Kriya is the latest project from indie filmmaker Sidharth Srinivasan. On paper, it sounds like pretty generic genre fare — it’s a folk horror movie about a man lured by an attractive woman into an unexpected fate. There are plenty of iterations of that story, and almost all of them are basked in whiteness. The costumes are white, the people in the film are largely white and almost the entire genre is based on depicting “horror in broad daylight.”
Srinivasan’s film is none of those things. First off, Kriya is largely set on a large rural estate somewhere in India, and the majority of the narrative takes place over the course of one night. Secondly, the film has an entirely non-white cast. At its core, Kriya is a film about Hindu burial rites. It starts with a message informing the audience that, according to Hindu lore, a parent’s burial rites can only be performed by the eldest son. The trouble is that the father in question gave birth to two daughters, which is where nightclub DJ Neel (Noble Luke) comes in. In the beginning, he plays music set against a strobe-lit club scene. He then meets Sitara (Navjot Randhawa), a young woman who catches his eye while she’s dancing in the crowd. Immediately, there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right, and that Sitara may have bad intentions. Sure enough, as the two share an intimate moment, Sitara stops Neel and tells him that she “knows a better place.”
That better place turns out to be Sitara’s family home, a huge sprawling estate in the countryside that looks picturesque from the outside but has seen better days on the inside. Unfortunately for Neel, he’s not going to find any sex here; what he is going to find is a family in the middle of making their peace with the death of their patriarch and undertaking a series of Hindu burial rates – and they need Neel to help him. As a man, Neel is the only person who can perform the rites in accordance with Hindi scripture.
There’s a lot to like about Kriya, and it’s rare to get Indian films like this in the West. Bollywood is big in the UK, but the majority of the films that make it overseas are sweeping romances or epic dramas and adventure films, or make money on the backs of Bollywood superstars. With Kriya, Srinivasan manages to keep what’s really going on under lock and key, and adds some social commentary into the mix for good measure. Kriya criticizes outdated cultural and religious norms, in which being a man inherently gives one more credence than anyone else, and how that concept has a negative knock-on effect for both men and women, with the former having to be stoic and sacrificial at their own expense, and the latter being shut out of opportunities which are only afforded to men.
Randhawa effectively strikes the balance of being the pious religious daughter and the person tasked with keeping Neel firmly in the trap by any means necessary. As Neel, Noble responds to Randhawa’s Sitara with a convincing measure of confusion and concern – his character should leave but worries about some secret threat in the house. Neel’s conscience prevents him from taking off without Sitara, and his chemistry with the woman translates to the central performances.
Unfortunately, Kriya’s script is the weakest link. Much of the dialogue sounds like it was lifted straight from a soap opera, and the film occasionally veers into melodrama, which isn’t particularly becoming for a folk horror film set almost entirely in a single location. Those ineffective scenes dwindle, however, as Kriya progresses and takes itself a little more seriously.
Kriya hasn’t garnered the same attention as Fantasia’s heavy hitters 12 Hour Shift and The Columnist, but it offers a unique perspective. Folk horror often looks to its roots more than most horror sub-genres, so Srinivasan’s film provides some much-need diversity.
Frazer MacDonald (@frazermac44) is a freelance film critic. He’s mostly interested in the horror genre, but also has a pretty keen interest in animated films, particularly the works of Studio Ghibli.