The Shah Rukh Khan starrer Pathaan has set the box office on fire, re-ignited the actor’s career and sparked off punditry on its political subtext. Meanwhile, a young director named after the Hindi movie icon has made a compelling film about the quotidian lives of Muslims in Ahmedabad’s Kalupur neighbourhood.
Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s Kayo Kayo Colour? – the English title is Which Colour? – unfolds over the course of a day and a half. Arranged around the namaz that is offered five times a day, the 96-minute film revolves around a working-class man’s attempt to buy an autorickshaw, his home-bound wife, their two children, the husband’s affluent sister and the children’s grandparents.
Chavada, who has also written and shot the Hindi-language film, uses long takes and unprofessional actors to examine a family tackling matters big and small. Events take place in 2016.
Raziya and Razaak squabble about Razaak’s obsession with the autorickshaw. Their daughter Ruba covets an expensive beverage. Her brother Faiz gets ragged by his friends. Ruba spends some time with her grandparents. Razaak’s wealthier sister offers advice on how his family should seek a living.
“Films with Muslim characters usually show them in a poor light or as victims, but the human in between these depictions has not been represented,” Chavada told Scroll. “I wanted to show how Muslims live. I wanted to explore an honest representation and a routine life.”
While the title refers to a guess-the-colour game played by the children, the film itself is in black and white. Like every aspect of the confidently designed production, there is a reason why a movie called Which Colour? is in stark monochrome.
Colour usually stands in as a metaphor for truth, Chavada explained. When the children in the film identify a particular colour, it becomes an absolute truth – their truth.
“My dilemma is that we live in a post-truth world, where the very nature of arguments change within seconds,” Chavada said. Monochrome draws attention to his dilemma, as do other devices to indicate that the “objective and observational” vignettes are the result of a director’s intervention.
The entire narrative, except for some scenes, takes place in either the confines of homes or a collection of inter-connected streets. Within this honeycomb, an absorbing, and rare, portrait of ordinary Muslim life that is far removed from mainstream depictions of the community is rolled out.
The feeling of being at close quarters – or being hemmed in, depending on your viewpoint – is emphasised by the aspect ratio. Chavada has shot the bulk of Which Colour? in the boxy 4:3 format. The black bands on either side of the frames are a part of the larger composition – another deliberate choice that gives way to full frames later in the plot.
“I wanted to explore the fantasy of possibility in middle-class lives opening up – what I call an optimistic satire,” Chavada said. “But structural violence, patriarchy, toxic masculinity and blind faith don’t disappear overnight.”
Which Colour? was premiered at the recently concluded International Film Festival Rotterdam. The cast comprised residents of Kalupur. Two real-life couples play Raziya and Razaak (Imtiyaz and Samina Shaikh) and Raziya’s parents (Bilkish Refai and Zuber Refai). Ruba and Faiz (Yushra and Fahim Shaikh) are siblings in real life too. “We needed actual couples, otherwise the chemistry would not have been real,” Chavada said.
Among the inspirations was the time spent in Kalupur by Wafa Refai, the film’s principal producer and co-editor along with Chavada and Sanchay Bose.
Refai had moved to her grandmother’s home in Kalupur when her own house in Navrangpura was being redeveloped. She quickly got fascinated with the neighbourhood’s rhythms.
“This was a new world even for me,” Refai said. “I would initially look at it from a distance, but when I entered the world, I realised that these people had the same problems and the same dreams as everyone else.”
The film was made in fits and starts in 2021 and 2022, partly to accommodate Imtiyaz Shaikh’s profession as an electrician and the children’s school schedules. By this time, Chavada and Refai had avidly consumed world cinema from Italy, France and Iran – an activity aided by the lockdowns that followed the global outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020.
Chavada was especially attracted to Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, whose lengthy, black-and-white films explore the social and political history of the Philippines. The unique ability of cinema to play with time and space particularly riveted Chavada.
His screenplay for Which Colour? was a single Excel spreadsheet containing descriptions of the scenes and directions for the cast. While some of the dialogue was written down, several scenes were improvised.
The preparations included shooting mock sequences running into several minutes on Chavada’s phone camera, playing the scenes back to see which parts of the conversations worked the best, and then shooting them again with a proper digital camera. Happy accidents that occurred during the shoot – locals looking into the camera, characters breaking the fourth wall – were retained to reveal the interplay between fiction and a documentary-inspired approach.
“I didn’t want to emphasise any one character’s subjectivity, and I didn’t want to manipulate the audience through montage,” Chavada said about the use of long takes. “While I believe in truthful cinema, I also wanted audiences to realise that this is my subjectivity.”
Chavada was born in 1995, the year of the release of Aditya Chopra’s romance Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Chavada’s mother is a huge fan of Khan, which explains his double-barrelled first name.
Chavada has a diploma in visual effects and animation, and has taken a time-honoured route to learn direction: watching other films. He moved to Ahmedabad a decade ago. One of his biggest challenges as a young Muslim in an increasingly Islamophobic country has been finding a place to rent. At one point, he even used a Hindu name and got a rental agreement in his Hindu friend’s name.
Chavada revealed this disturbing aspect of Indian Muslim life with a grin. In his film too, characters confront the wider realities of Muslimness in Ahmedabad with quiet resilience.
“Muslims are trying to live decent lives, and not get involved with controversies,” Chavada observed. “Many of the people who have gone through stuff or the people who are disturbed by what is happening around them want to move on from the all-round toxicity.”
Which Colour? challenges expectations viewers might have from films with Muslim characters. Among the comments after the Rotterdam screenings was that the long takes were building up to a tension, the anticipation that something was going to break bad.
“Perhaps viewers got this vibe because they were subconsciously expecting that since this is a Muslim story, something will happen, like a riot or an arrest,” Chavada said. “But they have never seen such characters through a humanistic lens before.”