“Qala” is a masterpiece that comes from Anvita Dutt Guptan, the one who had previously blown the minds of audiences with her debut film, “Bulbbul.” The film touches the corners of the heart, which have emotions we all carefully choose to push away. By the time the movie ends, you are already in tears. It is not the regular blue that we feel. It is deeper and darker yet has a silvery touch to it. It is fair to say that the color tone of the film leaves its mark on the emotions of the audience. Set in pre-independent India, the story revolves around the personal struggles, power plays, and emotional turmoils of two different generations. The clever use of light and shadow, props, and set creates a tone of megalomania and suspense.
Besides being an art film, “Qala” is a disturbing psychological drama. The titular character is played by the gorgeous Tripti Dimri. In other prominent characters, we have Swastika Mukherjee, Babil, and other known faces of the Bollywood industry. Each character in the film adds to the seductively dangerous and melodramatic mood. The film is like an elastic band that gets tense, tight, and restless with every scene as it waits for the final snap. The cameo of Anushka Sharma takes the audience back to the 40s and 50s, with the coy actress dancing and singing against the backdrop of the moon and clouds. If you like gothic films, well, Dutt Gupta introduced you to a version of “desi” goth. Every aspect of the film deserves critical appreciation, especially the characters. Come and meet the talented and skilled characters of “Qala.”
Swastika Mukherjee As Urmila Manjushree
They say a mother’s love is unconditional and knows no bounds. But what if a mother prefers a son over a daughter? In her very first appearance, Urmila stole hearts with her calm demeanor. Clad in silver jewelry, a new mother awaits the nurse to hand over her kids. She was handed her daughter, “Qala,” first. Unfortunately, her second child, a son, could not make it. Of course, she was sad, but she was heartbroken and angry to know that her son couldn’t survive because the daughter sucked out all the nutrients. It’s pretty common in twins—the stronger one survives. It is weird to even describe the relationship between the immensely talented thumri singer of her time, Urmila Manjushree, and her daughter Qala. Urmila is very strict with Qala. She criticizes her for her lack of beauty and talent. She never openly appreciates her daughter. However, she, too, enjoyed Qala’s very first stage performance. Also, it is where you understand how music is important for Urmila. However you might hate Urmila, but you cannot deny that her tough love for her daughter was to prepare her for an outrageously patriarchal society. She says that she wants her daughter to shine like her father, the late Diwan Manjushree, with the prefix Pandit before her name and not a suffix, Bai. Besides being talented, Urmila knows there are no easy ways to hold on to success. She knows the seduction game and wants to keep her daughter away from it. She forces her daughter to get milk for Jagan or marry a rich guy. Digging deeper into her emotions, it is apparent why she wants that for her daughter. One can argue that supporting her daughter in her music career would have been better for the duo. But, once a mother decides something, there is no way she can change her thoughts. Her strong personality is established when Qala wins the most prestigious award, yet she remains distant and cold toward her. However, at the very end, all the pent-up emotions come rushing down. However futile her concerns were in the end, the audience sees a very bold character in different shades at various stages of her life.
Babil Khan As Jagan Batwal
Babil Khan has proved his worth in his debut film. His character, Jagan, is an orphan who is an immensely talented singer. Even though Urmila was resistant to hearing him sing at first. However, the moment he sang the soulful Sufi song, he immediately won Urmila’s heart. It was as if she had found her lost son in him. She immediately took him under her wing. Jagan is a naturally gifted singer, and music comes easily to him. He has a striking yet subtle similarity between himself and the real-life Gazal singer, the 14-year-old Master Madan. He became a child prodigy at the age of three and a half. By the time he was fourteen, Master Madan had received several prestigious awards. Unfortunately, we lost him at fourteen. It was suspected that he was given milk that was poisoned with mercury. Mercury is the most harmful element; as Urmila angrily explains to Qala, when she checks Jagan’s temperature, she puts the thermometer in his mouth. It is safe to say that the director took inspiration from Master Madan to craft the character of Jagan. However tragic Jagan’s story is, the character remains pivotal in the entire film. There are two ways we can analyze the character. Primarily, when Jagan was alive and was brought into Qala’s life, he was a happy man. For Jagan, music was like breathing. He knew Qala was never in favor of him, yet he never looked down upon Qala. He always had his best intentions for Qala, looking after her, being nice to her, and even requesting that she practice with him. Jagan knew Qala had turned her heart black for Jagan, yet when he was sick (his milk was poisoned with mercury, too), he took comfort in her. Finally, before taking his own life, he visits Qala. Later, a successful Qala always had Jagan in her mind. We can say it’s Qala’s version of Jagan, but the very last conversation that Qala had with the imaginary Jagan clears a lot of fog. Jagan says that his voice and his music were everything he lived for. Once that was snatched, his will to live was seized as well.
