability that movies had. Then, when I was 15 I think, I saw this soft-cover version of the Pulp Fiction’ screenplay lying around in an uncle’s house. I’d seen the movie before but when I read this screenplay, I saw word-for-word what the actors on the screen were saying. I mean it all just came out of Tarantino’s head, and went right into the mouths of the actors. Suddenly all these lights started burning in my head. I came to the conclusion that if you can sit with a pen and paper, get characters to talk to each other, you can tell a story. You don’t need a lot of money, and initially I thought that you don’t even need great actors, as long as your ears were agreeing with what you were hearing. So I started writing stuff from that point on, all of which became nothing since this process is obviously a lot more frustrating that I’d thought it would be.

You’ve written, directed, produced, and edited Kshay and also worked on the background score…That’s a lot for one person to do!

Yeah, but I was just not in the financial position to get other people to do it. But you know the great part about all these positions is the linearity with which they come into the making of a film. Like I can write, then I can do pre-production, then direct, then edit, then compose the music. So the only real times I needed help was during the directing phase when in parallel, there were jobs to be done that I couldn’t be doing simultaneously. So Abhinay, the man who went through everything with me from production onwards, helped out with everything else, too.

What led to the decision of opting for a black and white look for Kshay?

It just made narrative and financial sense. Narrative because the story of this film just doesn’t justify color. Chhaya thinks in black and white, you know, with no middle point, and that’s where it all came from. Financially, because it costs far more to shoot in color. Plus, I can’t just put color in a movie for the hell of it. I can’t let anything pass without asking myself why. Every little bit of color has to have a reason, and it has to serve a narrative purpose, otherwise it’s just ornamentation which is just being dishonest to everything a film stands for.

Is a theatrical and DVD release planned for Kshay?

No, not yet. We need to sell this guy first.

What was the most difficult scene to take in Kshay?

It was actually this scene that never made it into the movie at the end. It was this sequence on a beach, one of Chhaya’s dreams. The beach we wanted to shoot in was like 150 kilometers from Bombay, and we’d gone there two times, both times we got rained out. We were spending lots of money just going there, transporting the big Lakshmi sculpture around along with the actors, and weren’t getting to shoot anything. Finally, we did manage to get it all, but then once I edited it into the film, I had to toss it out because of all sorts of reasons.

Kshay was originally a short film titled Pause for Inanimation, right? What caused you to expand the film into a feature-length project?

Its feature length title was also Pause For Inanimation, and it went through a title change only towards the end of the editing process. The reason to expand this film out came from one of my trips to the town that makes these sculptures. Something in me made me think that if I am already putting in so much work for a 45 minute picture, I may as well put a little more and make it a feature. I had already been thinking about how the obsession just wasn’t getting enough time to expand to its fullest at this 45 minutes length. So I just sat over a couple of weeks, expanding it out. Obviously, I was sadly mistaken about the ‘little more work’ part.

What are your upcoming projects?

I am in the process of writing the next one. It’s about sound.

Is there any advice you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Crap, I have no way of answering this question without sounding self-important. Um, I think when you’ve written down or got into your possession a script of some sort that you believe in strongly enough, go with it. Don’t let yourself get in the way of that because it’s really bigger than you. Also, the lower your budget, the more you’ll be running around, which in-turn means the tougher should be the shoes you wear. Your feet, your hands and your head are really all you’re going to be using the entire way, so keep them healthy.

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