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Review: Kriya (2020) – Fantasia

Shot over ten nights, writer/director Sidharth Srinivasan’s film Kriya grew out of his discomfort with religious fundamentalism and chauvinism in his native India. He turned that discomfort into a script centred around Hindu death rituals, family obligations and a curse that spans generations. And, before I go further, yes this is an Indian film. But it is not a “Bollywood” film. It runs for 95 minutes, not over two hours, and there are no musical numbers.

Neel (Noble Luke) DJs at a local club. One night he meets Sitara (Navjot Randhawa, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs) and ends up going home with her. What he gets is not what he expected. Her father lies bound and dying on the living room floor as the family prays over him.

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Her father dies during the night. Custom dictates that a son perform his last rights. But since there isn’t one Neel is asked, pressured and ultimately seduced to perform them. Reluctantly, he agrees, only to find out he’s involved himself in a highly dysfunctional family. And its curse.

The first act of Kriya was a bit of a struggle for me. Not because it’s a slow burn, but because it’s so deeply rooted in the Hindu religion and culture. I could follow the basic story well enough, but it frequently felt like I was missing important details. Once the plot picks up and the various characters’ machinations come into play, it gets a lot easier to understand. And it kicks off with a shock of an unexpected kind. I don’t think I’ve seen full-frontal female nudity in an Indian film before. And I certainly hadn’t seen full male nudity in one.

“Kriya, like my past work, was born out of an acutely personal reaction to what was happening in my country, where Hindu fundamentalism and chauvinistic religious persecution were ripping India apart.”

Sidharth Srinivasan writer/director of Kriya

But that’s hardly the only place this film pushes boundaries and buttons. Kriya has plenty to say about religion, none of it very good. More than one reference is made to sati, the religious practice of a widow being burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Although officially abolished, it still occurs in some rural areas. And Panditji (Sudhanva Deshpande, The Forgotten Army) the local Hindu priest certainly still believes in it.

Kriya has a rather convoluted storyline, and just when you think you understand the curse, and what’s going on, something changes. It all revolves around a son not being born into the family for generations. Some of it is quite creepy and there are a few jump scares. Again, while I could follow it fairly well, there were moments where references were made to a particular deity that were lost on me.

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Although shot in India, post-production on Kriya was done in London with the involvement of Pete Tombs and Andrew Starke of Mondo Macabro. One benefit of that was it picked up an excellent score by Jim Williams, who also scored Kill List and Possessor, among others.

Making its World Premiere August 26th as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, Kriya will have an encore showing on the 29th.

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