For Karan Gour, sound and cinema have been inexorably linked since he was a schoolboy in Tamil Nadu, creating detailed images and characters to accompany the music he listened to on his headphones.
“I remember something that Martin Scorsese once said in an interview that really resonated with me,” says Gour, 29, who is also a musician and trained audio engineer. “He said, ‘One doesn’t need great skill to direct. All you need is to shut your eyes and listen to a scene and see whether it sounds real. That’s all.’”
This philosophy, coupled with his childhood experiments with visualisation and imagery, would determine his approach to his debut feature — Kshay (Hindi for ‘to corrode’) — a black-and-white film about a lonely lower-middle-class housewife’s spiral into depression.
Completed in August 2010 on a shoestring budget, the film features a lush string-quartet background score (composed by Gour and Siddharth Bhatia, a friend from his audio engineering days) and special effects created using computer-generated imagery.
Shot mostly inside a dilapidated Bhayander apartment, the level of detail and technical finesse that has gone into the sound, score and special effects are highly unusual, even for a big-budget Bollywood film, and virtually unheard of among indie features.
The story is unique too, starring Rasika Dugal (Tahaan, No Smoking) as Chhaya, a housewife who begins to slide into depression after becoming obsessed with a R15,000 idol of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, that she and her husband Arvind (Alekh Sangal of Summer 2007) cannot afford.
The combination of powerful story and technical excellence has propelled Kshay into four major festivals over the past eight months — the Chicago International Film Festival, the South Asian International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and the Dubai International Film Festival. The film won the Grand Jury prize at the LA festival in April and won Gour Best Director at the South Asian fest, held last November in New York.
The LA award prompted filmmaker Anurag Kashyap (Dev D, Gulal) to sit up and take notice. In mid-April, Kashyap watched the film and tweeted: ‘Took me completely by surprise. Best indie film in a long time.’
These accolades haven’t come by easily. Kshay has been a labour of love five years in the making. Gour wrote the first draft of the script in 2007.
An initial production budget of Rs 4 lakh was sourced from family and friends, about half of which was spent on pre-production expenses such as location, props and actors’ fees.
The crew comprised entirely of Gour, who also wrote, co-produced and edited the film, and his flat-mate, 27-year-old Abhinay Khoparzi, who handled the cinematography and visual effects.
“For shooting, we sometimes had as little as R100 a day,” says Khoparzi, who shot using a digital video camera, with footage manipulated post-production to make it look like it was shot on film. “We survived on bhel-puri and walked to a nearby mall whenever we wanted to use the loo.”
Gour and Khoparzi battled constant funding problems, technical issues and differences of opinion as they worked out of their Goregaon (West) apartment, which doubled as a post-production studio for nearly a year.
Meanwhile, the actors dealt with grimy conditions and prolonged shoots that went on till the wee hours (“The area was too noisy during the day, so the only time we could get sync sound was at night,” says Gour).
“My mother would constantly tease me, asking, ‘When is Karan getting done with his Mughal-E-Azam?’” Sangal says with a laugh. “Now, we all feel vindicated.” The film’s release next month under the PVR Director’s Rare banner (see box) comes as the ultimate reward.
“I think I spent the last four years being permanently angry about something or the other,” says Gour. “But at no point did I ever think of giving up. I was obsessed with the film.”