If it weren’t for its mesmerizing musical score, 2022 movie ‘Qala’ would’ve been a tedious watch. Written and directed by Anvita Dutt, the story is a predictable tale of artistic rivalry and a daughter’s desperate desire for her mother’s approval.
Triptii Dimri plays the titular ‘Qala’, an award winning playback singer living in the Calcutta of 1930s, whose mental health spirals downwards after an interview question triggers traumatic memories. Dimri shoulders her part perfectly, but her character is a nervous wreck for most parts, barely catching a break from the constant chaos in her heart. Swastika Mukherje plays her domineering mother Urmila Devi, who is scathingly sparse in her affection and quick to replace her daughter with a new protege – a naturally gifted singer called Jagan (Babil Khan). Urmila Devi is slightly like Miss Havisham from ‘Great Expectations’, but a lot worse, for she is nasty to her own child.
The music by Amit Trivedi is the highlight of this drama, beautifully rendered by singers Sireesha Bhagavatula, Swanand Kirkire, Shahid Mallya. From the quintessentially Bollywood retro track ‘Ghodey Pe Sawaar’ to the soulful ‘Nirbhau Nirvair’, each song evokes a melodious mood you’d want to revisit again and again. But outside its music, ‘Qala’ isn’t as compelling or picturesque as it could’ve been, despite some hauntingly gorgeous snow scenes set in the mountains. The lighting is poor in many scenes, perhaps to lend a ‘dark’ tone to the settings to match its bleak themes, but makes the viewing experience choppy. Director Anvita Dutt employs some stage techniques, that would’ve best worked if this was a play, but it isn’t. Like a scene where Qala is simmering with jealousy, and black wings spread from behind her, symbolizing the darkness growing within her. Depending on how one perceives it, the scene could either seem artistic, or unnecessary. Also, Dutt and team completely fail to capture the essence of Calcutta and serve a clearly fake Howrah bridge, as seen from a building with Gargoyles.
Despite being crucial to the story, Babil Khan’s cameo is too brief to critique his performance, the character needed more space to make Qala’s feelings of envy, anguish more visceral. The story-telling is slow and just when things finally do get interesting, the movie gets over. With an almost 2-hour runtime, the most crucial twist is made obvious in the first twenty minutes, so it’s weak as a mystery. The psychological breakdown of Qala as an anxiety-ridden artist is poignantly portrayed by Dimri, but isn’t enough to make this dim drama shine.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
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