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Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome, Rasika Duggal
Director: Anup Singh
TORONTO: First off, Qissa, which literally translates into tales or folktales and which premiered at the on-going 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), is the first Punjabi film to get this honour at the world’s premier film show.
Director Anup Singh’s film deals with dark haunting experiences of human beings that make them highly vulnerable as well as ruthless for the rest of the life. Umber Singh (played brilliantly by Irrfan Khan), a Sikh patriarch from a village near Rawalpindi who is forced leave leave his home and hearth by the Partition of India, is that human being who cannot exorcise the demons that the events of the Partition planted within him.
Qissa is a multi-layered, highly intellectual film with brilliant, haunting music interwoven beautifully into the larger story of the film.
The story of Qissa begins with the Partition of India when Sikhs of Umber Singh’s village in Pakistani Punjab are forced to leave their home place by violence. Loading their cargoes on bullock carts, Sikhs, including Umber Singh, his wife Maher (played by Tisca Chopra) and three daughters, leave their native place for India to build new life and new identity as refugees.
As he rebuilds his life in India, Umber Singh is so blinded by his yearning to have a boy that when his fourth daughter is being born, he rushes into the birthing room, grabs the baby from his apprehensive wife’s arms ( as she asks him a little frightened: Won’t you like to have a look at your new-born daughter?) and announces that his fourth child is a boy.
Named Kanwar (played by Tillotama Shome), the fourth girl is raised as a boy whom Umber Singh puts under the care of a wrestler so that he (she) becomes an iron man. Tender towards Kanwar, Umber Singh is sometimes ruthless with his daughters.
Raised as a boy, Kanwar becomes a truck driver and is finally married to Neeli (played by Rasika Duggal). That’s when the story becomes bizarre as Neeli finds that Kanwar is a girl and tries to run away at night. Umber Singh grabs Kanwar’s runaway bride, but Kanwar wakes up and shoots Umber.
Both Kanwar and Neeli go to a new place where developed sisterly feelings and empathize with each other. But there is hiding place for them as villagers become suspicious of Kanwar’s sexual identity.
In the end, Umber Singh’s ruthless desire to forge Kanwar’s identity as his son after three daughters spells the family’s doom.
Despite brilliant performances by Irrfan (with his deliberately slow but perfect Punjabi), Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome and Rasika Duggal and its superb music, Qissa is a little too complex film as it tries to tackles too many sub-themes.