Kaali Khuhi Review: Strong storyline, yet fails to create impact

Kaali Kuhi, starring Shabana Azmi, tells the tale of an insidious age-old practice through paranormal lens

An ancient well situated amidst a village holds horrors of the past. When dug open, by mistake, the haunting begins. This, to summarise, is what Terrie Samundra’s Kaali Kuhi’s(The Black Well)  prelude tell us.

As the story proceeds, we are introduced to 10-year-old Shivangi (Riva Arora) – whose otherwise normal life is disturbed by the news of her ailing daadi (Leela Samson). And this is when her father (Satyadeep Mishra) decides to head back to his ancestral home, situated at a village in Punjab, along with her and her mother (Sanjeeda Shaikh ).

And like any other horror film, the haunting begins with the most vulnerable of the lot acting as the witness of the horror that unfolds. In this film, it’s Shivangi. She hears noises at night, and then eventually confronts the spirit of a girl – almost her age – lurking here and there. Her neighbours Satya maasi (Shabana Azmi) and Chandni are the ones who seem to be in the know of the ghost. So naturally she confides in them, as the film progresses further.

Till interval, the film manages to build up the mystery with subtlety. But soon enough the audience might find themselves in the middle of chaos. The spirit, who seemed harmless in the beginning, goes on a killing spree out of vengeance. Thus, the characters in the film start getting killed, or worse – falls sick (because one who gets ill amid a cursed village has little hope of survival, right?) or are possessed. All these send the story into an absolute frenzy.

(From left) Satyadeep Mishra, Shabana Azmi and Riva Arora in a still from Kaali Khuhi

The film’s central theme addresses a strong issue – that of female infanticide.  It attempts to translate this horrifying age-old custom into a supernatural tale. This, in itself, is laudable. It shows how the brutal and sinful practice, which once claimed lives of newborn girls in the village, leaves a ‘curse’ behind. It appears as a metaphor, as if the dark deeds of one’s past can never be washed off – rather, it comes back haunting and spares none!

But the problem lies in the execution – despite having such a powerful concept and one of India’s finest actors Shabana Azmi on-board – Kaali Kuhi falls flat. Debutant filmmaker Terrie penned the story along with David Walter Lech. The creators seem to have lost their grip towards the film’s climax; or rather they were intending to have an impactful end – so much so that it went all haywire.

There are scenes in the film which appear more cringy than creepy. There is a scene where Satya maasi is milking a buffalo, and she seems lost in her thoughts when the milk turns into blood. Then there’s another one where little Shivangi sees a throbbing human womb at a dark room – which ultimately bursts. All these metaphors did not translate well enough onscreen.

The film also falters while depicting the evil practice of female infanticide that results from patriarchy. It shows women as the perpetrator of this practice, and the only ones at its receiving end. What about the men in the village? It never shows their role in it. The only male character in Kaali Kuhi is Shivangi’s father Darshan – who appears more of a prop.

The female characters, on the other hand, take the front row — and do so rightly. Azmi, Arora and Shaikh – all have done justice to their characters. But somewhere, we end up wanting more of Azmi – only if her character had so.ething substantialo to offer the audience. Also, it looks like they are the only family that inhabit the village. We seldom get to see other villagers, or how the ‘curse’ affects their lives.

But Kaali Kuhi is a visual treat. It beautifully creates an eerie atmosphere – a dull, misty aura seems to envelope the unnamed village at all times. It rains, often — adding to the chills. The cinematography is definitely something that leaves an impact. Its slow pace, in the first half, with an engaging background score sets the stage for the insidious happenings yet to commence.

Still, overall, it tends to disappoint with numerous loose ends and a weak climax. Kaali Kuhi, however, has a strong message to convey – with compelling visual imagery. So, despite its numerous flaws and downsides, it can be one-time watch.

  • Kaali Kuhi is streaming on Netflix

(Cover Image: A still from Kaali Khuhi)


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