Throw away: Shabana Azmi, Satyadeep Misra, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Riva Arora
Director: Terrie Samundra
Evaluation: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
In director Terrie Samundra for the first time Kaali khuhi (The Black Well), the horrors of female infanticide in a fictional village in Punjab – this corner of the woods remains unnamed, suggesting that the terrible and widespread practice of eliminating girls at birth is not a phenomenon geographically confined to this country – hang in a house that has seen the worst. The significant social signals of the film are strong and clear. However, the methods he uses to convey the message do not hold up very well.
The original Netflix India film gives the solemn and urgent theme a largely generic and literal treatment, which sharply turns the well-meaning exercise into a rather bland fare. As a supernatural thriller, Kaali khuhi is similar to a well that dries too quickly because it lacks depth and does not retain enough water.
Kaali khuhi is undeniably strong on atmospheres. It’s clear the director has a keen eye for visual composition and sound design, two strengths of the film. The setting in the film is such that the crackle of the rain, the croaking of frogs, the chirping of crickets, and even the chime of temple bells are not the benign sounds they usually can be. Cinematographer Sejal Shah mines the medium for its darkness interrupted by rays of light from carefully placed sources. These produce suppressed shadows and halos around objects and props that accentuate a sense of unease.
Unfortunately, Kaali khuhi, in terms of the narrative and its structure, is not as consistent as the regularity of the footage and soundscape in the film. It oscillates from pure horror to downright mumbo-jumbo, diligently composed frames that transport the viewer to a dark world in a bucolic setting with often shallow details (story and scenario: Samundra and David Walter Lech) that allow security from a simple exposition of ideas take precedence over the power of things not said or simply suggested. There are very few of these in Kaali khuhi.
At the end of the movie, when a certain degree of clarity has descended and the audience begins to understand precisely what is going on, a character intones that the tradition is old and that it is “bad”, as if we didn’t know it. not already . It’s not too different when the same woman tells the protagonist, a ten-year-old town girl endlessly baffled by what she sees and hears in the village and in her daadi’s house, that she represents a “new generation” and “new in thinking”. Kaali khuhi doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
The opening moments of the film elicit a thrill or two and create an atmosphere of dread and apprehension. The story that Kaali khuhi tells is scary, but it’s not the kind of horror movie that will give you a shiver to the bone or play with your mind once it gets down to presenting us the details of the hamlet’s spooky past. .
Needless to say, the story revolves around a dormant well and a horrible secret hidden deep within it. In the opening sequence, a villager, armed with a pickaxe, involuntarily opens the well. In the next scene: a girl even hitchhikes on another villager’s bicycle and reaches the metal gate of a house. This is where the prelude ends, paving the way for the introduction of key characters.
A schoolgirl Shivangi (Riva Arora) accompanies her bickering parents, Priya (Sanjeeda Sheikh) and Darshan (Satyadeep Misra), on a trip to the village to see her sick paternal grandmother (Leela Samson). Once they are there, inexplicable events begin to unfold. Shivangi feels the presence of a spirit which, to begin with, is visible only as a reflection in a mirror or as a fleeting shadow. A mixture of fear and curiosity prevails over the girl. In all her innocence, she sets out to dig deeper.
The kaali khuhi and the wandering spirit hide secrets that neither Shivangi nor his mother have any way to unravel. But Darshan, his mother and Satya maasi (Shabana Azmi), who lives in the house next door, knows about it.
The village, shrouded in fog and mystery, is obviously a crucial presence in history. The action takes place mainly in and around the well in the middle of a farm, the grandmother’s house, a wardrobe in the bedroom and a room on the terrace. Hidden in these spaces lie stories of a contemptible custom steeped in blood and brutality. When the movie blows the lid off these stories, the reveal doesn’t exactly send you in shock and disgust because you can see them coming a mile away.
Kaali khuhi suggests that women are as much to blame as men for the perpetuation of female infanticide. The film only has one major male character, Darshan, and he appears to have no power throughout his life. All he can do is insist that he will never leave his mother’s house again even though his wife and daughter have died against the idea of staying in the cursed village.
Rather, the film focuses on three generations of women and other older women, one of whom appears in the film’s most disturbing scenes doing whatever she wants. Shivangi daadi and Satya maasi represent the past, Priya the present and the preteen the future. The question is: Can Shivangi, the girl who escaped, muster the courage to reverse the evil repercussions of past events and usher in calmer days for the dark village?
Shabana Azmi, the woman who knows too much and who recounted the plight of the missing village girls in a carefully preserved album, directs the cast with an air of customary authority. The support she receives from Leela Samson, Sanjeeda Sheikh and Riva Arora, on whose slender shoulders rests Kaali Khushi, is commendable.
Kaali khuhi has two other child actors, Hetvi Bhanushali (as the spirit) and Rose Rathod (as Chandni, the girl who lives with Satya Maasi and is wary of what happens next). Both are doing their part. Satyadeep Misra is the odd one out of the cast. Playing a blameless man paying for the sins of his family and village, he projects just the right degree of self-effacement.
On the observability counter, Kaali khuhi pretty much passes gathering. It could have been a lot more.