By Poulomi Das Mar. 28, 2019
Female baldness, unlike male baldness, doesn’t invite sympathy – it’s a marker of inadequacy. It’s this narrative that debutante director Qassim Kallow attempts to dissect in Gone Kesh with the story of a small-town girl suffering from alopecia. But the movie does not do justice to a bold subject.
Our idea of female beauty is so archaic as to border on the quaint: The vision of a thick, long mane of black hair is preserved almost like a national treasure, a fervid fandom that exalts it to an aspirational repute. The length of your hair is a measure of your worth, your attractiveness, your sanskar. And no excuses – genes, medical issues, or even agency – are acceptable. For an Indian woman, there are few decisions as couched in shame and worry as shaving your head. Female baldness, unlike male baldness, doesn’t invite sympathy – it’s a marker of inadequacy.
It’s this narrative that debutante director Qassim Kallow attempts to dissect in Gone Kesh. The film’s lead Enakshi Dasgupta (Shweta Tripathi) suffers from alopecia, an incurable medical condition because of which her hair continuously falls out in round patches, gradually rendering her bald. As a voiceover informs us that Enakshi discovers the consequences of living with this condition when she’s 15, swiftly becoming the subject of jokes at school. By the time she’s 25, she is completely bald, leading her and her helpless small-town parents, Anup (Vipin Sharma) and Deboshree (Deepika Amin) to take refuge in wigs.
As is the case with measuring the gravity of every obstacle that women face by how it affects their marriageability, even Enakshi’s parents are terrified by the prospect of their daughter being exiled from the marriage market. Staying true to script, an arranged marriage meeting with a set of prospective in-laws is unsubtly called off the minute Enakshi takes off her wig to reveal her plate. It isn’t the only predictable turn that the film takes, ending up presenting a rather straightforward interpretation of Enakshi’s diminishing self-worth that barely scratches the surface.
Over the course of two hours, Gone Kesh’s underdog journey feels like it was lifted from a boilerplate and then force-fitted to a condition. Even its distinct touches – supportive parents, a well-mannered admirer – feel designed to only confirm our perception of how our society will always balk at the idea of a bald woman.
Over the course of two hours, Gone Kesh’s underdog journey feels like it was lifted from a boilerplate and then force-fitted to a condition.
There’s a compelling thread in the film that touches upon hair clinics, their unrealistic promises, and the incessant amount of money that countless women and families spend to live up to a certain standard of beauty. But even that is addressed briefly, without the movie taking a stance.
Even the admiration that the movie merits for taking up a less discussed subject and acknowledging the pressure that women face if they don’t meet the beauty stereotypes feels dishonest because Tripathi does not shave her head for her character but instead uses prosthetics. It’s a kind of Bollywood-bred double standard, not very different than bronzing a fair actor’s face to have them essay the emotional turmoil of a dark-skinned person.
Gone Kesh follows in the footsteps of socially relevant films like Hichki and My Name is Khan that exploit a medical condition to drive home an underdog tearjerker, a trend undoubtedly intensified by the universal appeal of Taare Zameen Par. Yet very few movies manage to do justice to the condition itself, instead of relying on it as an easy plot device – a balance Shubh Mangal Savdhan seemed to effectively manage. But Gone Kesh isn’t one of those films, offering solid proof of how its filmmaker uses his “good intentions” as a substitute for good filmmaking.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.