Fantasia Film Festival 2020: Kriya

A night out at the club where the triumph of a sick DJ set and meeting a beautiful woman ends in a nightmare in Sidharth Srinivasan’s Kriya.

Neel (Noble Luke) is a DJ who meets Sitara (Navjot Randhawa) after he plays at a nightclub. They are hot and heavy with each other, and Sitara decides to bring Neel home. Her house is palatial, and Neel is curious, but that curiosity ends when they walk in on Sitara’s family starting the last rites for her father. It’s an awkward situation, and Neel wants to leave, but his traditional and dutiful obligations force him to sit politely as the family starts their mourning process. The family is dysfunctional and mired in tradition, with the priest (Sudhanva Deshpande) leading the prayers, and intricate ceremonies as the family argue about the dying man’s fate. Neel reluctantly drinks a strange housekeeper’s tincture, leaving him entranced and ensnared, especially when Sitara goes between pleading with him and threatening him to stay. Neel soon realizes he is the key for the accursed family and their dark plot as the night gets more and more dangerous.

Neel (Noble Luke) and Sitara (Navjot Randhawa)

I love watching Bollywood horrors, but this was a big step out of the formulaic ghost story, instead, giving us a fascinating and subversive film with a nightmarish situation. Traditions and obligations are strong here, and Neel’s character is the moral compass as he tries to do the right thing even though he is unsure and is in danger. There are also hidden agendas and ghostly apparitions that plague Neel as he tries to figure out what’s going on and tries to leave. I also enjoyed the modern scenes of a nightclub juxtaposed with the age-old traditions.  It’s the new engulfed by the old, and that in itself is a nightmare.

The engaging cast and director spoke about patriarchal and religious traditions that are hard to break in India during the Q & A following the screening. Srinivasan intended to subvert the male-oriented, right-wing politics and conventions, especially when a male child is the most desired. This societal sexism is apparent in the film, as Sitara isn’t enough to perform her dying father’s rites as the eldest child. She must be a man to do this. There’s also full frontal nudity for both leads, which is highly unusual for a South Asian film because of archaic laws about the effects of sexuality on society. I’m often shocked when a Bollywood film allows a full mouth on mouth kiss, let alone nudity. Srinivasan not only pushed the envelope, but he also shoved it out of the stratosphere. With these scenes, he challenges the status quo of sexuality and social mores. It’s a wake-up call for the industry there, not because Kriya adopts western standards, but because bravery within the film liberates both the viewer and the creators.

Kriya is one of my top film picks for Fantasia. For a movie shot in 10 days, it’s powerful, provocative, and a must-see during Fantasia. Catch it Saturday, August 29, at 11:15 pm.

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