Sixteen and hairless in Siliguri: Qasim Khallow’s Gone Kesh tackles an unusual subject rooted in an identifiable corner of India. In Khallow’s directorial debut, which he has also written, an attractive teenager who loves to dance is struck with premature balding. Enakshi Dasgupta’s self-esteem is being lost along with the black clumps that leave her scalp and litter her pillow and bathroom floor. Her parents Debashri (Deepika Amin) and Anup (Vipin Sharma) take Enakshi (Shweta Tripathi) to a series of doctors, each one more inept than the next. By the time Enakshi is diagnosed with alopecia, it is almost too late.
The movie unfolds between the present, where Enakshi is in the middle of a groom hunt, and the recent past, which reveal the lasting effects of hair loss. Enakshi wears a wig and holds down a job at a mall, but her condition scares away prospective grooms. Her college mate Srijoy (Jeetu) is hanging around in the background, but he is too shy to express his adoration, and does so at the exact moment when Gone Kesh moves towards its feelgood conclusion.
The light touch that peppers most of the scenes feels misplaced, given the gravity of Enakshi’s condition and the association between beauty and hair. The shattering of self-image and the tragedy of Enakshi’s plight, given her youth, are barely explored.
Why me of all girls, Enakshi weeps in a heart-rending scene, but Gone Kesh has other fish to fry. A dance contest becomes a reliable confidence-booster for Enakshi – although we never quite see her dancing, except in a song sequence, and are never offered irrefutable evidence that she is the best dancer in town.
The movie plays out entirely in Siliguri, and Khallow brings out the middle-class trappings of the setting well. The lives of the Dasguptas are as ordinary as the characters, and there are no flourishes in the manner in which Anup earns a living (he has a humble stall of watches in a market) and Debashri runs the household. Their banter feels very real, as does their confusion about tackling Enakshi’s plight. Had the 110-minute movie stuck to this track of three individuals trying to make sense of their situation, it would have worked just fine.
The talented Shweta Tripathi, who is often cast in roles far younger than her 33 years, makes Enakshi compelling, even though her naturally deep voice and preternatural maturity don’t always capture the arc of her character’s journey. Enakshi’s voiceover is trite in many places, and it is the parents, as clueless as they are loving, who give the narrative its emotional core.
The parents turn out to be the movie’s most beautiful characters. Vipin Sharma and Deepika Amin turn out solid performances, and movingly portray a couple who have sacrificed their dreams for their only daughter. Sharma, in particular, imbues his character with tics and quirks that go a long way in making Anup a memorable and quietly heroic father.