Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review of Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost

The Official Poster
Cast: Irrfan Khan (Umber Singh), Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome (Kanwar Singh), Rasika Dugal (Neeli), Faezeh Jalali, Sonia Bindra
Genre: Drama with a Social Message
Direction: Anup Singh
Production: Johannes Rexin, Thierry Lenouvel, Bero Beyer
Written by: Anup Singh, Madhuja Mukherjee
Cinematographer: Sebastian Edschmid
Music: Beatrice Thiriet, Manish J Tipu
Release Date: 20th February, 2015 (Initial Release: at Toronto International Film Festival - TIFF on 8th September, 2013; Germany on 10th July, 2014)
Language: Punjabi

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes



A still from the movie

Qissaan Indian-German film, directed by Anup Singh in Punjabi. It is a 2013 film, first released in Toronto International Film Festival - TIFF, followed by its release in Germany in July, 2014 and now in India in Punjabi Language. Perfect timing for the release of this movie, since it resonates with what India declared this year: Beti Bachao, Desh Bachao. Do we understand the gravity of this slogan? The movie portrays the obsession of many households, where people feel that the son is the saviour of the family, as if their slogan is “Beta Jano, Vansh Bachao / Vansh Badhao”. What a sad discrimination between genders. Today also, there are many households in our country, where the birth of a boy child is celebrated whereas a girl child is not welcomed. India’s rural as well as urban lives face with this non-acceptance of diversity. Education has definitely made lot of difference, still, many people are trapped in the very same old thought that a son is required, son is the garur (pride) of the family whereas daughter is a liability. But, don’t they forget that they are violating the balance of the universe visualized by the creator. Even the biological fact is ignored that the very female is required to give birth to a child – whether a boy or a girl. This beautiful and intriguing plot is projected in Qissa (Qissa in Punjabi means ‘folk tale’ or ‘epic legend’). Qissa could have been a masterpiece with such a strong contemplative message, but somewhere, the theme ignored certain intricacies, adopts supernatural path to tell the story which creates some confusion in the minds of the viewers? Director also leaves certain vital information for the audience to infer and assume.    


The backdrop is the partition which happened soon after declaration of independence. Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan) is displaced from Pakistan and he has to migrate to Punjab in India. Amidst riots and violence, which emerged due to partition, Mehar (Tisca Chopra) gives birth to her third girl child. This scene is very painful, since on one side, lots of dead bodies are lying and on the other side, a baby is born. Umber doesn’t even want to see the face of the girl child, since he wanted a boy child. Umber moves to Punjab along with Mehar and three children. Though he lost everything due to migration, he works hard and resettles himself and family very well. Mehar is again pregnant for the fourth time. Umber strongly believes that they would be blessed with a baby boy this time. But to Umber’s despair, Mehar gives birth to their fourth girl child. Umber doesn’t accept the same and declares to himself and others that it is a baby boy. Mehar tells him- “Don’t do this to the baby”. But Umber is in no mood to accept it and ensures the upbringing of the child as a boy. ‘He’ grows up as Kanwar Singh, dresses as a boy, is trained for hunting, driving truck etc


But can Umber Singh challenge God’s creation? Can Umber defy biology? What happens when the female hormones start working? How does Kanwar deal with the inner conflict of the sexuality, a female heart but forced to behave as a male. How does the forced suppression of the gender identity impact Kanwar? Tillotama Shome as Kanwar Singh has beautifully expressed this pain.

The trouble starts when Neeli (Rasika Dugal) falls in love with ‘him’. How Umber deals with the same? What happens thereafter? Is Neeli able to accept the sexuality of Kanwar? To what extent Umber goes to make everything look perfect for the world? How the society deals with the same? How Umber deals with his own obsession of carrying the family lineage forward come what may? How Mehar, Kanwar and Neeli bear the brunt of the unreasonable ways of an oppressive patriarch


Certain incredible moments are projected in an excellent manner: Kanwar is just trying to look at mirror and trying to deal with the inner conflict of gender. Kanwar wants to go and celebrate Lohri along with ‘his’ mother and sisters and other girls but is not able to do so. Mehar’s helplessness and restrained manner in front of husband Umber Singh. Mehar’s emotional outburst, when Kanwar questions her that why didn’t she protect ‘him’ the way she protected her other three girls. Neeli’s pain of falling in love with another woman and her not-to-give-up attitude till the last moment are very touching.




I just hope, the story should not have shifted from the core of Kanwar’s identity crisis struggle. It shall have avoided its surreal tone, though it can be considered as a symbolic representation. The music would touch your soul. The movie has been recognized in various international festivals for the direction, script and cast.     

Qissa (although has been abruptly dealt), is a painful, thoughtful and unconventional folk tale, with which you would certainly resonate.

Rating: 3/5 (Good)