Larger-than-life mothers fascinate Bollywood, which treat maternal figures like hallowed entities. Seldom do movies explore toxic parenting and its long-lasting impact.

But Qala steps into unchartered territory, examining an acrimonious mother-daughter relationship and the accompanying issues that plague women.

This is an important film that left a deep impression.

I’ve been thinking about it for days. It’s hard to find anything negative about this movie. But here’s my review with minor spoilers.

Plot – The Backbone

The story begins with the protagonist Qala (Tripti Dimri), a successful 1940s playback singer winning the prestigious Golden Vinyl award.

But what should have been the proudest moment of her life, turns sour with one phone call. The narrative flips back to a young Qala living in a dark gothic manor with her mother, Urmila Manjushree (Swastika Mukherjee). Urmila, a singer who quit her profession, always blamed Qala for an incident during her pregnancy. Qala constantly craves her mother’s approval which Urmila withholds from her daughter.

(Swastika Mukherjee as Urmila Manjushree in Qala (courtesy: imdb)

When Jagan Bantwal (Babil Khan), an orphan with the voice of an angel steps into this taut relationship, Urmila instantly transfers her attention and aspirations to him.

Qala is relegated to a supporting role. Desperate for attention, she takes some extreme measures.

The narrative flits between past and present, tracing Qala’s journey to success and how events affected her. It explores the systemic abuse against women trying to advance their prospects, and the long-lasting impact of toxic parenting.

Qala reaches out for help, but a doctor dismisses her concerns with a single line (Abhishek Bannerjee in a cameo). The story is a  cautionary tale about the  aftermath of bottling it in. Writer- director Anvita Dutt paints the fragile human psyche as it cracks.

Qala – a story about singers (courtesy: imdb)

Music – The Soul

In a story about singers, music inevitably plays a pivotal role. Qala is no exception. The music propels the narrative forward. Music is the soul of this movie because every song is a story.

Lyricists breathe life into Amit Trivedi’s emotive tunes – the phenomenal Nirbhau Nirbair which introduces Jagan and the voice that lures Urmila;  Phero na Najariya which mixes a plea and defiance in one ghazal and Shauq, my latest earworm.

Ghode Pe Sawaar,  a peppy, upbeat number offers a stark contrast to the horrifying events preceding it. The beautiful music makes me long for the days of cassette tapes. There is something about owning an entire album that just can’t be matched.

Characters and Performances – The Heart

The beating heart of this movie are its characters and the actors that play them. Every single actor has been perfectly cast.

Amit Sial plays Sumant Kumar who represents the powerful class with a menacing presence that conveys his clout convincingly. Varun Grover plays the kind and friendly lyricist Majrooh faultlessly.

Qala opened Dec 1 on Netflix. (courtesy imdb)

The main cast carry the film on their shoulders.

Babil Khan’s Jagan, one of the three leads, plays his enigmatic role seamlessly. In Qala’s recollection of their complex relationship, he appears perpetually shrouded in shadows, as though time has diluted Qala’s memory of his face. Yet, she cannot forget that he embodies  everything that went wrong in her life. Jagan is as much a victim as Qala. Babil Khan plays the part with an equal mix of charm and poise. 

Swastika’s Urmila is cold, distant and domineering. While the movie never explains why, we sense that she too is a victim of the system. Stripped to her core, all that is left of Urmila is an icicle. Swastika’s quiet, sinister presence is genuinely unsettling.

Tripti Dimri  is the star of the show. It’s hard to believe that this is just her fourth movie. She plays Qala with a heartbreaking sadness. Every frame she features in shows Qala slowly dying on the inside. She conveys the loneliness, fears and agony flawlessly. Every “Sorry mamma,” saddened me as it felt like an apology for Qala’s existence.

Costumes – The Face

Exquisite costumes give each character their own stunning style whether it’s Babil Khan’s kurtas and pagdis or Varun Grover’s pathani suits. Delicate white and blue fabric on Tripti evoke the ethereal and fragile Qala, in contrast to Urmila’s dark colors and exaggerated jewelry that speak to their dynamic.

Cinematography and set designs – The Body

Siddharth Diwan’s cinematography and Meenal Agarwal’s production design create a visually striking film. Every frame of Qala is a painting. At any given moment each shot is perfectly lit and framed.. Anvita Dutt shows everyone how it’s done.

I could go on.

This is a beautifully layered, detailed film. A must watch. In fact, it deserves a rewatch.  

I rate it 5/5.

Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She...