Tripti Dimri As Qala
“Qala” is an Urdu word, often used in Hindi, meaning beginnings. To start Qala’s tale from the beginning, we would see a lot of pain and sadness. Qala had a twin, whom her mother and doctors believed was killed in the womb by her. Since she grew her senses, all Qala wanted was to please her mother. Being born into a family of classical singers, Qala had no choice but to voice her opinion. It never felt like Qala loved music, and once, she even said that she hated it. Qala was an emotionally troubled child who never received the unconditional love of a mother. She always had the urge to prove herself to her mother and make herself worthy of her mother’s love. Undoubtedly, this emotional damage psychologically damaged Qala too. She just wanted to be a child surrounded by her mother’s love. She had tons of jealousy and spite in her. We sympathize with Qala almost at every step. So much so that when she gave the mercury-poisoned milk to Jagan, we rationalized her treachery with her pain and sadness. We understood why Qala did what she did, as her mother was trying to marry her off to a rich family but was walking on dangerous paths to create a platform of fame for Jagan. Qala assumed if she blocked Jagan’s path and paved her way, she would have the blessing of her mother. Completely disillusioned by then, Qala takes refuge in extreme measures to sort out her career. However, her mother completely turned her back. This time, she blocks Qala in every possible way. Here, Qala comes to pursue her career in the city. Naive Qala couldn’t even fathom what awaited her. She thought she had learned the art of seduction from her mother, but she failed to understand the game. She gave away more than she intended to and thus ended up being sexually abused. Finally, she achieved the title she had been yearning to earn for the love of her mother. But her mother was stone-hearted even then. A deeply troubled (emotionally, physically, and psychologically) Qala began hallucinating crimes from her past. Her character turns out to be a blend of the classic tragic hero Lady Macbeth. No amount of sleeping pills, praises, or awards could keep her inner demons at bay. Helpless like a lost child, she calls her mother with the final cry for help. The final blow was when no response came through. The tragic ending of Qala is a prolonged struggle through internal and external turmoil. But deep inside, Qala knew she turned a blind eye towards everything in the world just to receive an ounce of her mother’s love. How should we judge Qala? The director kept the interpretations open for the audience.
Besides the three main characters, a notable mention goes to the following people:
Varun Grover As Majrooh
A very talented songwriter (well in both reel and real life), who is probably one of the few true well-wishers that Qala had in her career. Besides pushing Qala subtly away from harmful people, he tries to understand Qala’s internal turmoil and calms her down with empathic words. At the same time, he is a gender-neutral character, bold enough to paint his nails and walk around holding his diary while smoking bidis to create amazing lyrics for the film industry.
Samir Kochchar As Chandan Lal Sanyal
A very prominent face of the film industry and a lover of Urmila, He was to introduce Jagan to the film arena. He has a very dicey moral compass. He was the first person whom Qala tried to seduce by planting a sudden, violent kiss, thinking that would change his heart. Chandan Lal Sanyal, however, knows one golden rule: new talents will replace the old. So, when her attempt to seduce Sanyal fails, Qala tries to warn Sanyal about Jagan being a threat; Sanyal politely responds that’s the way of the industry. It somewhat seems that the director/scriptwriter has taken inspiration from Pahari Sanyal to sketch the character. Pahari Sanyal was a very talented singer and actor in Bengali cinema at the time.
Amit Sial As Sumant Kumar
A great music director who gives Qala her first break. a phenomenal music director who exploits Qala. The man was, however, first seduced by Qala; he made a point to sign deals with Qala just so he could meet his physical demands. Qala was helpless and lonely then. The very name gives away a very popular singer, composer, and music director named Hemant Kumar. Unfortunately, the character Sumant Kumar is not even close to the generous and loving Hemant Kumar.
The character sketches have been deeply influenced and inspired by talents from Bengal. However, the director and scriptwriter were very bold about these inspirations. Each character complemented the other, making them appear more human to the audience.
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