There is a certain tendency in Indian cinema that favors an artificial way of connecting to the Muslim community, which is frequently reduced to individuals who follow an orthodox lifestyle or are part of an organization that breeds fear and violence. Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s debut film, Kayo Kayo Colour? (Which Colour?, 2023), offers a realistic version of a marginalized community, with its everyday banalities and concerns that are both heartfelt and realistic.
In a Muslim ghetto in Kalupur, Ahmedabad, a working-class woman (Samina Shaikh as Raziya) wakes up early to take care of her children, Faiz (Fahim Shaikh) and Ruba (Yushra Shaikh) while her unemployed husband, Razzak (Imtiyaz Shaikh), sets out to raise money for purchasing an auto rickshaw in the hope of earning a livelihood. Kayo Kayo Colour? is structured around the prosaic activities of the characters and sprinkled with unremarkable moments that blend the content and form to faithfully bring out the socioeconomic life of the Muslim people of the neighborhood.
With Kayo Kayo Colour?, Chavada touches upon the focal core of human values and relationships. The vagaries of life are unrecognizably blended with the characters’ quest for survival, and there is nothing more daring and durable than firmly marking their presence in a world that attempts to obliterate every trace of their existence. Kayo Kayo Colour? had its international premiere at IFFR 2023 as part of the “Focus: The Shape of Things to Come” program. In this interview, Chavada discusses his aesthetic and technical approaches that allow for an overtone of verisimilitude without shunning any sentimentalism.
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Dipankar Sarkar: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Shahrukhkhan Chavada: I was studying animation and VFX in Pune. My interest peaked as I started making live-action short films with my classmates. After that, I decided I didn’t want to become a visual effects artist and wanted to explore my fondness for live-action filmmaking.
DS: You have employed an observational approach to capture the milieu of the film and constructed a reality that gives verisimilitude to the narrative. How did you arrive at this structure?
SC: I was interested in portraying the routine life of this family and exploring their culture and sociopolitical life with subtlety. I did not want to emphasize the subjectivity of any of the characters. So, an observational approach was better suited to depict the milieu of this film. Also, this kind of approach helped to illustrate the mundanity of their lives with honesty and not show them as victims. I used their quotidian activities through montages to provide an immersive experience to the audiences and not manipulate their conditions like other filmmakers.
DS: Tell me how you developed the screenplay for Kayo Kayo Colour?
SC: I knew I wanted to take the locality of Saudagar ki Pole in Kalupur, Ahmedabad, as our premise. It was an intriguing neighborhood. Wafa Refai, my partner and producer of the film, had access to that place and the people to some extent, as her grandparents lived there, and she had just moved there temporarily.
I just had a basic plot about a curious girl who wants to try a drink that costs Rs 100, which she cannot afford. So we started spending time in Saudagar ki Pole for almost a year researching the people and the environment there. Gradually, I began making decisions about how I wanted to express their story visually. I was particularly fascinated by routine in general and how sociopolitical events influence it in a larger sense. I didn’t have a traditional screenplay for the film — just an Excel sheet with topics and scenes, a few notes and some specific dialogue for the cast.
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DS: You have a cast of non-professional actors for Kayo Kayo Colour?, and their performances are unselfconscious, as it does not appear they are acting for the camera.
SC: One of my major decisions was to cast non-professional actors to bring authenticity to the film. So, during our research, Wafa and I started selecting the people we would like to cast for the film. Then, we started shooting them with our phones, as they were now comfortable opening up to us.
We realized that in order to make the dialogues authentic, we needed the actors to develop the conversations among themselves. I would give the actors a background story about their respective characters and their traits and ask them to start acting while we shoot with our phones. I would then choose what parts to put in the scene and what to remove. We would edit the recordings, show them back to the actors and direct them on how their conversation should flow. It was a very steady and measured process. We understood that the actors would not understand the directions if they were on paper. The actors felt confident looking at themselves in the test shoots. Soon, they were comfortable enough to commit to our film.
DS: What was your approach to bring such authenticity to their performances?
SC: Initially, every scene took about one-two weeks to prepare with the actors. Wafa already had a bond with the children since the Covid lockdown. A whole world opened for the kids when we informed them that we were planning to shoot a film in their neighborhood. They got curious and were more than happy to be a part of it in any way they could. So, from pre-production and during the production period, Wafa gave them workshops by showing them films from around the world and showing them the making of different films. We would do improv activities with them, preparing them for acting. It was the same process with the kids in terms of forming dialogues with themselves. As a talented, quick-witted group of kids, they quickly understood the importance of action reaction and how to improve on the spot during shoots. By the last shoots, the cast was professional enough and gave amazing performances with lesser retakes.
DS: At the same time, the young girls are playing indoor games and impersonating the activities of adult women. They are also taught by their mothers not to accept sweets from strangers, as they may be laced with sedatives. Even in one of the scenes, Ruba is sent to purchase semolina instead of her brother, so that he can concentrate on his studies. What were you trying to portray?
SV: We exist in a stereotypical society where certain jobs are gender restricted. All the household jobs are chores done by women, and this has become a part of their routine. Even the gender-segregated game that the young girls are playing becomes a part of a process through which these young girls are preparing themselves for the similar fate of their mother and aunts, whose duties and responsibilities are looking after household errands and bringing up the children.
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DS: Regarding the shooting style, you employed static shots with very little camera movement when the adults are conversing, such as in the verbal argument between Razzak and Raziya, Razaak talking to his friends and Razaak’s mother and sister discussing their concern over his future. But when the children are playing in the alley, the camera freely accompanies their frenetic movements. Tell me about the visual design of the film.
