Gone Kesh movie review: An important take on hair-normative culture that relies too much on assumptions
Gone Kesh is an important story to tell in the hair-normative culture we live in, where hair is seen as representative of femininity
It’s a little Malgudi world that Qasim Khallow creates in his debut directorial feature, Gone Kesh. Small towns have been a popular flavor in Hindi cinema for a while now, but, this film steers clear of the hackneyed North Indian milieu and turns its lens towards the east. Starring Shweta Tripathi in the lead, the story unfolds in the backdrop of Siliguri, a city sitting in the foothills of the Himalayas in North Bengal. This world is feel-good through and through. A pretty little blue and pink house in the corner of the street, with a tiny garden protected by a picket fence is home to a family of three, Enakshi and her parents. Of humble means, they are happy with what they have – a roof over their heads, education for their child and a well-stocked kitchen, thanks to a small stall of Chinese-made wrist-watches that Enakshi’s father runs.
Nothing to complain about until one day, 15-year-old Enakshi notices the first bald spot on her head. A long spell of confusion and a series of misdiagnoses later, it emerges that she has alopecia, which is an autoimmune condition that leads to complete loss of hair. The premise does lend itself to a tale of self-pity and hardship but Khallow skillfully keeps it a sunshine story. Making the job easier for him is a spot-on cast. The relationship between Enakshi and her parents played by Vipin Sharma and Deepika Amin is the pulse of the film. Never overtly sentimental, and yet full of candour and love, the actors hit the right notes. Sharma, who delivered one of his most memorable performances as the terror dad of Taare Zameen Par, is at his doting and loving best here. What’s refreshing is that here’s a middle-class middle-aged father whose dreams don’t end at getting his daughter married. On his bucket list is also an airplane ride to Agra with his wife, to see the Taj Mahal someday.
The film is stuffed with small-town bits like these. First date at a momos thela, a ride home in a cycle rickshaw, a thinking-out-loud session on how airplane loos must function (“Plane se neeche girta hai kya?”), a dance competition in the city’s only mall… you get the drift. Khallow handles ensemble well. Tripathi could well be the protagonist, but each member of the cast gets their moment in the sun, and takes the story forward. Newcomer Jeetendra Kumar is apt as Enakshi’s shy love interest, Srijoy. His interactions with Tripathi echoes her romance with Vicky Kaushal in Masaan – the quiet charm of a small-town courtship. The film is peppered with cameos. Brijendra Kala is delightful as a retailer of Bollywood themed wigs while another newcomer, Ashish Bhatt as Srijoy’s friend Bhupesh gives the film its only laugh out loud moment.
Even as it addresses a lesser-known medical condition, Gone Kesh falls short in exploring the protagonist’s internal journey towards self-acceptance. A talented Tripathi, with her petite frame, effortlessly slips into the mould of an adolescent and a young adult. But for the central role she shoulders in this film, she has not been given the canvas to emote. How must it feel like to lose something you’ve taken for granted all your life? What’s it like to see a different person in the mirror every day? And how does one go from seeing it as a threat to owning it as part of their being? The answers remain skin deep. The script doesn’t allow Tripathi much scope beyond looking horrified or distressed most of the time. It’s only in her interactions with Kumar that we see a slight change of mood, but those moments are numbered.
It would have been nice to see more of how Enakshi responds to those around her, especially in a place like Siliguri where a young bald girl on the streets will remain the most unusual thing you see on any given day. Barring a few raised eyebrows of ladkewaales and bullying classmates, we don’t see a lot of what Enakshi must be enduring. The director relies too much on assumptions, the shuttling between flashback and present is choppy, the songs are unnecessary and a loud background score constantly tries to tell you what to feel. These chinks eat into the lilting mood of the story and it ends up being preachier than it perhaps intended to be.
Having said that, Gone Kesh is an important story to tell in the hair-normative culture we live in, where hair is seen as representative of femininity. Not all ailments are life threatening, but they can be emotionally devastating. Alopecia is one of them. In the West, a few independent feature films and documentaries have addressed the subject; for Indian audiences, this is a first. Full marks to this team for adding a new meaning to the much tossed around phrase “a bad hair day”. These are good times indeed for body positivity.
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