A film that looks and sounds so gorgeous must be welcomed, applauds Deepa Gahlot.
On watching Anvita Dutt's second film, Qala, it is clear that she has the cinematic approach of an aesthete.
Like her debut film, Bulbbul, this one too is a period piece, set in the world of music in the 1940s.
It's a pity the film has to be watched on the television screen because the wonderful art deco design and detailing, the painterly frames need to be appreciated better.
Having said that, it is difficult to aim a film like Qala at the mass market, possibly no longer used to a pace that does not hesitate to linger over emotions and expressions, instead of rushing through.
Qala (Truptii Dimri) grew up in a snow-bound Himachal palace with a musician mother Urmila (Swastika Mukherjee), who is cold to the point of cruelty, so that the daughter is constantly running after her saying 'sorry'.
Qala keeps trying to please her mother with her singing, but when Urmila spots the talented orphan Jagan (Babil Khan) with a folk singer's open-throated voice, she adopts him as the son she never had, pushing her daughter into serving her prodigy (It might be a spoiler for some, but Jagan may be based on real-life singer Master Madan).
With her own guts and initiative, Qala makes her way into the movie business of Calcutta, submitting to the sexual demands of the composer Sumant Kumar (Amit Sial) to reach her goal. She has the friendship of a poet called Majrooh (Varun Grover), a female composer Naseeban (Tasveer Kamil) and a loyal secretary Sudha (Girija Oak), but after she achieves what her mother had dreamed of for Jagan, she starts to mentally unravel (a hint of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan).
Without overemphasising it, Dutt captures the sexism of show business that calls an accomplished male singer 'pandit' and a female 'bai-ji'. Women had to then, as now, struggle harder, compromise or give up.
It is ironic then, that surrounded by the same kind of predatory men, Lata Mangeshkar, pushed through and ruled film music for over half a century.
It is, of course, a writer-director's prerogative to tell the story she wants to, but it is dispiriting to see that ambitious women continue to be punished, when ideally, there should be more films about happily successful women.
Poor Qala spends the whole film weeping, moping or hallucinating, and with all the effort Triptii Dimri puts in, she is unable to make the character likeable or sympathetic.
For a film mainly about a toxic mother-daughter relationship, the men get better scenes, better lines and more defined characters -- even those in small parts.
Majrooh's red painted nails, for instance, say a lot, while Urmila, laden with traditional silver jewellery, says nothing.
Babil Khan's debut is not flashy and he plays the artiste with a shy pride. Hopefully, his next film will give him more to do.
Anvita Dutt's repeat collaboration with Anushka Sharma's production company (she appears in a lovely cameo), goes to show that with the right kind of support and a free hand, a film-maker can work towards a vision, rather than just making crowd-pleasers.
Qala has its share of problems, but a film that looks and sounds so gorgeous, must be welcomed.
Qala streams on Netflix.