FC Hotlist is a series that spotlights films which are looking for buyers and distributors. It is an ongoing project to link indie filmmakers who are looking for a wider audience, to producers looking for fresh stories that stand out in the cinematic landscape.
Can the flaws of a film feel like its very function? The same thing that makes you twinge, look closer, squeeze your eyes in doubt is that which makes the film richer, more complicated, more satisfying.
Take Kayo Kayo Colour? (Which Colour?), written, directed, and shot by Shahrukhkhan Chavada, which had its world premiere at the International Film Festival Of Rotterdam 2023. It is not a documentary, but a document of the vapours, vagaries, and voltas of everyday Muslim life in Kalupur, Ahmedabad. But neither is it a document in the neat sense of a world that unfolds at a remove from you, that you as a viewer get to peek into without any sense of voyeurism or shame.
Chavada spent 7-8 months with the people he was filming, taking notes, building his script from their life — a spreadsheet of scene skeletons — and then asking them to inhabit that very script. He shot the film over eight months, slowly, scene by scene, through the pandemic. The couples in the film — old and young — are actually couples in real life. The siblings in the film are, also, siblings in real life.
Kayo Kayo Colours? is exquisite, serrated, gorgeous visual prose that uses visual aberrations and improvised serendipity — like sudden awkward zooms and camera tilts after a sequence of still frames — to sharpen the storytelling. People bump into the camera, stare into it, ask it if it has gotten what it needs, slyly perform for it. When asked if he worried about audiences viewing such details as mistakes, he told Film Companion, “I neither have nor want to possess that filmmaking craft.” He is not interested in cinema as a neat, packaged product, whose aberrations have been sanded over and in which there is a neat separation between what happens on screen, and what has made that which we see on screen possible.
Here are edited excerpts from our conversation with Chavada:
How much of the characters came out of your imagination and how much from the people you met while you researched?
The girl trying to get money for the drink came from me. The rest came from the people of Kalupur. For seven-eight months we spent time with them, looked at their routine, the cultural and political influences that shape them.
Were the dialogues improvised?
The script was actually an Excel sheet with the basic points of the scenes written down — what is happening, what are they arguing or discussing. Then we made the actors improvise, and told them to speak whatever comes to them, to speak as they would speak, comfortably, aaram se.
We had to coax them over months, by spending time with them, making them comfortable, then shooting them from my phone, motivating them, and then bringing in the camera and lights — a Sony α7S III with some lighting and a reflector. Some of these scenes would go for 10-15 minutes. We would cull things from these takes. While the framing was fixed, the drama within it was constantly improvised.
While the film is staged, it constantly makes us aware the performances are drawn from reality. How would you describe the film's relationship with fiction?
This film came out of a creative dilemma we had. We wanted to create an observational, objective experience. But we also realize that this film is also 100% subjective — because there is nothing like an “objective” experience. People are always performing for it. A ‘fly on the wall’ technique is not possible, because people are always aware of the camera, however comfortable. My traces as a director can also be found in the film — the shake of the camera, the zoom. I am the filter through which you are seeing these people, afterall. The film expresses that dilemma.
When did you decide that this film needed to be seen in black and white?
There is a scene where children are playing ‘Colour Colour’. (In the game, one of the kids pronounces a colour, and the rest have to try to find that colour in their surroundings and touch it.) When we saw kids play this while researching, we decided we must shoot the film in black and white. Because I saw their truth, their reality, and through me, you also see it. By making it black and white I am making the audience rely entirely on me — that when kids say something is red, it is red.
It is only much later in the film we find out that the family was riot-affected, that they lived in Naroda Patiya where in 2002, more than 90 Muslims were killed in communal violence. This comes up in a conversation between two women. Tell me about how you decided to place this vital piece of information in this conversation, and why specifically in a scene where two women are talking?
The women — Razzak’s mother and sister — are the only ones speaking in hindsight. They are talking about whether or not Razzak should buy the rickshaw. Through this they are talking about how Razzak’s father’s business was disrupted by the 2002 riots.
I was sure that I did not want to forcefully fit this information into the film. If it was not coming organically, then I would have left it out of the film. See, my whole thing is that unlike mainstream film, I did not want to show Muslims as bechara victims. Which was why I wanted to show their routine life, so the audience can perceive their political influences from it without me having to explicitly state it.