A horrific cultural ceremony lurks around the corner for a well-to-do and seemingly happy Indian family in Digvijay Singh’s sunny but sinister “Maya,” an undeniably powerful story of officially sanctioned child abuse made all the more ghastly by its apparent accuracy. Per helmer, the practice of town elders ritually raping girls who have just reached puberty is still in effect in parts of India today, under a variety of names. Deliberate pacing and an overemphasis on the day-to-day domestic minutiae prior to the ritual dissipate the impact considerably, suggesting judicious first-half trimming might be in order. Subject and treatment are sure to generate controversy and passionate discussion on the fest circuit, with arthouse play possible via the bravest distribs and ancillary limited to mature audiences.
Along with her 11-year-old cousin and chief instigator, Sanjay (Nikhil Yaday), 12-year-old Maya (Nitya Shetty) leads a happy-go-lucky life of general mischief under the long-suffering noses of her excitable father, Arun (Anant Nag), doting mother, Lakshmi (Mita Vasisht) and harried servant, Ganesh (Mukesh Bhat). Their only real problem seems to be the lizards that constantly infest their house. The excitement level rises considerably when Maya menstruates for the first time, prompting talk of an apparently much-anticipated “prayer ceremony” to be conducted by a local “high priest,” the affable Mr. Nair (Virendra Saxenda).
It isn’t until the ceremony itself that the truth of the procedure is revealed: While sitting on a stone slab, Maya is taken by Mr. Nair and his three assistants in turn. Young Sanjay acts as the conscience of the piece, so agitated that he bangs on the door of the temple and later throws raw meat at Mr. Nair, provoking the wrath of his exasperated father. “God has been very kind,” someone says of the day’s success, underscoring the festive nature of the brutality with a good cheer free of irony.
Tech credits are pro, with Mark Lapwood’s lensing emphasizing the vibrant colors of the village and a feast that kicks into full swing even as the screaming Maya is being violated behind the massive wooden doors of the “temple.” Ritual itself, while disturbing, is free of explicit images and blocked with adequate discretion to show only the legs of the participants.