Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s ground-breaking debut feature Kayo Kayo Colour (Which Colour?”) offers a sobering, quietly radical corrective to a certain tendency in Indian cinema that favours an instrumental approach to the figure of the Muslim, often reduced to a narrative trope, political argument or fetish object. Chavada’s film follows a working-class family in a Muslim ghetto in Kalupur, Ahmedabad, over twenty-four hours: as Raziya (Samina Shaikh) gets up early to do the chores and take care of her children Faiz (Fahim Sheikh) and Ruba (Yushra Shaikh), her unemployed husband Razzak (Imtiyaz Shaikh) sets out to procure funds for an autorickshaw in the hope of striking out on his own.

In charting the family’s everyday routine, Kayo Kayo Colour? is able to zero in on the social mores and gender codes determining life in the neighbourhood, where girls play house indoors as boys chase chicken in the streets. Razzak chafes under the pressure of not having a job, but nevertheless seeks the privileges of a traditional breadwinner. Ruba is sent on errands so her brother can focus on his studies, Faiz is taunted by his mates for playing with the girls, and Razzak’s mother balks at the idea of moving in with the family of her married daughter who has made it out of the ghetto.

In elegantly double-framed static shots, and with an eye comparable to Hirokazu Koreeda, Chavada documents the family’s cluttered, lower-middle class home: buckets filled with water suggesting the intermittence of supply, a now-useless piece of kids’ furniture dumped on an equally useless sewing machine, a swivel chair relegated to an inaccessible spot next to the refrigerator. This material excess stands in stark contrast to the sparse furnishing of the upscale apartment that Razzak’s sister lives in. The bare walls and modish décor of this deluxe flat conveys an expansive sense of domestic space that Chavada multiplies through striking mirror shots. The film’s physical environment thus assumes a subtly expressionist quality, reflecting the characters’ diverging prospects in life.

As the sun sets, the film becomes suffused with a mix of hope and despondence, a faint sense that the walls are closing in on Razzak even as he figures a way out of his money crunch. A revelation late in the film dramatically recasts our perspective of the day’s events, unveiling the essential precarity of the lives on display. Yet Kayo Kayo Colour? allows its characters ample scope to carve out a space outside the drama, to find meaningful connections in a benevolent community, to simply exist as human beings capable of enjoying a range of experiences and emotions. In that, it has few precedents in Indian cinema.


[First published in Sight and Sound]