Review: Kaali Khuhi

Rupinder Kaur
7 min readOct 31, 2020


Kudi maraa de desh vich: eh ohi des hai jithey rakshasa da sangar karan lai deviyan avatar dhariyan san.

In the country of girl killers: this is the same country where Goddesses were born to kill demons.

— Dalip Kaur Tiwana

Kaali Khuhi is a Netflix original film directed by Terrie Samundra also written by her and David Walter Lech with dialogues done by Rupinder Inderjit. If you are looking for a horror that you hope will scare you then Kaali Khuhi is not for you. Kaali Khuhi is a feminist horror about internal horrors looking at female infanticide/female foeticide known as “kudi mar” in Panjabi. There are so many tiny, tiny details in the film which are dipped in metaphors, looking at the inner demons along with internalised misogyny.

Many villages across Panjab till date have a huge gender ratio imbalance. There is a long history and tradition of killing girls as they are born across India not just Panjab. The recent UN Report that States 4,60,000 Girls in India are missing at birth. The reasons for female infanticide / foeticide are mostly due to patriarchal societies viewing girls as a burden as they do not carry the lineage forward. Female infanticide has existed in India for a long time. Methods have now changed to abortion giving rise to female foeticide which is perhaps why in the climax scene Shivangi sees a human womb in a darkened room.

There is a saying in Panjabi: never have a daughter or lover like Sahiban. Sahiban has largely been a victim of gender injustice, a folk heroine that became the most cursed girl from the land of five rivers — Panjab. Torn in conflict due to not being able to choose her lover or side with her brothers wholeheartedly. When all she wanted was to be understood by both her lover and brothers. Over time there has been a realisation that Sahiban has been treated unfairly largely through the male poets and writers. Shifting the gaze, and who tells the stories of women is really important to consider. Now, seeing a film set in Panjab through the gaze of women is rare indeed.

Samundra takes you on a journey through rural Panjab with the curious eyes of Shivangi. Which takes me back to a much earlier short film directed by Samundra — Kunjo (2009) again this film is told through the eyes of young girls giving the message of how important education and storytelling is regardless of your social and economic status. I wonder if Samundra purposely chooses to use children to tell a much deeper story. When you are young you are seen as naive and don’t know much about the world. But, there’s this curiosity of wanting to know about the unknown. Again like Kaali Khuhi, Kunjo is set in rural Panjab, despite it being filmed many years ago it is still pleasing to watch.

In Kaali Khuhi cinematographer Sejal Shah, does a brilliant job. The moods and colour palette really match the vibe of the film. There are lots of tight and narrow shots and silences in the village creating poetry on screen. The rural village in Panjab not shown beautifully or aesthetically as we are used to seeing in Bollywood and Panjabi films but in Kaali Khuhi we see a deception of reality. Which is a rare treat to see.

The tiny details in the film which are often “show don’t tell” moments — like Shivangi at the start of the film staring into a well, with a red ice lolly with drops of the ice lolly falling depicting red maybe to prevail what is to follow. Another moment when Satya Massi is milking and the milk turns into blood and she doesn’t even realise this. But runs to the darkroom at the top of the house, where she can hear a baby crying. The same room where once her own daughter was taken from. Satya becomes face to face with her past, the trauma that never left her. We see how Satya wanted to move away from orthodox thoughts that elderly women had but was unsuccessful and lives with this guilt. The village is only free from killing baby girls once the elderly women have died. One woman with a disfigured eye is seen throughout the woman as a reminder perhaps of how the past never leaves and sometimes comes back to haunt.

The old tradition of the village is that as soon as a baby girl is born they are given medicine which looks black and appears to be feem (a type of drug made poppy seeds) although I may be wrong. And are thrown in the well the “Kaali Khuhi”. Which also takes me back to the trauma that wells have carried since the days of the partition where many young girls would jump in or were forced to jump in, in order to save their izaat — honour from being raped or abducted. When Dadi dies in the film along with Darshan the two are seen throwing up a blackish vomit which is perhaps a way of directly linking the blackish medicine “feem” in a neat metaphor.