SC: We shot the three houses with different kinds of framing to create a visual language in accordance with the demands of the scenes. At Razzak’s home, the shots were static with no camera movements. There were different angles of the same space in the house. At the home of Razzak’s sister, all the shots were static on a tripod panning across the space in every room. The scenes took place in different areas of the big house, and the camera’s motion was fluid. The shots at Razzak’s parents’ house were hand-held and captured from the same corner of the confined space. By framing these scenes in such a way, I wanted to emphasize their temperament and their economic situations. At the same time, we had a candid approach for the shots of the children playing. The camera was handheld to exhibit their free-spiritedness.
DS: In the beginning and ending of Kayo Kayo Colour?, as Ruba goes to the shop to purchase a grocery item, you position her in a similar pattern of frames. What was the reason behind this?
SC: The first scene, where Ruba goes to the shop, was shot in a 4:3 ratio with black bars on the sides of the frames. Whereas in the last scene, the frames were 16:9, opening up the black bars, but physical structures of buildings replaced them. So, fundamentally, the boundary in which Ruba walks in and out is still a 4:3 frame. Through such visual motives, I wanted to show the prevalent structural violence in our society.
Furthermore, I wanted to express the political move that had happened during the night through an optimistic satire. The change in the aspect ratio is my way of describing the mindset of the people, that if we agree to the decisions of the political leaders of our nation without any hesitations, then the standards of our lives will improve. But in reality, by being compliant, we turn a blind eye to certain problems of our society, such as patriarchy, blind faith and toxic masculinity. These complications are deep-seated and won’t disappear from our community overnight. Similarly, the framing remains unchanged even if we alter the aspect ratio.
DS: Razzak has left his job and wants to own an auto rickshaw. He also tries to procure funds to purchase the vehicle. At the same time, when one of his friends suggests a lucrative job in the UAE, he expresses his interest in the idea too. But as Kayo Kayo Colour? ends, we see his prospect for a better future in flounder. Is his indecisive nature the reason behind his failures?
SC: Indeed, Razzak’s indecisive nature is one of the reasons for his failure. He is a common man and has his own set of flaws. I intended to build a character whose everyday decisions, along with the social and political events, have impacted his life. Whether Razzak’s decisions are balanced or not adds depth to his character.
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DS: Razzak’s sister is married to a well-to-do husband and lives a comfortable and happy life. Meanwhile, he stays with his community in a small neighborhood and struggles. What was the intention behind using such a stark contrast in their social status?
SC: The visibility of such stark contrast in social status is very vibrant. It is a common occurrence in our society that when a woman from a low-earning family is married to a well-to-do husband, her social status automatically shifts in comparison to her family. For instance, my maternal uncle is not well off, and his economic condition is not as good as my mother’s. The reason being the earnings of my father is far better when compared to my maternal family. So, it was a reality I had seen since my childhood, and I wanted to portray the same through my film.
DS: You shot Kayo Kayo Colour? with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and use a monochromatic color palette. In scenes such as when the children are playing the game of locating a color or Razzak’s mother appreciating the color of the sofa in her daughter’s residence, we are not able to perceive the colors. By employing such a style, are you trying to point out the limited opportunities in the lives of these characters?
SC: The monochromatic color tone has been used as a metaphor for truth. It’s also an attempt to highlight the few possibilities these folks have in their lives. When the film was screened at IFFR, filmmaker and cultural anthropologist Ashish Avikunthak also expressed a concern that no colors are left in the characters’ lives. I am happy that viewers have come up with their own interpretation regarding the lack of color in the film.
DS: Kayo Kayo Colour? has ambient sound and you don’t rely on the background score. So, how did you plan your sound design to capture the mood?
SC: As I mentioned earlier, I was not interested in projecting the characters’ subjectivity, so I did not use any background score in the film. I did not want to evoke a certain kind of mood, and I relied upon the ambient sound only. To bring authenticity to the aural space of the film, the sound was designed keeping in mind the demand of the space where we were shooting the film.
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DS: Besides you, there were two other editors involved in the making of Kayo Kayo Colour? What were the challenges during the editing of the film, and how did each of you contribute to shaping the structure?
SC: The film’s first cut was edited by myself and Wafa depending on our instinct. After that, Sanchay Bose joined the project, and Paresh Kamdar became our mentor. Their participation was beneficial because we had lost our objectivity after a point. As a result, we were losing the nuances of the footage. Paresh Sir and Sanchay could see the film from a vantage point and could provide suggestions which helped us in properly shaping the film.
DS: Kayo Kayo Colour? has participated in the prestigious IFFR. How does it help you as a filmmaker?
SC: It was a surreal experience for us, as it was our first international film festival that we were fortunate enough to attend in person. Meeting like-minded people from around the world really helped us gain exposure on another level. We were confident about our film and the choices we made in its making, although we were fascinated by how the audience perceived it. They came from different parts of the world — backgrounds, religions, beliefs and socialpolitical systems — yet they connected with the film in their way. It was a revelation for us to witness this. We made so many friends and connected with industry professionals. Every moment was a learning experience and a wonderful and inspiring adventure. After receiving validation from a prestigious festival like IFFR, we hope to take our film to new heights and reach as many people as possible.
DS: What are your plans for the release and distribution of Kayo Kayo Colour?
SC: We plan to submit to film festivals around the world. We are looking to partner with a sales agent/distributor, who shares our goals, to guide us and take our film to good places.
Dipankar Sarkar (@Dipankar_Tezpur) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Interviews, Drama, Featured
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