Sunday, December 3, 2023

Everyday aspirations and burden of representation: Watching ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’

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Written, shot and directed by Shahrukh Khan Chavada, Kayo Kayo Colour revolves around a day of a working-class Muslim family living in the premises of Kalupur, a highly populated Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad.

‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ is a 96-minute feature that premiered in the recent edition of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Written, shot and directed by Shahrukh Khan Chavada, the film revolves around a day of a working-class Muslim family living in the premises of Kalupur, a highly populated Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad. Shot in stark monochrome, the film’s title, loosely translated as ‘which which colour’, presents a stark contrast to the film’s visual aesthetic. Most of the shots are static long shots, which portray the almost empty streets, very unlikely Muslim streets, and interiors of four different houses- which evidently illustrates the class dynamics of each household.  The film predominantly uses a 4:3 aspect ratio, with brief shots in a 16:9 proportion.

In this writing, I try to refrain from attempting a review of the film per se. Instead, I would like to contextualize the film in the larger premises of subject and representation concerning Muslim subjects in cinema in a very introductory manner. I will do that by going through this film’s visual and structural aspects, which I found to be a promising attempt at portraying the everyday lives of Indian Muslims. Though used as a critical category from the inception of sociology and anthropology, the eminent French philosopher Henri Lefebvre familiarized the idea of everyday and theoretically framed it into a critical point of analysis. He believed that we should extensively study and analyze the trivial aspects of an individual’s life, such as an ordinary day. Stuart Eldon, who interprets Lefebvre’s work, suggests that Lefebvre acknowledges Hegel’s idea that “the familiar, just because it is familiar, is not well known”.

The everyday premise of Kayo Kayo Colour then is not an unfamiliar one. Rather, the triviality or the mundaneness of this everyday life is often overlooked while resorting to the possibilities of a spectacular or an event. The street walks of Ruba ( Played by Yushra Shaikh), the trivial household conversations between Razzak (Imtiaz Sheikh) and Raziya (Samina Shaikh), The conversations between Razzak’s father and mother in their house and the shots of Faiz (Fahim Shaikh) with his friends; all are constantly recurring throughout the film. For Lefebvre, this recurrence is the chief characteristic of everyday life. Most of these recurrences are non-happening; therefore, the audience expects something eventful or spectacular to occur between or at the end.

Chavada himself talks about this expectation in an interview: “In fact, at IFFR, after the film’s screening, a few audience members shared with me that throughout the film, they had an ominous feeling that something bad was about to happen. Moreover, the slow and long takes further fuelled the tension. This is basically due to our conditioning from old films, in which some tragedy would strike the Muslim characters. I’ve attempted to break free from this cliched portrayal and show them as normal human beings trying to lead a dignified life with family and friends, just like people from other communities”.

The desire for the spectacular or eventful often stems from the question of representation within a particular aesthetic realm. To (mis)quote M.T Ansari, a prominent subaltern studies scholar, is “an aesthetic such as this is governed by a politics that makes Muslims into either villains or victims”. Here, by sticking to the mundane everyday and the trivial aspects of it, Chavada urges the audience to understand the everyday itself as an event, particularly in a space where the routine is dictated by geographical divisions and segregation.  Typically, the everyday serves as a backdrop leading to an eventful climax, where Muslim subjects are portrayed either as villains who meet their destruction or as victims who suffer annihilation. ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ effectively tackles this moral burden of attributing the good/bad to the Muslim subject. Chavada, for instance, himself remarks that he ‘did not want to emphasize the subjectivity of any of the characters’. Interestingly, this absence of scrutinization of the characters’ subjectivities is evident in the absence of background music except for the ambient sounds, as the director himself testifies. At the same time, the movie revolves around a particular sonic order, where the sound of ‘aazan’ carries a narrative role, and the sync-sound recorded dialogues do not carry any dramatic overvalue. Wafa Refai’s sync-sound recording and Bignya Dahal’s sound design positively contribute to the spatial setting of the narrative.

The representation question often carries moral connotations and tends to haunt the portrayal of minority characters in cinema. This obsession with moral responsibility restricts the exploration of identities beyond the reactive/resistant tropes, where the subject is expected to react against or resist larger forms or structures of power. . Although politically significant, this moral trope often limits filmmakers, especially from the same community, in exploring the various lifeworlds and the diverse forms of life inhabited by community members. This political over-significance also relegates the everyday mundane or the casual pleasures and pressures of life into a secondary realm, deeming them unworthy of representation. ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’, by relying on this very everyday mundane, explores the tiring, uninteresting recurrences of everyday life, frustrating mainstream audiences who anticipate either a cathartic victimization or a moral condemnation of the Muslim subject.

This stress and focus on the everyday does not make ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ a movie devoid of the representation of structural forms of power and violence involved in making these communities. For instance, the conversation between Razzak’s mother and sister in her upper-middle-class apartment skims through political and historical references to the pogrom that happened in 2002. But what is interesting here is that instead of portraying the devastating historical event in the form of lamentation, the conversation, that too between women, revolves around the aspects of aspirations and mobility and how the certain geographical and historical aftermath of the pogrom denied it. This aspect of mobility, which appears as an everyday concern in the film in the form of Razzak’s strivings to buy an autorickshaw (so that he can earn money daily) or the testimony of his sister about her husband and the idea of political asylum, is actually well-rooted in the social and historical factors that notably manifested after the 2002 pogrom. Ethnographic accounts of Christophe Jaffrelot and Charlotte Thomas show us how the pogrom acted as a marker that blurred the class-caste equations between Muslims (As they were attacked with these attributes alike), making mobility a priority in the post-pogrom period. In ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’, these historical and ethnographic features are well captured through the everyday ramblings of characters within the household and above the terrace.

Ultimately, ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ emerges as a brilliant depiction of the everyday mundane, navigating the desires, aspirations, and ambiguities of its subjects. It also shows us the possibilities of new forms of life, asking us to move away from the heavy moral tropes of representation that restrict us to the binary tropes of reaction/resistance by being either villain/victim. While the politically charged spectacle at the end disrupts the narrative flow of small-town desires, which was skillfully captured until then, ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ remains an interesting watch that prompts us to reconsider our understanding of subjecthood and the representation of Muslim subjects in cinema.

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Afeef Ahmed
Afeef Ahmed
Afeef Ahmed is a student of English literature at Hindu College University Of Delhi.

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