Translation: Black well
Director: Terrie Samundra
Written by, Terrie Samundra and David Walter Lech
Starring: Shabana Azmi, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Riva Arora, Satyadeep Mishra, Leela Samson
Kaali Khuhi revolves around a 10 year old Shivangi who travels to her father’s hometown in Punjab to see her ailing grandmother. The village however seems to be under paranormal influence.
Well there’s a lot to unpack here so let’s start from the beginning. The movie poster features Shabana Azmi, an absolute icon who has been the mark of genuineness for decades. So, even though the imdb rating sat at a solid 3.5 I decided to give it a watch. Now, when you have an actor of Shabana Azmi’s calibre it can be easy to waste their talent. This movie does just that.
Dadi is bitter towards her daughter in law for not bearing her a grandson. This is a story we have heard many times in Indian households. The son although affectionate towards his daughter makes no attempt to rebuke his mother. He is even exasperated at his wife for standing up for herself and her daughter. He is also the only male character in the film. Now, I’m a sucker for movies with female protagonists. I also believe that “women oriented” films are held to unfair standards. If Tom Cruise can jump off buildings in a billion dollar franchise then so can Magot Robbie. But, Kaali Khuhi is not worth defending.
The movie choses to focus on the women who uphold and defend the patriarchy. However, it makes no attempt to address the societal brainwashing and conditioning that turns women on eachother.
Dadi unwillingly gives up her daughter but her affliction is never discussed. Same for the daughter in law played by Sanjeeda Sheikh. The script doesn’t allow her to step out of the outspoken liberal woman stereotype. Her husband, Darshan is vaguely misogynistic and has very little to work with. Shabana Azmi tries her very best with the crumbs she the movie affords her. In fact some of the best moments are when she is on screen. However, she cannot hide the pronounced discrepancies in the script.
In a short review national herald calls it the ‘Funniest horror film of all times’. And for good reason.
The girls were abandoned in the well are infants but when they are “saved” they are all 12 year olds. Ditto for the ghost. The movie attempts to blame it’s only male character for his sister’s infanticide. Keep in mind that he was only 5 when this happened. Hence, instead of antagonizing him you just end up sympathizing with the guy.
The horror genre and women empowerment
Since Stree’s success in 2018 more and more filmmakers have employed the horror genre to tell women’s stories. This year’s Netflix release Bulbul managed to do it beautifully with its gothic landscape and intriguing storyline. It also had a fantastic supporting soundtrack by Amit Trivedi. This is something both the films have in common. Daniel B.George’s music along with Sejal Shah’s cinematography is Kaali Khuhi’s saving grace.
Another parallel that one can draw between Bulbul and Kaali Khuhi is the climax, which was predictable. However, the journey towards the end and the compelling characters keep you invested in Bulbul. So, even when the big reveal in the end is not a surprise, you are not left unsatisfied. While the climax of Kaali Khuhi does have ‘elements’ (spoiler alert: organs) that shock you it is not the kind you expect from a movie branding itself to be a horror thriller.
The movie does succeed in making you angry and frustrated but not at the intended reason. It makes you annoyed at the shallow and one dimensional portrayal of women. One might expect this from Pyar ka Punchnama esque film but not one that claims to tackle serious issues of female infanticide in our country. Its greatest weakness is that it does not explore the process that converts women into agents of patriarchy. It is satisfied with pinning the blame onto them and calling it a day. Ekta Kapoor would be proud of the aurat hi aurat ki sabsi badi dushman hoti hai narrative the film presents. (Trans: A woman is always a woman’s biggest enemy). But now with even Balaji Telefilms producing Dolly, Kitty aur woh Chamakte Sitare it is safe to assume filmmakers need to work harder if they want the mark of authenticity while telling women’s stories.