Qala (2022) Movie Explained: Early on in Anvita Dutt’s Qala, its titular lead prioritizes a woman journalist in a room full of male journalists who want to get a bite of her. This is not the only instance. From taking on a female secretary to questioning the inequality between men and women, Qala establishes herself as a feminist with a voice in a very male-dominated setting. And throughout the film, she is put into situations where she is being treated unfairly to horribly by problematic men.
But the thing is, that is not what the film is about. It puts the same woman into a downward spiral fuelled by guilt for something she has done, which she does not survive in the end. It feels like she is being punished for her sin, which she has committed to a man, as a matter of fact. Of course, a film does not have the responsibility to save its protagonist or be morally or even politically correct, but this one seems very confused within itself. While it seems intriguing enough to board the train, you never really know whether or not it will reach somewhere.
Coming from the same director-actor-producer team that gave us the very aesthetically appealing feminist horror Bulbbul two years ago, Qala tells the story of a very successful Indian playback singer of the 1930s being haunted by her past. Strangely though, while Bulbbul was all over the place with its narrative, it did not have any confusion in the story it was endorsing. Qala, on the other hand, is much more cohesive when it comes to writing but sadly muddled with so many of its own ideas.
It looks absolutely stunning though, thanks to Siddharth Diwan’s exquisite camera work, which gives it a wonderful gothic horror feel. In fact, it should easily find a place in the list of best-looking Indian movies of all time. And despite the fundamental problem, this is a very engaging viewing experience thanks to an ethereal-looking Tripti Dimri at the center of it, who gives her everything for the role. A lot of the film actually relies on focusing the camera on our heroine’s face, and her facial expression does the rest. What further helps the cause is an incredibly beautiful Amit Trivedi soundtrack which sips through the narrative and becomes the heart of it.
Qala: Plot summary and movie synopsis
Kolkata, the 1930s. Qala Manjushree (Dimri) is the nation’s most celebrated playback singer, who comes from a classical background. Her father was a pandit, the highest possible achievement in classical music, and her reclusive mother, Urmila, is a retired thumri singer.
After winning the prestigious Golden Vinyl award, Qala tries to call her mother, who lives in a small town in Himachal Pradesh. But she doesn’t get the kind of response she would like or any sort of response. It is established that for Qala, her mother’s approval means everything. At a press conference, Qala gets flustered when a journalist raises a question about Urmila trying to launch her son years ago. She firmly denies it and states that she is the only child of her mother.
At a recording with her lyricist friend Majrooh (Varun Grover, who, in fact, has written the lyrics for one of the songs in the film), Qala gets the news of celebrated singer Mr. Sanyal (Sameer Kochhar) abruptly dying, which makes her overwhelmed. When she is asked if she ever had the chance to sing with the legendary Sanyal by a journalist, she replies that she never had good fortune; and instantly, a young man in a white kurta and turban appears in a flash and calls her a “liar.” At her home, she hallucinates the same young man; presumably, the “son” that the journalist mentioned before.
Looking at her declining health, Qala’s secretary Sudha (Girija Oak) calls Dr. Banerjee (Abhishek Banerjee in a cameo), who suggests that the artist should take a break and says that there is nothing medically wrong with her. But Qala claims something is happening inside her, which has already happened, and everything is broken inside her. What does that mean?
In the past, Urmila Manjushree (Swastika Mukherjee in her biggest Bollywood role to date) gives birth to twin babies, a boy, and a girl. But the boy baby dies, and the doctor says sometimes the healthier twin takes the strength from the weaker twin, which has probably resulted in this. In a gloomy, ghostly giant mansion in a snowclad town of Himachal Pradesh, Qala grows up without the warmth of her mother’s love, as Urmila is always hard on her. All she wants for her daughter is to earn the same glory as her late husband once did.
Still yearning for her mother’s approval, a grown-up Qala makes her debut as a classical singer at a cultural event in Shimla, where she gets a fair amount of praise and encouragement from a highly esteemed older singer (Swanand Kirkire in a cameo). But her auspicious day turns into a nightmare when a random young man Jagan (Irfan Khan’s son Babil making his debut), effortlessly delivers a performance that clearly outshines the one of Qala, and Urmila seems to be really enjoying it. Jagan happens to be the same young that present-day Qala hallucinates, of course.
Qala’s already miserable life gets darker when Urmila takes in the orphan Jagan, and Qala sees her own mother giving a stranger everything that Qala ever wished for. But Jagan treats her tenderly and is actually nice to her. Qala’s relationship with her mother doesn’t improve, but she does form a bond with Jagan. However, the jealousy inside her keeps growing like a hungry monster.
With the help of Mr. Sanyal, one of the most famous playback singers in the country, Urmila plans to launch Jagan in the world of glitters and glamor. By now, she has lost hope for Qala becoming anything, and all she cares about is marrying her off to a wealthy family with social status. Qala still tries to work it out with her mother when she suggests that Jagan and she should be married, which heavily backfires as Urmila insults her for having such disgusting thoughts as Jagan is her “brother.”
But fate has other plans for Qala. On the very day, Jagan is about to perform in front of the who’s who of society, something happens to his voice in the middle of his performance. While Mr. Sanyal and Urmila discuss what to do about the guests, Qala steps in and enthralls the audience with a mesmerizing performance.
