Qissa: A haunting tale on the fluidity of identity

It feels a little weird calling Qissa arthouse cinema because the film is against any sort of reductionist classification. Anup Singh’s Qissa is a powerful, haunting, well-crafted film about the fluidity of identity and sexuality. Does identity stem from a culture or country you were born in, your gender, sexuality or simply the environment you were raised in and experiences that shaped you? The film packs these deep questions into a rather simple story. Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan is utterly despicable and scarily real in this role), a patriarch dealing with the scars of the India-Pakistan separation, raises his third girl child as a boy, unwilling to accept her as a girl. Does the girl then grow up as a girl or a boy or both?

This nature-versus-nurture conflict plays out through shocking twists and turns, intended not to shock but explore the question of identity, layer by layer. Tillotama Shome as Kanwar Singh is the absolute triumph of Qissa playing a gender-bending, stereotype-defying character trapped in between labels and separatist tendencies. Between India and Pakistan. Between man and woman. Between gay and straight. Between the living and dead. And the actress nails every complex conflicted emotion, embracing the traits of both the masculine and the feminine, and emerges as the performer to beat for Best Actress this year.

Genre: Drama
Director: Anup Singh
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tillotama Shome, Tisca Chopra, Rasika Dugal
Storyline: A man who wants a son gets a third daughter and raises her to be a boy

While you might think that Kanwar would at some point want to embrace her feminine traits (wanting to dress like a girl or act feminine), she is actually repulsed by the idea of being a woman, thanks to her father Umber Singh’s utmost denial and compulsive need for a son. She does not feel comfortable in a woman’s clothes either.

All three ladies in Qissa, Tisca Chopra (the mother), Tillotama (the ‘son’) and Rasika Dugal (the ‘son’s’ friend/lover) have pulled off these complex roles with a great amount of grace and sensitivity.

Anup Singh chooses to tell you upfront that this is the story of a ghost (The film is called Qissa: The tale of a lonely ghost) so that you don’t question its supernatural tone and this is a film best watched if you know beforehand that this is a ghost story. Not very often do we make sensitive films on LGBT issues; every beautifully lit haunting frame crafted with passion is testimony to Anup Singh’s uncompromising vision and decade-long commitment to bringing his script alive on celluloid. Qissa is a fascinating tale, full of surprises, and one of the very best films you will see this year. Or any year.

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Printable version | Jan 13, 2021 5:43:05 AM |

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