Director: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Triptii Dimri, Babil Khan, Swastika Mukherjee and Amit Sial
Qala—you can easily read it as kala the art. But in the movie Qala is the name of the female protagonist, who happens to be a singer. The film opens with her cutting a golden disc, a moment of high in her singing career it seems. But soon, her tormented past casts a shadow on her achievements.
Hereafter, the film goes back and forth in time as we are introduced not just to the making (or, is it unmaking?) of Qala but also her stern mother Urmila Manjushree (Swastika Mukherjee), an erstwhile thumri singer.
A conflicted relationship between mother and daughter in an industry, which thrives on self-sacrificing model of maa, is a rarity. Here, you may not fully understand the mother’s lack of empathy for her only child except perhaps alluding to the subservient position of female child in the social pecking order. But soon you are drawn into this love-hate bond between the mother and daughter that forms the backbone of the narrative written and directed by Anvita Dutt. If in her debut film Bulbbul, Dutt created a visual painting, here the tone is poetic. Call it the song of melancholy if you wish.
All the characters here carry the burden of sorrow with that look of wistfulness. In Babil Khan as Jagan you can sense the intensity of his celebrated father Irrfan Khan. But Babil’s part is not long enough to be truly memorable and you do wish for his debut film this talented son of a brilliant actor had got a meatier part. Sure the frames in which you see him are writ with an earnest innocence matching Qala’s fragile frailty. Your heart goes out for him in more than a scene or two. Trust Dutt to give us a counter male representation, contrasting exploitative Amit Sial’s music composer part with that of Jagan’s gentleness.
Sial often seen in OTT shows as the vile guy is no saint here, but still is not simply black and impresses. So does Swastika Mukherjee as a towering mother figure, almost smothering her daughter, who is constantly seeking validation from her.
But no doubt the director’s muse here is Qala. Tripti Dimri plays now diffident, now confident, now vulnerable, now hostile Qala with remarkable felicity. She is fragile, delicate, beautiful and strong... is she the protagonist or antagonist, victim or aggressor... in her character’s complexity lie the many layers of the film.
Is Babil’s character her alter ego, the twin who died or simply a rival... the storyline throws us off balance at more than one point. And raises as many questions about success and makes us wonder and ponder; achievement at what price. Of course, as with Bulbbul, the finale here may seem predictable. But the allegory lurks in the sameness. Metaphors abound if you pay attention to the game.
Set in the golden past of 1930s and 40s, Qala is as much an ode to music as to talent as to pure art. Artistic to the core, here frames are lush with a poignant beauty, courtesy cinematographer Siddharth Diwan and designer Meenal Agarwal. Songs rendered in soulful voices by Sireesha Bhagavatula and Shahid Mallya, with lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya, Kausar Munir, Swanand Kirkire and Varun Grover, the music by Amit Trivedi itself deserves a separate review.
Holding an aesthetic palette impressed by the Dutch Golden Age and the Art Nouveau style Dutt chooses to tell woman’s stories in a voice and language that is distinctly feminine. Resolute and gorgeous, she entices you to gorge upon the beauty of pathos, inner demons, mental health and relationships that in her words are ‘an emotional minefield.’
Streaming on Netflix, there is no reason for you to skip this fascinating journey of fractured ties crafted with a delicate finesse. With inner landscapes matching the outer, Qala is an artistic toast.