I am reminded of Anurag Kashyap’s segment in Ghost Stories. Where we see Neha played by Sobhita Dhulipala having multiple miscarriages, linked back to an old wives tale of how you shouldn’t touch birds eggs, otherwise birds leave them and lead Neha’s mother saying you will never be a mother. There’s this lifelong guilt that Neha carries. This guilt is similar to what Satya Massi carries, but she manages to write everything, write her lived stories in a book. A woman writing her own stories especially in Panjab is a radical thing and I am glad Terrie Samundra added this in the film. Till date women, writers from Panjab are not liked especially if they are feminist writers, writing their own raw truths. But the truths are what will bring a new change, new thinking which is what Satya Massi’s character showcases. Even the name of Satya Massi, Satya which means truthful / truth gives the reminder that like in Mahabharat, in this rural village the truth will also be victorious and Satya Massi plays a pivotal role in revealing this truth.

Another film which explores inner demons is Qissa directed by Anup Singh which is set in post-partition Panjab. In Qissa the partition is not about external violence, but the problems within. It is a film that weaves together layers of partition, gender identity politics, trauma memory and violence issues. The obsession for Umber Singh played by Irrfan Khan to have a son makes him believe that his fourth daughter Kanwar played by Tillotama Shome is actually the son he so badly wanted and against his wife’s wishes he raises her like a son. In Kaali Khuhi Sakshi, the sister of Darshan the girl who never got to be a girl is seen sometimes under the bed, or randomly behind or in front of Shivangi. She is the “ghost” that is haunting the village. I also sensed that all she wants is to be free and see that girls will get saved which Shivangi does in the end. I’ve seen that Samundra thought about each and every detail. Shivangi’s name means one who shares the body of Lord Shiv, in his form of Ardhanareshwar and also is another name for Durga. Here a young girl embodies the form of Durga and saves the village from this centuries-old tradition and curse.

The cast of Kaali Khuhi is brilliant, they all fit naturally into their characters. Riva Arora does a fantastic job as the curious Shivangi and the entire film is almost all on her shoulders. Sanjeeda Sheikh as Priya who we do not see much but whenever we do she is a delight, we feel her dilemma and conflict of wanting the best for her daughter, but also bound in a relationship that seems a compromise which is a reality of many couples. But we notice a difference in the generations from her mother-in-law being a typical woman, that favours sons to her not caring.

Satyadeep Mishra as Darshan, portrays a typical Panjabi man, carrying great body language. With patriarchy visible on his face. His strong want to return to the village as his mother becomes sick reminds me of many common Panjabi men’s attachment to their mother and rural roots of the “village life” something which is common across Panjabi men in Panjab, across India and the diaspora.

Leela Samson as Dadi, the typical Panjabi Dadi that favours sons: something which again is common till date across Panjab and even its diasporas. The wonderful Shabana Azmi as Satya Massi who I am a massive, massive fan of. Shabana Azmi really does pick films with a soul and substance. Azmi’s each scene brings out her fine acting skills more and more. Be it the scene where she is chanting hymns or trying to save the baby girl in the dark room.

Young Rose Rathod as Chandni is another super child actor, the scenes of when she acts possessed are brilliant, especially when she has her hair open in the Mandir. Growing up I’ve heard myths from my mum and Nani Ji about how girls should not leave their open especially in the evening but they never exactly knew why. There are various myths and superstitions around this. Ranging from you will be possessed or the “Mata will enter you”. If you do belong to a Panjabi family you will relate and understand so many of the superstitions and myths that Kaali Kuhi presents.

The last scene of Kaali Khuhi, moved me to tears seeing young girls playing and being free in their element as it is something I dream for all girls across the world not just in Panjab. Perhaps these girls were the souls of the many young baby girls that never got to live their childhood, become a woman were thrown straight into the well, just because they were born as a girl.

Kaali Khuhi is a film which not everyone will understand but who it needs to reach and be understood by I am sure it will. Terrie Samundra, has created this film with a lot of thought and love which is seen throughout the film with its details. I wish her all the best with her future films and ventures. In the meantime please do watch Kaali Khuhi which is streaming on Netflix.



Rupinder Kaur