Post winning several awards and unanimous praises in the festival circuit, thankfully QISSA reached the theatres here in India after a long wait with a novel strategy, wherein the film was simultaneously released in cinemas (only a few selected screens), on VOD (Video on Demand at net) and in home video market (DVD) too on the same date.
Looking at this collective release on all the three platforms, many might not approve the move thinking about its box office prospects in the first week itself as per the ongoing trend. But considering the strategy with a realistic viewpoint, it was indeed a very intelligent step taken by the makers since the film honestly is not the one that could have achieved any instant box office success due to its limited appeal to the masses who are more interested in a much simplified subject and entertaining narrative when it comes to a Punjabi film in particular.
But keeping that for the later part of the review, I would first like to reveal its basic thought which actually showcases the ugly Indian psyche of a family being obsessed with only sons instead of daughters for many obvious reasons. Set in the post-independence era the subject still remains relevant in India and more specifically for regions like Punjab, where Girl foeticide is one of the key problems even in this much educated and more aware society of the 21st century.
A bold plot for Punjabi as well as Indian Cinema (released with English subtitles), QISSA certainly gives you the feeling of watching something brutally honest that has never been tried before here with such impactful intensity. Yes, it does remind you of the masterpiece from Pakistan titled BOL as far as the obsession for a son is concerned, but then finds its own individual path different from the one witnessed in that ‘not to be missed gem’ to clear the visible doubts.
Directed and co-written by Anup Singh, it’s a disturbing tale of an eccentric father Umber Singh who after having a fourth girl in the family doesn’t want to kill her but forces her to grow up, dress and behave like a boy only, ignoring all her bodily changes happening with the time in a much weird manner. The film begins with the bloody event of our Partition when the family has to shift to the Indian part after losing everything they had. And then focuses on the relationships alone going through many unexpected twists and turns leading to a serious shock coming just before the intermission as a director’s master-stoke. The second half brings in a strictly unexpected supernatural turn for the viewers making the film a bit slow and sad too, taking away the hold it displayed in its initial hour especially for the common man sitting in the theater not able to grasp the multi-layered projection ending on a more thoughtful note.
In other words, despite being a visual cinematic experience, a first of its kind - bold subject in Indian films having a well-conceived (unusual) storyline and all brilliant performances, QISSA arguably remains more appealing to a specific section of viewers only appreciating the meaningful cinema as personally experienced watching the film in theater with some 30 odd Punjabis, who probably had only come listening the word ‘Partition’ and seeing ‘Irrfan Khan playing a Sikh’ in its promos as I strongly felt.
To be honest, its still time for the Punjabi audience to accept such a path breaking film converting it into a big box office success showing a leaping growth. In fact the trial of releasing such experimental films in theatres had earlier failed badly with the national award winner ANHEY GHODEY DA DAAN and QISSA is certainly not going to be the odd horse here in any case.
Having said that, I was really glad to see that even though the film was not about anything those 30 Punjabi speaking people had come for, it still successfully kept them engaged to its unique storyline in its first half, wherein they were all simply awestruck watching its twisted lead character and his insane intentions worrying more about the society instead of his own family.
However the scenario wasn’t the same post intermission with the ‘ghost component’ thrown in (slowing down the pace to a large extent) which actually couldn’t impress anyone among them and they began showing the restlessness by chatting loudly and checking their mobile phones shining bright in the almost empty theatre. The complex philosophical metaphors in the film’s second hour couldn’t reach them as desired missing the emotional connect and I even heard one in the group clearly categorizing the project as an “arty festival film – not for them”. So if one wishes to know about how QISSA is able to woo the general audience or the masses, it simply fails to do so post interval.
Now talking about the brave attempt from the other technical & cinematic perspective, its indeed a well-shot, splendidly conceived and superbly acted film having an unconventional plot probably inspired from some true life events as it seems. And no doubt Anup Singh had to struggle hard convincing the financers before he thankfully got hold of his foreign producers and NFDC agreeing to pool in.
The writer-director is able to write his poetry on the screen with the help of all fabulous performances from a well-chosen cast that actually owns the film from the front. Irrfan Khan (as Umber Singh) playing the eccentric wicked father performs the bizarre act convincingly, though one feels his Punjabi accent a bit compromising in some particular sequences. The exceptional actor actually wins you over completely in the first half much more than the later due to the reasons mentioned above. In fact the best part of his portrayal is that you never hate him for what he does to his family since he also loves them all from heart despite having that society-oriented wish to have a son.
Tillotama Singh (as Kanwar – the son/daughter) is equally effective as the suffering girl coming out of her shell towards the end playing it soulfully. Her cross gender act looks deliberate at first but then sinks in as the film progresses towards a more moving climax focusing on the two girls. Rasika Dugal (as Neeli) is simply outstanding playing it expressively as the innocent one standing in between the father and his son/daughter. Plus Tisca Chopra underplays the weak mother perfectly who is not able to protest against her husband’s impractical moves as a typical Indian lady suppressed by her own upbringing.
Cinematography, background score and the soundtrack beautifully capture the right mood and essence of the tough subject pulling you into the world of its torn family. And few particular scenes don’t easily get off your mind like the one where Umber Singh catches Neeli running away at night and then Kanwar baring her naked body to everyone passing by in despair.
Further, though beginning from the time of India’s Partition, QISSA has nothing to do with the historical land partition in details. But it does deal with the sick partition in our minds thinking about a man and a woman or a son and a daughter as two unequal social identities with one owning the other even in this present so-called evolved society.
Moreover the film is sure going to have contradicting interpretations from different sections of viewers once again drawing an evident line between commercial and artistic (festival) cinema, a classification many don’t like to agree with. Because where at one end it is bound to be considered as a masterpiece classic by a few, it will fail to convince the common man on the other, not willing to think about the social issues through such an experimental take incorporating the hard to believe and much artistic ‘ghost element’.
Personally I too loved the initial part of the film a lot more than the later one and really wish QISSA could have reach the masses connecting with them in a much emotional manner. Since it does have an important message for the social sickness we are facing today, trying to save our present and would-be daughters from the cruel unsocial structure and its insane mindset.
Rating : 3 / 5