Streaming now on Netflix, Terrie Samundra’s directorial debut- female infanticide is showcased largely through the fear-stricken eyes of its character Shivangi, played by Riva Arora. In Punjabi, the word Kaali means black, and Khuhi means well. So, the film gets its title from a dark well in an anonymous village of Punjab that was used to practice female infanticide.
Ten-year old Shivangi is forced to return to her father’s ancestral village home after her grandmother, played by Leela Samson suddenly falls ill. She constantly hears eerie sounds and witnesses disturbing visuals.
There is a supernatural force acting on the village, and the secrets of the well have spilled up in the form of a girl who isn’t from this world. At the top of this house is a room with dark tales from the past hidden inside it. The spirit with a red dress attracts the characters towards this room against their will and avenges the past misdoings.
The most interesting part about Kaali Khuhi lies in its excellent visual composition. With a consistent dark muted color palette, the movie has beautifully composed frames which easily transfer its viewers to a completely different, yet familiar world. Cinematographer Sejal Shah does a good job so far as the artistic and technical decisions of the film are concerned. The intricate detailing of the film such as the presence of fog in the village setting to make it look mysterious, the symbolic showcase of red in the ice-cream signaling blood; adds to the environment of unnatural happenings in the story’s set-up.
Moreover, the sound design in the film is spot on. Be it the pitter-patter of rain or the chirping of crickets, everything plays its role to enhance the sinister flavors of the movie.
It is not unknown that women too have been flag bearers of patriarchy in our society. As we see the ill grandmother mock her daughter-in-law for not birthing a son, we are reminded of the many forms in which systematic oppression exists in our society. It shows three generations of women, different in their ways, with the one from the new generation being shown as a hope for change.
The only criterion in which the film lacks behind, which also happens to be a major drawback of the film is its storytelling. The story fails to irk goosebumps since the scenes are too predictable. It also fails to take care of the rationality of the series of events. Writers Terrie Samundra, David Walter Lech, Rupinder Inderjit seem to have gone lazy on the script.
Although the film promises a Punjabi village set-up; there is not a single sentence of Punjabi spoken in it. Although, it aims to send a message on female infanticide; it miserably fails to establish most of it. There is a repetitive scene from the past, of a just born baby girl being passed on from the mother to one woman, to another woman that would kill the baby; which seems quite unnecessary. With too many loose ends, many questions related to the characters of the film remain unanswered.
Shabana Azmi delivers an eye-catching performance by playing the character of Satya Maasi, a woman infuriated by the female infanticide village custom. However, it’s still hard to devise any meaningful notion from why the character does what it does.
The film has a lucrative run-time of 1.5 hours and begins with a promising plot. To add to this, it makes the viewers hopeful of a bonded package of the message with entertainment. However, neither does it send any chills down people’s spine nor does it properly communicate the horrors of female infanticide. The film sadly fails to leave up to its built-up expectations.