A cursed village. A deep well. A diary of dark secrets. A spirit on the rampage. A woman who lives with a guilt. A series of horrifying deaths. Yes, that’s #KaaliKhuhiAtMAMI – Spooky. Dark. Raw. #KaaliKhuhiAtMAMI relives the horrors of the spine chilling practise of female infanticide (Kudi-Maar) in Punjab through an uneasy tale spun by Terrie Samundra.
Leela Samson shines as Dadi. Shabana Azmi owns Satya Maasi’s grief and guilt with the heaviness in her voice and gait. Her unibrow adds another dimension to her remarkable performance. Satyadeep Misra and Sanjeeda Sheikh make Darshan and Priya their own. Three children – Riva Arora, Hetvi Bhanushali and Rose Rathod – are film’s bright sparks whose measured and nuanced performances make #KaaliKhuhi a gripping watch.
The film starts on a spooky note, fumbles on the tropes midway but its edgy climax saves the day. By the end of it, you will be looking for that tiny piece of Tangadi that holds the plot together; its tinkle reminds of the overriding thought running throughout the plot – female infanticide – with the shrill cry of the newborn baby adding to it. The well is an important character in the film, and many a dark secrets are buried in its depths; these are unravelled slowly by 10-year-old Shivangi, who unburdens the haunting spirit with a promise to save the girl child and ultimately frees the village of its curse. That’s the film’s sunshine moment quite literally, and the young girls sitting in small groups with a well in the frame has a far greater symbolism in the film’s language that surely lingers on for long.
The scenes and sequences that make Kaali Khuhi a must watch start with the opening shot when an inquisitive Shivangi (who happens to see a girl’s reflection inside the well) is saved from accidentally falling inside by her mother which is in complete contrast with the other one where the spirit pulls the curious farmer deep inside the well; the rain soaked entry of Sakshi’s spirit; the death of characters after puking a slimy, black liquid instead of blood takes a cue from the title Kaali Khuhi (Black Well) and reminds the viewers that all is black in this well; and how Dadi’s body suddenly catches fire on its way to the cremation ground, leaving the villagers run away in fear to save themselves from the spirit, in a way punishes and purges the departed one of its sins.
Another one has the unborn baby (foetus) throbbing with life that is soon reduced to ashes when Shivangi confronts the spirit; this scene alone highlights the plight and agony of the thousands of helpless babies whose gender became the reason for their deaths at the hands of elderly women in the village, and takes the core idea of female infanticide many notches up in the story line, and succeeds in leaving a deep impact on the viewers.
The makeup and prosthetics stand out. The cinematography and sound design are haunting. The editing and screenplay could have been sharper. Kaali Khuhi is produced by Anku Pande and Ramon Chibb.