Documentary filmmaker Madhureeta Anand made her feature debut in 2009 with the fantasy-laden misfire Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye. Her new movie Kajarya sees her in her comfort zone, tackling social issues. In Kajarya, the target is female foeticide. Well-meaning but wide-eyed reporter Meera (Ridhima Sud) lands up in a village in Haryana chasing a lead that nobody will confirm: human sacrifices on a moonless night. Meera learns instead of Kajarya (Meenu Hooda), a woman branded as a witch and a killer of newborn girls by the village. Keen on making the front page, Meera conducts an investigation aided by a friendly local chap, Banwari (Kuldeep Ruhil) and concludes that Kajarya is indeed a monster who deserves nothing less than the death sentence.

Or does she? Like private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown, Meera is the last one to find out what exactly is happening in the village. Meera’s naiveté doesn’t evoke empathy, but her position of privilege is easily understood and deftly justified by Anand’s screenplay. Meera has her own fires to put out back home. Her strained relationship with her boyfriend Nikhil (Sumeet Vyas) is a plotting contrivance to show that women of all classes suffer in some way or the other in India, but it does go some way in adding depth to an otherwise simple issue-led story.

This is a film of sincerity and strong performances. Meenu Hooda is convincing as Kajarya, the monster the village wants her to be, and Sud is perfectly cast as the urbane reporter whose cluelessness has tragic consequences. Anand competently captures the misogyny that is rampaging through the countryside, but the sudden flashbacks, intrusive close-ups and symbolic use of a Kali statue are heavy-handed gestures in a movie that is not easy watching in any case.

Ruhil makes a fine weasly villain, who is using Kajarya for his own ends, and the movie has its share of corpulent police officers and cold-hearted editors. It’s a grim watch, but then female foeticide is never easy to confront.