Qissa

Qissa, directed and co-written by Anup Singh, is the haunting tale of a girl who grows up as a boy. The film shows a Partition-displaced Sikh villager Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan), so consumed by his hunger to have a son that he brings up his fourth daughter as a boy. His subjugated wife Mehar (Tisca Chopra) and older daughters live with the theory that Kanwar is male, even as the confused child grows up to be a tortured ‘man’ (Tilottama Shome).

When Kanwar is found flirting with gypsy girl Neeli (Rasika Duggal), Umber forces them to marry, resulting in more gender confusion and tragic consequences. Your attention flags when Qissa goes down a supernatural path, but Singh leaves us with lingering feelings of sadness for the mixed-up Kanwar, and her even more twisted father.

Shome infuses Kanwar’s character with anguish, anger and pain, while there is vulnerability in Khan’s portrayal of Umber, which is at odds with his outward ruthlessness. Chopra is quietly emphatic as the torn mother, while Duggal captivates us as the spirited Neeli, who doesn’t give in till the end.

Both the cinematography and the background score are nicely moody and leave you with a sense of foreboding. Qissa is in the tradition of a compelling folktale that you can’t shake off once you’ve heard it. I’m going with three out of five. I recommend that you watch the film for its unique voice.

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