Kanika review: Horror film with a social message that makes little impact

Release Date: 31 Mar 2017 / Rated: A / 02hr 00min

Cinestaan Rating

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Blessy Chettiar

Kanika attempts to take a hard look at the evil of sex determination and female foeticide using drama, entertainment, horror and revenge.

Earlier this month, 19 female foetuses were found in a sewer in Sangli. Investigations led the police to a doctor who had been running illegal sex determination tests and abortions at his clinic. In 2010, a sting operation exposed another illegal abortion racket in Beed district of Maharashtra. 

Maharashtra likes to wear the tag of a ‘progressive state’, but the truth is in stark contrast to the image the state would like to promote. According to the data released in 2016 by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Maharashtra ranks second in sex determination tests with 554 police cases (behind Rajasthan with 626 cases). The number would be definitely higher for the undetected and unreported cases.

Kanika attempts to take a hard look at the evil of sex determination and female foeticide using drama, entertainment, horror and revenge.

Dr Kaushik Pradhan (Sharad Ponkshe) is an established, well-heeled, well-known doctor and researcher. He runs a multi-speciality hospital along with his doctor wife Vaishali (Chaitrali Gupte). Story, screenplay, dialogue writer and director Pushkar Manohar does a fine job of introducing the character traits of the protagonists. Dr Kaushik is an arrogant, money-minded, practical, medical businessman who can silence the scruples by justifying it with his story of struggle and hard work. His wife Vaishali is a good woman, in love and awe of the man she married and has a partnership with. 

When Dr Kaushik starts witnessing paranormal activities around his house, he finds his scientific temper under threat. He can barely believe what’s happening, let alone explain it to his learned doctor friends and colleagues. He fears being mocked. But when his team of doctors and medical practitioners start witnessing similar occurrences and die gory deaths, Dr Kaushik is compelled to get to the bottom of the story with the help of another friend/doctor/partner Dr Sachin. 

The trail leads them to a village nearby where a girl named Kanika lived, whose death was caused by Dr Kaushik and his accomplices’ unscrupulous behaviour and greed. 

The story of Kanika is predictable. Director Pushkar uses the usual tropes of loud music, shaky camera work, jump scares, no cell phone coverage in abandoned places, over-the-top makeup, ghost in a white gown to send chills down the spine of his audience. These, however, remain tropes and don’t add value to what is unfolding on screen, especially when the claim is to present a revenge horror drama.

Another trope that writer Pushkar employs is how the central protagonist Dr Kaushik is the last one the ghost deals with and even gets a chance to amend his ways. Some of the characters seem ornamental and the narrative would be unaffected even in their absence. For example, Dr Sachin who returns from USA and is Dr Kaushik’s business partner is made to look important in the scheme of things, but is actually not. He just takes the revengeful ghost’s tally up by becoming another victim.

It is, however, commendable that the makers try to weave in the social message of accepting female children as equal and giving them a chance to live. It’s shameful how doctors, seemingly learned and thoughtful, engage in sex determination for a few extra bucks. The monologue by Inspector Rawal (Kamalakar Satpute) on saving the girl child is effective, but quickly crosses over into preachy territory. 

Ponkshe delivers an effective performance as the conflicted doctor plagued by karma. Gupte’s act as Vaishali is restrained, yet comforting. Smita Shewale, who plays Kanika’s mother Vidya, is shown as a strong female character, who is wronged and seeks revenge. She displays her pain and aggression in a convincing manner throughout her limited screen time. Other characters are restricted by the limitations of the script, and none of them manage to rise above it.

The focus on social duty does not absolve the makers of the loopholes that puncture the narrative. The film faces tremendous continuity issues, for example, Dr Kaushik’s junior doctor is a man nearly twice his age. We could overlook this thinking the junior started his practice late in life, but there are other instances that prove that enough attention wasn’t paid to the nuances. Kanika’s parents are struggling to meet ends in the village, but it’s funny how they choose to get treatment in a multi-speciality hospital in a city. 

Kanika is a horror film with a social message that makes little impact. If women’s empowerment on the big screen interests you, there’s another heart-warming story of achievement and grit out in the theatres this week — Poorna. Check that one out.

Reviewed by Blessy Chettiar