Kayo Kayo Colour: A Fiercely Humanist Film That Resonates with the History of Ahmedabad

Screened recently at International Film Festival Rotterdam, Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s debut feature is a portrait of life in a Muslim ghetto
Kayo Kayo Colour review
Kayo Kayo Colour review

Kayo Kayo Colour, directed by debutant director Shahrukhkhan Chavada, has the semblance of an ethnographic film. The camera sneaks into a working-class Muslim household – the film’s primary setting – well before dawn to capture the first sensations of the day. Pitching itself in a corner, it watches the woman of the household shaking, brushing and preparing the domestic world for another day’s circuit. 

Filming an insular community always runs the risk of carrying a voyeuristic gaze. Do the images generate a sense of otherness? Do they reduce people into a sum of their hardships or differences? Are we, the viewers, just a bunch of tourists looking for holiday thrills?

Kayo Kayo Colour, shot in monochrome, unfolds in a Muslim ghetto, in Kalupur in Ahmedabad city. The cast comprises non-professional actors, all residents of Kalupur, whose performances are gorgeously uninhibited. Chavada, also the film’s cinematographer, does not centre the narrative on a topical issue, but trains his eyes on the quotidian. His portraits are of life-in-between, meticulously documenting the beats of the everyday, often letting the mise-en-scene develop naturally, with his camera seamlessly becoming one with the scene. 

A still from Kayo Kayo Colour
A still from Kayo Kayo Colour

In long steady shots, it takes note of the gender roles inside the community and the details of the living spaces. The house is cramped, overflowing with things that, for lack of closet space, are arranged on the floor or stuffed under the bed. As a set of boys in the locality chase a rooster, the camera runs along, offering viewers a striking view of the ghetto’s alleys and backyard. In the room where a bunch of little girls pretend to be ‘women’, mimicking their mothers’ cooking and cleaning, it becomes a quiet and unobtrusive onlooker. In the final moments, it dramatically reveals itself to the characters who acknowledge the filmmaker's presence and their participation in his work, placing the film in an ambiguous space between fiction and documentary.

But clearly, this is a work of fiction. There is a sense of a story, about a working-class Muslim family wading through life's high tide. Razzak (Imitiyaz Sheikh), who quit his menial job a couple of months ago, is now trying to raise money to buy an autorickshaw. His wife, Raziya (Samina Sheikh), disagrees with the plan. She, who handles the family's monthly budget, knows they cannot afford to wait around. The film moves in and out of this central plot, shifting between the worlds of adults and children intertwined like branches shooting off each other’s stems. 

Poverty is omnipresent and glaring, but not in the least bit humiliating. Chavada’s humanist eye scrapes away the clichés about working-class Muslim figures and substitutes them with images that radiate profound beauty and spirit carefully gleaned from the interiors of their lives. The characters, in their limited spaces, earn their moments of agency, like how Ruba, the couple’s elder child, furtively makes efforts to buy an expensive soft drink she spotted at a grocery store.

Don’t human interactions, in close relationships, become intricate, with emotions flowing freely in and out? Razzak’s parents fight as intensely as they express affection. There is a sequence where his old mother visits her married daughter in her moderately affluent apartment outside the ghetto. Their exchange has a delightful graphical quality, touching several emotional troughs and crests. They talk about children, comment on a new couch, and reminisce about the circumstances that uprooted the family from their native town and the father's professional failures. The women move around the house, look in on her ailing mother-in-law, and fold dry clothes together. They argue about Razzak's financial situation – the daughter thinks her brother needs to be more responsible, while the mother staunchly defends her son.

A still from Kayo Kayo Colour
A still from Kayo Kayo Colour

Chavada’s film is definitely feminist in how it keeps turning towards women, seeking to understand their experiences in a patriarchal society, their worldviews and their concerns. The film etches lovely images of women engrossed in work and leisure in spaces away from masculine intervention. The title Kayo Kayo Colour is a nod to a game the girls play in the film, where one calls out a colour, and the others run around trying to spot an object of that colour. The movie’s black-and-white medium makes it impossible for the viewer to confirm the girls' findings, concealing its truth forever from the spectator. 

Kayo Kayo Colour's unwavering emphasis on documenting life resonates with the history of Ahmedabad. The ghettoes in the city, which are some of the biggest in the country, are creations of countless episodes of communal violence and systemic discrimination against its Muslim community. There have been continuous, organised efforts to push Muslim bodies and their cultural markers away from the mainstream and render them invisible. In Chavada’s film, form and content are not separate entities, but one and the same. By showcasing an unadorned and unblemished Kalupur, where the tragedy of life lies unrecognizably blended with its humour, he builds a wall of defiance on the cinematic landscape. In a world that seeks to erase every sign of your existence, there must be nothing more daring or sensational than just living, and nothing more resilient than firmly marking your presence. 

Related Stories

No stories found.