In Kriya Neel, a club DJ, meets the beautiful Sitara at a gig and is utterly transfixed by her. What starts under the pretense of a romantic fling becomes something much more disturbing when Sitara takes Neel home and reveals that her father is at Death’s door and the family is deep into ritualistic grieving. Neel tries many times to leave the house but is constantly pulled back in by Sitara’s seduction. Before long, it’s clear that there’s no escaping the inevitable and Neel is consumed by this cycle of grief and tradition.
Kriya is written and directed by Sidharth Srinivasan, in his first ever horror film and first narrative feature in a decade. Srinivasan’s inspiration for Kriya comes from his ever-present criticism and response to what he views as harmful religious fundamentalism and toxic patriarchy. The film stars Noble Luke and Navjot Randhawa and had its World Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.
There’s no waiting around in Kriya, the film immediately dumps the viewer right into the thick of things. Just as abruptly as Neel experiences it, the viewer finds themselves in a tense and uneasy state. The story unfolds quickly, but maintains an air of mystery that is quite disorienting. Visually and narratively, the characters and audience spend a great deal of the film in the dark and only in the final act do all the terrifying pieces click into place.
It’s a brilliantly put together narrative and a credit to Srinivasan’s craftsmanship as a writer and director. For a film about the cycle of patriarchy, it’s powerful to see these characters fighting against a system and not even realizing that they are trapped in it and repeating it until it is far too late to change it. There’s a mystical component that makes the events of Kriya feel all the more inevitable, without the weight of grounding the film too heavily in realism.
Inevitable. That’s the word that keeps rising to the forefront when ruminating on Kriya. There’s an earthy quality to the film, that makes it feel older and heavier than it is possible for a film to be. There is painstaking detail in every filmmaking element, as well as in the story itself. That detail adds a sort of draining heaviness to the film. The characters are struggling under the weight of an ancestral curse, that’s really the curse of tradition and religion and oppressive culture elements. As an audience, we feel that struggle weighing on us as well.
Kriya brilliantly confronts and explores that cycle of patriarchy in Hindu fundamentalism. While men are at the center of the story, it is the women who carry the burden of tradition. The women of Kriya use their limited agency to finesse their circumstances and do their best to delicately clear a path for their daughters. Each generation bears a scar of monstrous patriarchy and even Neel, our progressive male hero, succumbs to tradition and what it warps him into. Women go from girls, to sexual beings, to a chaste mother. Kriya blurs the line between father figure and husband, intentionally to show that journey in which women slip quietly from the shadow of one man to another.
It’s a heartbreaking meditation. The horror of Kriya is less rooted in terrifying ritual and monsters, though those things are present and horrific, and more present as a real-life horror of people trapped in a culture machine and doomed to repeat an ancestral curse. Kriya is intelligent and ruthless. Disturbing at every layer and absolutely draining for the viewer. Proceed with caution, because succumbing to Kriya is simply inevitable.
Kriya had its World Premiere on August 26 at 9:15PM EST, with a live Q&A with director and cast that followed. The film will screen again on August 29 at 11:15PM EST.
Movie Score: 3/5
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