Starring: Triptii Dimri, Babil Khan, Swastika Mukherjee, Amit Sial, Girija Oak, Sameer Kochhar, Abhishek Banerjee, Anushka Sharma
Director: Anvita Dutt
After the spooky 'Bulbbul', writer-director Anvita Dutta returns with Triptii Dimri in the lead with another exceptional movie, 'Qala', a musical journey layered with the complex psyche of a mother-daughter relationship.
The psychological-horror period drama is visually captivating, with each scene resembling an impressionist painting, each frame carefully composed like a nostalgic melody.
The exquisite backdrops, be it the pristine Himachal or the jewel-toned Kolkata skyline, the setting plays one of the main characters in this movie. Positioned in the 1930s Calcutta, the story takes us back to when female vocalists, referred to as Bai or Jaan, were struggling to get a foothold in the Hindustani classical space. It was when the top male classical singers were addressed as 'Pandits', but the female singers were not considered 'Vidushis'.
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Urmila (Swastika Mukherjee), a veteran singer embittered by these societal norms, also loses a son at birth, whom she aspired to make a Pandit of Hindustani Classical. She turns against her only living daughter Qala (Tripti Dimri). Qala naturally grows up to be an insecure, morally confused character, always seeking her mother's approval. The film takes a dramatic turn when Urmila adopts a Protégé (Babil Khan) and brings him home.
The musical and film fraternity soon discovers the talented Jagan Batwal under Urmila's guidance, making Qala see him as her competition. Her life completely changes after she takes desperate measures to eliminate her competition and succumbs to unethical ways of getting fame. All of these, only to get her mother's approval and love till the very end.
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Triptii Dimri and Swastika Mukherjee's outstanding performances bring out the vulnerability of two complex women, their hubris, and their errors of judgement which ultimately led to the tragic end. Babil Khan, son of the late talented actor Irrfan Khan proves his mettle beyond doubt in his debut movie. He delivers a haunting performance as a kind, talented yet unfortunate singer.
The movie gutsily explores several disturbing subjects and presents sympathetic yet morally grey characters while staying true to its aesthetic elements. Director Anvita Dutta cleverly and subtly employs symbology throughout the movie with layered meanings.
For instance, Urmila calls her daughter a selfish Cuckoo. Like the bird, she is a parasite who killed her twin brother in the womb. Although it is Urmila's leaving her offspring to fend for herself makes viewers question who the real Cuckoo is in the end.
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The film is a visual and sonic treat full of old-world charms, captivating songs and outstanding acting. However, 'Qala' also has a social message on parenting: what a mother's disapproval can do to a girl child's entire life, especially in a male-dominated society.
Overall, 'Qala', streaming now on Netflix, is a film that will stay with you long after you're done watching.