The Netflix India original Qala is writer-director Anvita Dutt’s second feature film. Also available on Netflix, Dutt’s debut film Bulbbul focused on women’s difficulties in ancient India. Qala shifts the scenario to India in the 1930s, yet tries to explore comparable issues. Is it successful?
QALA: TO STREAM OR NOT TO STREAM?
Qala (Tripti Dimri) is born to musical icon Urmila (Swastika Mukherjee), but their relationship is strained as Qala’s twin brother dies at birth. Qala receives classical music instruction from her mother over the years, but nothing she performs seems to satisfy Urmila. One day, a fellow musician invites Jagan (Babil Khan, the son of the late Irrfan Khan) to study with Urmila, and she quickly falls in love with him, practically adopting him, much to Qala’s dismay. Due to a strange sickness, Jagan’s blossoming career is cut short, and Qala seizes the opportunity to establish her own career but loses both her mother and herself in the process.
What Will It Remind You Of? : Black Swan will remind you of the dark side of artistry and obsession with perfection coupled with cinema that plays with paranoia and madness.
Swastika Mukherjee’s portrayal of Urmila is both dominating and repulsive, as well as kind and uplifting. Mukherjee deftly walks the narrow edge of a conditional love, which explains why Qala is so fragile.
In 1930s India, where this film is set, women did not have many job options, and when Qala’s music career appears to be slipping away, Urmila arranges her marriage. The suitor of Qala attempts small chat. “So you like music?” She responds honestly, as that is the reason she does not feel deserving of her mother’s affection, despite her passion for perfecting the art. No, I detest it.
Sex and Skin: No explicit content here.
Qala is as much a reflection on motherhood and women’s opportunities as it is on artistic beauty, and the film masterfully balances all three themes. Urmila’s cruel treatment of Qala, which can be observed soon after Qala is born and Urmila is notified that her newborn boy has died throughout the remainder of the film, establishes her delicate character, which strives for perfection since all she really wants is to be noticed. Qala’s true ambition is not to become a musician; rather, she aspires to be one because she wants her mother’s approval, which she will never receive because her mother perceives her as a “courtesan.”
Anvita Dutt, the screenwriter and filmmaker, uses a range of camera angles to illustrate Qala’s fading sense of self and hold on reality. The sets are both drab and opulent, depicting the regality of 1930s upper class societies, while the music is eerie and wonderful.
I do wish that more time had been devoted to building the relationship between Qala and Jagan because, as it stands, the representation is dominated by Qala’s envy. Had we as an audience known more about how they communicated with one another and their friendship, the ultimate blow would have landed with greater force. Dimri’s core performance was also inconsistent, as she periodically struggled to portray Qala as both a submissive daughter and a lady who will achieve her aims at any cost.
Even though the conclusion is obvious, this picture, like Black Swan before it, will have you wondering long after the end credits.
Our Request: STREAM IT. With a captivating narrative and wonderful music, Qala merits a listen.
Radhika Menon (@menonrad) is a Los Angeles-based TV-obsessed writer. Her writing has featured in publications such as Vulture, Teen Vogue, Paste, and others. She can pontificate about Friday Night Lights, the University of Michigan, and the perfect slice of pizza at any given time. She may be called Rad.