Qissa movie review
Star Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome, Rasika Dugal
Director : Anup Singh
‘Qissa’ can also be called ‘kahani’, and both mean the same, story. But the equivalence is not exact: a ‘qissa’ has the feel of a yarn, a rambling tale told, perhaps by the fireside, with threads loose enough to twine and separate, whenever the storyteller wishes to pick it up again.
Some of that feel comes through in Anup Singh’s powerful, evocative film that calls itself, generically, ‘Qissa’, and tells a very specific story about a man whose desire to have a son drives him into a place of no return. It is set in the time of Partition, which is, so to speak, as generic as it can be, and yet it is a time of itself, because of the specificity of Umber Singh (Irrfan), his wife (Tisca Chopra), and his four daughters, the last of whom he raises as a son.
Anup Singh’s weaving in of gender politics in his ‘Qissa’ is masterful. It comes, one suspects, of having grown up with first-hand accounts of some of the horrors—the killing, the blood-letting, the unending violence — we are shown in the beginning (the director’s family was a victim of Partition, and his father left the county soon after).
“Ai ki na mardaan wali baat”, is something you hear a Punjabi male tell his ‘puttar’ with great pride. Umber is that man, and he is dying to say that to his son, who is finally born unto him. His conviction is complete, and his hold over his women, is so strong that they believe what he believes. And Kanwar (Tillotama Shome) grows up thinking of herself as male, despite all evidence to the contrary, even the tell-tale patch of menstrual blood that seeps out from within one night.
It is when Kanwar is forced, by quirk of circumstance, into a marital compact with pretty tribal girl Neeli (Dugal), that the unraveling begins, and we are confronted by the thorny questions that the film places in our face: what, exactly, is masculinity; does only having ‘the’ appendage make you male; why should sexual intimacy be defined by gender: two people, of any sex, can love, and desire, and complete each other.
‘Qissa’ is lambent, lovely, and completely seductive up till this point. It then tumbles into another zone, where an accident leads to a death, and the appearance of a ‘ghost’, and the tale stutters. Some of the fluidity goes missing, and it becomes a little too opaque. But its joys are greater, and are for savouring: the lilt of the rustic Punjabi the characters speak, not letting the effort show, the authenticity of the locations, the intense longing that pervades not only Umber Singh’s being, but the entire countryside, for a son who will be an heir, the ‘qissa’ itself.
The well-chosen ensemble is wonderful. Irrfan, as the man who knows how to love only corrosively, and Tisca Chopra as the woman as his loyal, put-upon wife who has enough spirit left over to protect her girls, both feel true and lived-in. And the film shines when Shome and Dugal play with, and off each other, the former doing a terrific job of her challenging part of a girl/boy/man/woman, of living in limbo not knowing who she/he really is, and the latter who grows, from a frisky, feral girl to a strong, sympathetic all woman.
Some wounds are so deep that the only way to heal is to come to an end. And that goes for a kind of love and longing, too, as told in this full-bodied, satisfying, disturbingly lyrical ‘Qissa’.