By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)
‘Kumari’ begins with a grandmother’s tale, that of a Goddess who descended upon earth and fell in love with a human, the multiple children she bore to him resembled neither Gods nor humans; soon, these demi-Gods began wreaking havoc across land, until their mother cursed them, banishing them to dark corners of the world. According to lore, these creatures gain power when worshiped… and the movie follows the story on one such entity and its entanglement with a family of landowners.
Directed by Nirmal Sahadev, the 2022 Malayalam movie ‘Kumari’ has a fantastic opening sequence explaining the myth central to the story. Aishwarya Lekshmi is Kumari, a young woman married off into a family far from her home, despite her brother’s misgivings about the groom. Later, Kumari learns the family is plagued by an ancient curse and she might have to pay the price for a blood-curdling deal they made with dark powers to stay safe.
‘Kumari’ offers a kaleidoscopic view of Kerala’s culture, varying art forms, rituals and scenic beauty. There was a brief scene featuring leather puppetry, a near lost art form which was a popular means of story-telling once upon a time and is called ‘Tolpavakoothu’ in Kerala. Some elements of the story reminded me of the 2018 movie ‘Tumbbad’, which also dealt with similar themes. In-fact one crucial sub-plot in ‘Kumari’ is the same as in ‘Tumbbad’, not going to go into dwell into details since it would be a major spoiler.
Aishwarya Lekshmi is measured in her performance as the resilient Kumari, but her character needed some more punch. Instead of giving her an introductory song, which only establishes her as a ‘lively friendly girl’, the writers should’ve inserted at least one scene in the first-half to show she has more shades. Shine Tom Chacko is striking as Kumari’s husband, the ‘ignored younger son’ of the family, who becomes a perfect human metaphor for ‘power corrupts’. Surabhi Lakshmi has a small cameo as an eccentric tribal woman and is absolutely electric when she comes on the screen – she is creepy, intimidating and wild; just as her character requires her to be.
Greed, family politics, caste clash and vengeance are the dominant themes in this horror tale. As a viewer, I expected a grander twist at the end, largely due to the fascinating legend narrated at the beginning. Instead, the last half hour was prolonged and overdone, with multiple violent clashes and unnecessary scenes. We get a chaotic climactic face-off, which would’ve been far more impactful if it had been simpler. Regardless, there is also a goose-bump inducing triumphant moment, and you get the classic ‘good prevails over evil’ kind of ending. Overall, ‘Kumari’ is a satisfactory watch for those who love historical horror.
It’s a 7/10 from me.
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