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Qala is surreal and visually captive, more like how one forgets yet remembers the life one inhabits in their dreams in bits and pieces.
In the times when talking about depression is still a ‘taboo’ and society at large has a long way to go to normalize the narratives around mental health issues, Qala (brilliantly directed by Anvita Dutt) makes me wonder how vulnerable we all are, women especially, hanging onto the threshold of obscurity and lucidity of our minds.
The premise of the movie, Qala is emotionally overwhelming. It is heartbreaking to see a mother, become a product of the patriarchal mould (her survival choice), unknowingly catapulting misery onto her daughter’s life.
On the surface of it, the movie talks about mother-daughter dysfunctional relationship, which is often less explored in our cinemas. Most of our mother characters in the movies are glossed over as the epitome of every good deed and daughters are either obedient docile caricatures or mysteriously rebellious femmes. Qala tries to peel off these and many more layers and present the realities as they are, delving deep into women’s psyche.
A celebrated singer herself, Urmila Manjushree (Swastika Mukherjee’s menacing performance borderlines evilness) is unheeding towards her daughter Qala’s choice to sing, let alone sing for films. She encourages Qala’s aspirations with clauses in effect, not able to let go the stereotypical societal demands she’s burdened herself with.
Urmila seems like a classic example of bad parenting. But it is not just that. She is a single mother, living alone up in the cold mountains, probably having sacrificed her own aspirations, having to carry the burden of her husband’s legacy, Urmila comes across as stern, stonelike, emotionless and cold hearted. She is desperate to forgo her courtesan lineage to have her positioning ‘correctified’ in the noble society she is in. Her fear towards her daughter’s aspirations stems from this. “Naam ke aage pandit hona chahiye naam ke peeche bai nahin ……”, she says to Qala clearly setting the road map.
There were times when women from ‘good families’ never ‘performed’ on stage and the struggles were real if they pursued art be it theatres, movies or singing. Even to this day, what hasn’t changed is that women specifically in arts, cinema, theatres are not free from prejudices; they are the soft targets for trolls, misunderstandings and easily labelled as ‘loose’ characters. The irony is that Urmila personifies ‘the patriarchal mindset’ even though at heart she is just ‘a vulnerable normal woman’. Her punishment is that she must take it upon herself what she thrusted her daughter into. She must go through the guilt cycle of being a bad parent when the tragedy finally strikes her.
Qala (played to perfection by an exceptionally talented Tripti Dimri) is vulnerable, constantly seeking assurance and validation from her mother, her life becomes unacknowledged and guilt-ridden. Though Qala is successful as a playback singer she is unsure of her worth. Given that in 1930-40’s it would have been very hard for people to make a plausible connection to any psychosomatic conditions Qala may have, it is tragic to see her life going downhill when her hard kept secrets start haunting her.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Qala complains about her illness as “the noise in the head and fear in the heart”. The unassuming doctor dismisses it as probably a usual symptom of monthly discharge. The scene in the movie is of 1930-40’s but interestingly even in today’s times these ’emotional outbursts’ are dusted off under the monthly quota and often red flags go unnoticed and unheard.
Jagan (Babil khan shining in his acting debut) enters Qala’s life as prodigious son to Urmila and becomes nightmarish to deal with, when Qala has barely started to handhold her life. Although singing was not Qala’s priority, but a means to reach her mother’s heart and with Jagan’s coming into their lives, that sliver of hope she must lose out. She is forced to double her efforts to make her presence felt and survive her mother’s bitterness towards her.
In her desperation for approval, Qala sees Jagan as a glee of hope. She fleetingly thinks she can get married to Jagan as a last resort and continue to be with her mother, gain her affection and fulfil all that her mother wants her to be. But Qala is shut off by Urmila saying her incestuous reasonings aren’t ‘normal’. Qala then feels Jagan to be a threat to her personally, because her mother Urmila adopts Jagan as heir to the legacy and showers all the love which Qala is rightful of. And professionally, because Jagan will be the one who shall be bestowed upon all the praises and be rewarded for his talents instead of her.
Qala is surreal and visually captive, more like how one forgets yet remembers the life one inhabits in their dreams in bits and pieces. Music, melody, moths, mercury, maze, the melancholy of snow cladded landscapes are all bleeding out for ‘acceptance’ in Qala’s subliminal world. The whole film is from Qala’s point of view, (phenomenally captured by cinematographer Siddharth Diwan) so we go inside her mind iced, cold and frozen where no sound of warmth seeps into.
I wonder if Jagan was a figment of Qala’s hallucination after all. It’s as if Qala needed someone to blame on for her mother’s indifferent behaviour towards her. A justifiable reason for her mental breakdown. Would that make a better story for Qala? Perhaps not. The dilemma, the confusion, the stress and the helplessness are all the realities of women’s struggles, be in their professional or personal choices whether they’re dealing with trauma or not. The film’s layered narrative not only talks about mother-daughter’s relationship but also abusive relationships in general, women’s struggles in cinema and quest for art (or any other choices they make for their lives) and importantly mental health.
“Aap sochti kyon hei … gaati hei na …bus gaana gaayiye” says a humble doctor to Qala but isn’t it so normal and casual to hear this kind of dismissal about women’s aspirations, demands and their reasonings, even in today’s times. Women are still stigmatised and victimised for being aspirational, for being demanding, for being self-centered, for being successful and for being vulnerable.
“Daur badlega, Daur ki yeh purani aadat hai” … says Majrooh, (Varun Grover as lyrics writer) one character in the film who sees Qala for what she is. A butterfly she’s to become but what she becomes is a moth ….. having played with the fires, she’s destined to perish ultimately. Yet, it is quite prophetic that, times do indeed change. Women have become assertive of their rights and aspirations in today’s times, even when they still fight the establishments of sexism and male chivalry.
Qala is a visual masterpiece no doubt, yet I wish, the narrative presented itself for a hopeful conclusion. But again, it’s laudable (Clean Slate Filmz, producer) that these less talked dialogues are brought up to the main table discussions.
“Bikharne ka mujhko shouq hei bada … Samethega mujkho tu bataa zara”, (Amit Trivedi’s melodies are intricately woven into film’s fabric) seems like a desperate plea of an elusive mind which often breaks apart and gathers itself in search of true happiness. Day in day out we hear and see people stressed out, on the verge of breakdown, people trying to reach somewhere, people who lose out the battling self, struggling to gather themselves personally. Not because the dysfunctionalities of our lives are absurd but because they aren’t normally channelized towards positivity. If only awareness of mental health becomes a preventive measure.
Image Source: Youtube
Hemashree, is a vagabond at heart who writes poetry and paints her heart out.
Music and Love fuels her maverick thoughts. read more...
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