Qala: Anvita Dutt’s film uses light to reach the dark depths of depression

Qala: Anvita Dutt’s film uses light to reach the dark depths of depression

Qala: Anvita Dutt’s film uses light to reach the dark depths of depression

At the International Film Festival of India, Netflix premiered a few titles that are slated to release soon and Qala is one of them. Directed by Anvita Dutt, starring Tripti Dimri and produced by Clean Slate Filmz Production, the team behind Bulbbul is back with yet another engrossing watch. Only this time, it is darker, deeper and touches you with an intensity that you do not expect. While introducing the film, Anvita called it a ‘small, simple story’ and yet, this film contains layers that one begins to unravel much after the film has ended. The darkness surrounds you for a while too. How Anvita manages to do this is by enchanting her audience with the visuals and lighting.

The story of Qala centers on a young singer who is brought up by her mother. Her twin died at birth and her mother suffered from postpartum depression. She was led to believe that Qala was the reason her son couldn’t survive, and this belief influences Qala’s upbringing. Her mother’s disdain is what accompanies Qala constantly, and yet, all that she hungers for is love and approval. The constant criticism and the fear that builds up over time of being abandoned is so stunningly portrayed by lead actor Tripti Dimri that she sucks you into the same void that she lives in.

With Jagan’s (Babil Khan) introduction, Qala’s fear grows manifold and all of this is portrayed rarely through dialogues. They are mostly through actions, and there is an escalation in the frustration that Qala feels. The more Qala is surrounded by fear and frustration the darker the visuals gets. One scene in particular — of Qala, her mother, Jagan and a famous film singer spending some quiet time on the boat — is weighed down by the sadness that Qala feels. The song that Jagan sings at this point, which speaks of heartbreak and revelling in this feeling of having heart broken is ironically perfect.

Misty trees that are bare and surrounded by fog, the ink blue darkness of the night that surrounds Jagan, Qala and her mother when they are together in the boat, the flashes of light in the present which either erases Qala, or bleaches her out indicate the mood of the film. When Qala’s past is explored in flashes — similar to how Bulbbul’s past is explored — it is dark, dreary and heavy. In the present, while the light is bright, it mostly erases Qala’s with flashes, or it smoothers her out to make her seem like the star that she is. The gold vinyl that she is awarded in the intro scene for instance, reflects light so fiercely that it takes the centerstage, pushing Qala to the background.

 

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It is with such visual metaphors that the film continually breaks us apart, before it gives us the space and the time to heal. Guilt plays a huge role in Qala’s life and how it takes the shape of a force that is greater than her life is built to withstand any doubts that audiences may have. Just as Qala is weighed down by her guilt, we as audiences are weighed down by the darkness that surrounds her life. The situations that forced her hand, the decisions that she made as a result of the fear that took root in her, and the consequences that she had to face all alone in a world where there were equal number of predators as allies, it is brutal. Yet, the brutality dies in the face of how brittle Qala’s mental health really is.

The film uses light and shadows with skill to portray the depths of darkness that surrounds someone who struggles with mental health. The perspective of Qala that is grey and stormy is unforgettable, and the ending even more so. The light that goes out, doesn’t necessarily indicate the end, at least not for those outside of Qala’s life. It is an intimate, and heart-wrenching retelling of a star’s life, in absence of prejudice.

Priyanka Sundar is a film journalist who covers films and series of different languages with a special focus on identity and gender politics.

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