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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Gone Kesh, Review: The bald is the beautiful

Gone Kesh, Review: The bald is the beautiful

An English-Hindi composite pun constitutes the title, playing upon ‘gone case’, which term is used to describe someone who is so far ‘gone’ into something undesirable that there is no chance of redemption in that ‘case.’ While gone is retained as gone, case becomes kesh, the Hindi word for hair. And for once, the title has great relevance to the subject, although the film is not half as funny as the punning would suggest.

Films about rare and not so rare diseases are being made in growing numbers, with cancer, autism, dyslexia, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s, depression and cerebral palsy being the picks of the pack. And then you had a film called Paa (2009), about progeria, a disease that causes fast and premature aging, leading to early death. Interestingly, Gone Kesh digs out a disease called alopecia areata, which only leads to something as innocuous as loss of hair. But when it affects a school-going girl, a dancing prodigy who is about to join college, and who has beautiful tresses, facing in baldness, your heart goes out to her in sympathy.

Diagnosed with alopecia, 15 year-old Enakshi sinks into depression as she starts losing more and more hair, and becomes desperate for a cure. She is advised steroid treatment, with injections in her head being part of the prescription. Though her father is a middle class shopkeeper, he agrees to the treatment of his only child that is going to cost him a small fortune. He even decides to forego his long-planned trip to Agra, to show his wife the Taj Mahal, in order to meet medical expenses.

Only in rare cases does alopecia patients grow their hair back, and Enakshi’s lady luck is in a benevolent mood. All her hair comes back. And more. She starts growing a moustache and beard, something she never bargained for! “Side effects cannot be controlled” confesses the doctor, who advises her to start shaving. Then, the obvious solution dawns on him, “Wear a wig”, he opines. Enakshi is game, and a wig is bought, to match the kind of hair Enakshi had before. This also leads to stopping of the treatment.

As Enakshi completes her studies and turns 25, her parents want to get her married. Not given to hiding the truth, they tell the local match-maker, ‘Panditjee’, to look around. He comes up with proposals that either involve dowry demands or where the man is a 45 year-old divorcee, with two children. In a case of perfect timing, her school and college crush, who had not been able to convey his feelings for all these years, musters up courage and visits her at home, with the intention of speaking his heart. And as it happens, Enakshi opens the door, blissfully unaware that she had taken her wig off because she wanted to go for a bath. More co-incidences follow, some of them affected.

Full marks to the team for presenting Siliguri as a small town, which it is, with life-styles and conversations to match. And dialogue is a department in which the film scores a high. Hardly ever does the dialogue become trite or contrived, almost always served as a slice-of-life. Debutant director Qasim Khallow (the odd surname denotes Tibetan Muslim parentage) had done films like Fan, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Kill Dil, Gunday, Aurangzeb, Ek Tha Tiger, Chaar Din Ki Chandni, Yamla Pagla Deewana and Chamku as cameraperson. He shows remarkable command over the medium as writer and maker too. Khallow's journey into filmdom began when he joined Asian School of Media Studies, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, in 2005.

Shweta Tripathi-Sharma (Shorts, Masaan, Haramkhor) wears her 33 years lightly and has the looks to carry herself through a decade of aging, never looking out of place. Her bald act is very well done and she emotes effortlessly. Vipin Sharma as a father uses an unusual kind of diction, speaking hurriedly, which works fine, as he and Dipika Deshpande-Amin engage in either banter or discuss serious issues. If anything, they come across as perfect parents and spouses, a little too perfect to remain fully credible. Dipika is another actress who is ageless, having been around for decades and yet retaining a child-like innocence, which Enakshi could have inherited. This was an example of well thought out casting.

Jitendra Kumar, as the boy who secretly loves Enakshi, and his side-kick, who doles out expert advice on love and volleyball, struggle to make the bonhomie and camaraderie strike some new notes, but end up as stock characters. Their dialogue, even in such stereo-typical situations, shows merit. Brijendra Kala as the wig dealer has a small role, another opportunity for the writer to go comical, resulting in a couple of smiles. Shashi Kiran as Panditjee is the most crass of small role players.

Just like dialogue, another important element in the film that helps it soar is the music by Kanish Sharma, Bishakh Jyoti, Bharat-Hitarth, complemented by inspired and meaningful lyrics, courtesy Majaal, Devendra Kafir and Bharat Menaria. The Gulzarian touch in verse and metre is too prominent to go unnoticed. Shahid Mallya, Asees Kaur, Kavita Seth, Mohan Kannan and Mahalakshmi Iyer render the songs well, except when Urdu pronunciation gets the better of them. When will our singers and actors learn the differences in pronunciation that enrich Urdu?

Originally scheduled for release in October 2018, Gone Kesh comes to us in end March 2019. Never mind the delay, for Gone Kesh has several good things going for it: a judiciously chosen cast that knows its job, a script that says a lot of things with the greatest of economy of words and visuals (aided by Ashutosh Matela’s crisp cutting), songs that go with the flow, and emotions that bring lumps to the throat many times over. Yet, it is never morbid or melancholic.

Admittedly, alopecia is not a disease that can be compared with the killer kinds, but it will take some effort on the part of patients and their families to reconcile to a life without hair. Actress Persis Khambatta went bald some 30 years ago, in real life, and still got roles. But the truth is that hair is considered a symbol of a woman’s beauty, and accepting bald as beautiful may be more difficult than splitting hairs. Alopecia is not uncommon—some 147 million are affected worldwide—and Gone Kesh might help sufferers retain self-esteem and dignity, especially if the victims have families like Enakshi’s for supprt.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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