Kajarya: Dubai Review

A chilling social study of infanticide is brought to life through the viewpoint of two women.

The practice of killing baby girls is decried in a complex film from India.

Kajarya is both disturbing and engrossing as it plunges the viewer into the heart of darkness in an Indian village, where unwanted baby girls are murdered without compunction. Director Madhureeta Anand is a storyteller who interweaves the lives of two women -- one modern, the other ancient – to decry the barbaric time warp India is caught in. Though the non-pro cast is very uneven, Meenu Hooda, who is forced by the villagers to embody the bloodthirsty goddess Kali in a fake religious ceremony, is just this side of magnificent in the title role. She makes this long-winded indie stuffed with many ideas well worth a spin on the festival circuit, with a fine tie-in to women’s issues. It had its world premiere in Dubai’s Indian sidebar.

Anand’s work has ranged from television docs to a dip in Bollywood, along with an award-winning short about child abuse called Walking on a Moonbeam. Here, she ambitiously combines a chilling social study with haunting mythology. Not all of the narrative strands work well, particularly the familiar tale of a cocky young TV reporter (is there any other kind?) willing to sell her soul to get a scoop. But the horror and grudging sympathy evoked by the village’s scapegoat-executioner Kajarya rings out loud and true. Examining infanticide from these two perspectives, Anand creates an interesting back-and-forth tension, though it strains to work over more than two hours of running time and multiple endings.  

In a poor village just a few hours from New Delhi, the wild-haired Kajarya (Hooda) sways in a drug-induced trance in front of a red Kali statue. She is handed an infant only a few days old, and it’s clear from the crowd’s tense faces and the foreboding score that it isn’t her blessing that’s desired.

By chance, Meera (Ridhima Sood), an entitled rookie reporter on a New Delhi daily, gets assigned to cover an innocuous story in the village and figures out something fishy is going on. Actually, her insufferable arrogance makes her miss numerous clues. If, as the end titles insist, ten million girls have been killed in India since 1986, including three million in the last decade, then surely it’s suspicious that there are no girls in the village. The village boys have to lead her to their grave sites before she figures it out. She goes back to the office with a nationwide scoop, ironically hailed as “fearless journalism,” and a career-making story that shakes parliament. She’s too green and morally inexperienced to take responsibility for all the consequences, however.

This is still an early point in the film, and there is much more to come. Meera’s personal ups and downs take up too much screen time and are of little interest compared to Kajarya’s evolution from village child-killer to a mature, wise woman who understands the deeper meaning of everything she has done and what has happened to her. She makes an unusual but effective mouthpiece against the barbaric practice of female infanticide, for even though she’s the one who kills the girls, the whole village is in cahoots. The guilt of the parents is evident, particularly the fathers who believe their bloodline passes only through male offspring. In all this, the goddess is only a pretense to kill baby girls via abortion or murder.

The brooding, intelligent Hooda gets the audience on her side from the first scene, despite (or maybe because of) the foul language she uses to express her boiling anger. Once her name becomes public, she’s a victim no longer, but a national monster that sells papers. Her moral stature is affirmed in a moving, exalting confession scene. Beside her, the superficial, blackmailing Meera pales, along with the entire issue of aggressive, unethical journalism.

It isn’t a film with great photography, though some of the lighting is highly atmospheric. A major plus is Richard Horowitz’s rhythmic musical score incorporating local themes.

Production: Starfire Movies, Ekaa Films, Overdose Joint
Cast: Meenu Hooda, Ridhima Sud, Kuldeep Ruhil, Shashi Bhushan, Sudheer Chobessy
Director-screenwriter: Madhureeta Anand
Producers: Tilak Sarkar, Celine Loop, Qaushiq Mukherjee
Director of photography: Alok Upadhyay
Production designer: Amardeep Behl
Costumes: Urvaghi Bhargava
Editor: Manas Mittal
Music: Richard Horowitz
No rating, 134 minutes