Delving into the intricate dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship and internal struggles, Qala emerges as a compelling force of self-doubt, devastation, and the path to redemption.
Clean Slate Filmz reunites with director Anvitaa Dutt following Bulbbul (2020), persisting in their commitment to amplify women’s narratives told by women. The film upholds Triptii Dimri at the forefront, supported by Swastika Mukherjee and newcomer Babil Khan, son of the late Irrfan Khan. Qala, a fictional period drama centred around a playback singer, takes a unique, unspoken route in exploring relationships. It transcends surface-level observations to plumb the intricate depths of a mother-daughter dynamic, an uncommon theme in Hindi cinema. Unlike past instances where this dynamic was either neglected or vilified, Qala daringly delves into the raw and even unsettling aspects of a seemingly normalized relationship, with poignant yearning and remorse at its core.
This gradual descent into tragedy, culminating in a crescendo of emotions, unfurls silently but powerfully, crafting a haunting psychological drama set against a musical backdrop in the 1930s and 40s. Qala (Triptii Dimri), a young girl from Himachal, aspires to uphold the legacy of her renowned family of classical singers. Her mother (Swastika Mukherjee) firmly reminds her, “Pandit should come before the name, not vice versa,” underscoring the weight of her expectations. The impressionable daughter endeavours to win her strict mother’s approval and validation. However, her mother is entranced by the divine resonance in Jagan’s (Babil) voice, extending him maternal affection and designating him—an outsider—as the rightful heir to the family’s heritage. Qala faces pressure to marry and forsake a career in film music, as societal norms didn’t favour respectable women in that field. She interprets this as a manifestation of patriarchy, sexism, and unjust treatment of women. While Qala believes she goes unnoticed by her mother, the mother discerns her daughter’s insecurities and ardently believes in empowering the more talented Jagan. In pursuit of her dreams, Qala resorts to questionable means, but the cost is steep—she becomes ensnared by haunting traumas from her past.
The narrative progressively unravels a Pandora’s Box of concealed truths, shifting between past and present, regret and rage, affection and envy. It provides a close examination of the twisted, tense mother-daughter relationship, evolving into an emotionally chilling tale. Anvitaa Dutt’s storytelling prowess lies in her skilful world-building and alternating perspectives. The film witnesses a psychological battle between mother and daughter as Qala’s ambition clashes with her mother’s disapproval. Amit Trivedi’s classical compositions infuse the film with life and propel the narrative. Alongside Anvita, the songwriting talents of Amitabh Bhattacharya, Kausar Munir, Swanand Kirkire, and Varun Grover add a beautiful layer to the music. Sireesha Bhagavatula and Shahid Mallya, lending their voices to the main characters, deliver commendable performances.
Light is employed adeptly to sustain intrigue throughout the scenes. From Qala’s childhood abode in the mountains to her adult life in Kolkata, the meticulously crafted sets, costumes, and colour palette leave a lasting impression. Siddharth Diwan (Cinematography) and Meenal Agarwal (Production Design) warrant special acknowledgement for constructing a world brimming with captivating, disconcerting energy and heartrending emotions. Although the pacing occasionally feels unhurried, the internal turmoil and suffering find expression even in moments of silence.
Lastly, the three lead actors skillfully transport themselves into a realm replete with love, ambition, and deceit. Triptii Dimri is resplendent in her retro guise and adept in various segments, albeit somewhat restrained in her expressions. Swastika Mukherjee’s performance as the mother is a perfect blend of restraint and potency. Babil exudes a genuine earnestness reminiscent of his esteemed father; he provides glimpses of his potential as an actor, hinting at a promising future.