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Qala Review: Compelling Feminist Fame Story With Powerful Visuals & Performances

Anvita Dutt revisits her passion for ‘magic realism’ storytelling two years after her debut with Netflix’s Bulbbul. Clean Slate Filmz, the same makers now present Qala which is another bold feminist story but packs nostalgia from the yesteryear Hindi music industry during the 30s-50s.

Qala is about the titular singer (Triptii Dimri), a superstar of pre-independence Hindi cinema, who craves her music protege mother Urmila’s (Swastika Mukherjee) approval. She is rattled when a rival comes to take her place. Jagan (Babil Khan) is a new, orphaned singer whose presence makes her insecure. The movie as it interlays the past and the present then delves into a psychological drama as she grapples with the darkness of her mind.

The movie explores several pertinent themes including mental health awareness and patriarchal suppression. As intense and serious as these concepts are, Dutt portrays them in a highly aesthetic manner. Cinematography is picturesque in developing mystic sequences. The marvellous set creation plays a huge role in setting the periodic scene. In addition, stunning costumes retain the grace and chic style of that era. Even the camera shots are immersive.

Feminine energy is divided into two energies – the liberated and suppressed – between Qala and her mother. Even though we get a glimpse of Urmila’s back story, it would’ve been interesting to see some of the struggles she faced while working in the male-dominated industry. Nonetheless, both Dimri and Mukherjee deliver strong performances. Both excel since milestones are set from their previous works. They are excellent. Khan is a promising talent but requires more polishing.

Whilst at an unhurried pace, the film is made in a way which allows viewers to resonate with the characters and this particular world that Dutt transports us to. The usage of light is powerful in determining fame and the character’s conflict… Especially the dark and brightness. In fact, in many places, it reminds me of Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool. How even the protagonist of that classic witnesses a mental and emotional decline. Dutt has further stated that VK Murthy has been an inspiration. He had shot the cinematography of that legendary film. These technical aspects help in exploring the emotions and mentality of each role.

It is fascinating how in Bandish Bandits, Indian music is a catalyst for romance and revolution. Here, music almost feels like a witness and a ballad of recollecting a tragic story. Even though this picture is not based on a true story, it could perhaps be the story of a lost artist, dug away in history books. Moreover, a thumri like ‘Phero Na Najariya’ contrasts with a movie song like ‘Ghode Pe Sawaar’. This powerfully conveys Qala’s journey from a timid and unsure girl to a successful yet broken woman. Kudos to Amit Trivedi for yet another phenomenal soundtrack this year.

Overall, the movie is a visual masterpiece and for me, a near-perfect visual. Dutt dives into a psychological drama with music and mysticism as cinematic angles. A must-watch on Netflix!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Watch our interview with Team Qala here:

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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