However, to her utter disappointment, it is still not enough, which she realizes when famous music composer Sumant Kumar (an excellent Amit Sial) comes to their house and praises Jagan to the moon based on whatever little he was able to sing before the tragedy struck and took his voice away. An angry, frustrated Qala decides to play the oldest possible trick to turn the table; as she seduces Sumant Kumar to get her to the recording studio in Kolkata.
Jagan, on the other hand, tries everything to find his lost voice. But after so many futile attempts, he gives it up and hangs himself from a tree. A thunderstruck Qala finds his body, and Urmila goes into an endless state of mourning. But Qala has things to do. She has so much to achieve and gain from this accident. So she asks for her mother’s permission to leave for the city, but all she receives is further humiliation.
Qala: Movie Ending Explained
As time flies by in a jiffy, a determined Qala waltzes through the road to fame and popularity on the merit of her talent. But everything comes at a price, and Qala’s meteoric rise to the top is not different, as she gets continuously exploited sexually by Sumant Kumar; a ploy that she used as a stepping stone to get into this world.
But Qala does make some real friends in this world as well, in the form of Majrooh, an older female composer-singer (Tasveer Kamil), and her ever-so-dependable secretary Sudha. And she finally manages to shun Sumant Kumar, who has now become a fading artist from the world of yesterday.
The world of today is Qala’s world, where she takes a stand for woman empowerment, and everyone finally hears her voice. She has earned all the respect, admiration, and everything else she could ever imagine except for one thing, which is happiness.
What happens to Qala in the end?
A sick and emotionally wrecked Qala’s condition keeps deteriorating as she keeps hallucinating Jagan, who blames her for taking “his life” away from him. At a recording, she has a panic attack and a subsequent meltdown where she finds herself stuck in the same snowclad terrain of where she comes from and discovers Jagan’s lifeless body hanging from the harrowing tree. Wrapped inside the dungeon of her troubled mind, Qala keeps asking Jagan why did he have to kill himself. Jagan replies his voice and singing were everything to him; it’s all that ever mattered to him as he never cared for awards, appreciation, or anything else. As things could not get any worse, Qala has a whole meltdown in public where she is flocked by so many paparazzi.
She makes another desperate attempt to reach out to his mother as a final cry for help. But Urmila does not respond. Upon seeing Qala’s condition, a concerned Dr. Goenka calls Urmila, which finally works as Urmila comes to Kolkata to take her daughter back to her “home.”
Unfortunately, it is too late.
As you can already predict, in the final moments of the film, it is revealed that it was Qala who gave Jagan a glass full of milk laced with Mercury which was the reason for him losing his voice, which was his everything. Qala getting jittery with the mention of milk in an earlier scene and vehemently rejecting drinking it makes complete sense now. Despite her best attempt, she could not live as her guilt never let her find any peace. Qala is found hanging from a ceiling fan in the same manner as Jagan.
The screen goes black, and mental health along with suicide awareness message pops up on the screen; before the end, credits start to roll.
Did Qala deserve her fate?
There is a scene in the film where Qala is getting scolded by her mother for putting a thermometer in Jagan’s mouth to check if he has a fever or not. Urmila insults her, not being aware of the fact that the thermometer has mercury which is like a nemesis for a singer, as one drop of it can be fatal to the voice. Ironically, this bit of knowledge powered Qala to do her “sin,” which would ensure her inevitable fall.
To decide whether or not Qala deserved her fate, we do need to consider the incessantly bad parenting of Urmila. All Qala ever wanted was for her mother to love and support her, something that is supposed to be a very natural kind of expectation, as she even says to Urmila in a scene. With most of her actions, she was trying to achieve that only. She even picked up so many things from her mother, like she used the exact same method of seduction on Sumant Kumar as Urmila used on Mr. Sanyal. On the other hand, while Urmila’s grudge against her daughter right from the moment she was born is understandable, as in her subconscious, she held Qala as the reason for the loss of her other twin; it is never justifiable at all. What Qala became, in the end, stemmed from how her mother treated her throughout her entire life.
In stark contrast, Jagan mentions to Qala that he sings only for himself and not to please anyone. That is how art is supposed to be, after all. This also indicates that Jagan, despite coming from nothing, had all the freedom as well as the male privilege, which can be seen so many times in the film. But Qala, despite being born with what can be considered a “golden spoon” in her mouth, was never free after all. And taking Jagan’s voice (and life) away from him only made the walls of Qala’s prison forever unbreakable.
The problem with this film is it ends up sort of villainizing the same person who had to endure a lot of terrible things. A person who stands up for so many right things; despite never experiencing any kind of parental love. A woman for whom we are supposed to feel sympathy, which we do. By pushing Qala to suicide, the film gives Jagan the justice that he deserves. Probably the best for him would have been not to get associated with the madness of this troubled mother-daughter duo. What Qala did to Jagan was unforgivable, but the film also treats her badly, thanks to its confusing message. The lazy attempt at being a mental health awareness campaign, in the end, is another extremely insensitive thing it does.
Qala, the film might manage to hide under the glorious aesthetics, honey-brewed soundtrack, Dimri’s hypnotic eyes, and a brilliantly put cameo from its star producer Anushka Sharma, which is actually happening as it is receiving a lot of acclaims. But the problematic side of it is too much to be ignored and definitely needs to be addressed.