Qala is a visual treat with a predictable yet fascinating story that gives you an experience that isn't easily forgettable.
I went into the film thinking it is only for those who love music, especially classical music. I couldn't be more wrong. 'Qala' is for anyone who loves an entertaining and earnest drama. It revolves around Qala, a singer who tries to make it big in the film industry. She is talented, but being a woman sets her back personally and professionally. Having faced abuse, she is sensitive and anxious. Undermined at every step for being a woman, she pushes until she makes it, but at what cost? As she wades through life, demons around and within her catch up. The result is an aesthetically pleasing but devastating tale that unfolds in a fascinating manner.
Women undoubtedly run the show in this one. Tripti Dimri moves you with her flawless acting, expressing scarring emotions stirringly. Swastika Mukherjee plays Qala's mother Urmila, who sacrificed singing for her family and is now brutally depressed. She punishes herself as well as Qala for being women. Mukherjee plays such a hardened character with a cynical grace. Caught in this agonizing mother-daughter relationship is Jagan (Babil Khan), a singer who haunts Qala no matter where she goes. Khan is convincing as Jagan. Being the late Irrfan Khan's son will draw comparisons, however, he seems to be a distinctive actor with potential. A very pleasing part of the film is Varun Grover as lyricist Majrooh. He is the singer-turned-actor that I am vouching for.
Despite its melancholy, Qala is a graceful visual treat. The aesthetically gratifying yet tragic scenes are complemented by dense symbolism in the form of moths and snow, among other things. Together they support a predictable but riveting plot. Interestingly, the theme, with its Black Swan-like vibe, is valued as much as the plot. Qala refreshingly comments on social issues without being preachy or indulging in tokenism. Its portrayal of schizophrenia is poetically haunting yet genuine, enhanced by Dimri's soul-stirring acting. Qala's story, much like Bulbbul, is rooted in feminism. We see Qala favoring women in rooms full of men because she knows how harrowing it is to be a woman. We see the different shades of interaction between genders. The film delves into how patriarchy and men gatekeep resources and curtail opportunities for women.
What sets Qala apart is that it explores the emotional toll patriarchy takes on women. While abuse and harassment are discussed, they aren't the center of the film's universe. The film revolves around Qala, her response to injustice (or the repression of one), her pain, and what it does to her. However, throughout the film, the blame is shifted onto another woman, Urmila. There are other oppressors: men who show up only for men, and men who exploit and abuse women. However, Urmila is the prime oppressor. This muddles the film's commentary on feminism. In real life, patriarchy is the primary oppressor, men benefit from it, and women are victims who also end up being oppressors due to the conditioning.
As someone who doesn't understand music proficiently, I can't comment on whether it gets the music right but I found the classical music rather soothing. However, as a cinematic piece, the film gets most of its aspects right and gives you an experience that isn't easily forgettable.
Qala is currently streaming on Netflix.