Written and directed by Anvitaa Dutt, “Qala” tells the story of the titular character’s rise to the top of the Kolkata music industry and subsequent downfall. Through extensive flashbacks, the film delves into Qala’s turbulent relationship with her mother, Urmila, which stems from the fact that her twin son died in her womb. We learn about Jagan’s entry into Qala, and Urmila’s lives, and how that significantly changed the two of them, probably for the worse. And then, we see the various music producers, composers, singers, and lyricists populating Qala’s life and examine their relationships with her. But before sitting down to watch it, viewers should know that due to its repetitive messaging and sluggish pacing, there’s a good chance that you might fall asleep and miss out on some important details. You don’t have to worry about it, though, because I’ll be covering them in this article.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who Is Jagan? What Does His Death Mean?
The first time that we get to see Jagan is when a vision of him haunts Qala and accuses her of stealing his dreams. Then, in a flashback, we see Jagan mystify the audience and Urmila with his vocal prowess and essentially become the son she couldn’t have. Urmila literally brings Jagan over to his house, tending to him like her own child and routinely ordering Qala to deliver warm milk for him at night. Qala is also relegated to the position of Jagan’s sidekick, where she is supposed to assist him on the “tanpura.” This saddens her enough to make her run out into the snow. Jagan runs after her and catches a cold. When Qala checks his temperature, she puts the thermometer in his mouth, and Urmila reprimands her because the mercury in it can ruin his voice. This is essentially the set-up for the moment when, out of jealousy, Qala mixes mercury into the milk that Jagan drinks. That destroys his physical and mental health. And when Jagan realizes that Qala has done this out of hatred and that he doesn’t have a future in singing, he kills himself.
As if it isn’t clear to everyone that the mercury didn’t kill Jagan, but the fact that Qala took away his ability to sing did, in a hallucinatory sequence, Jagan’s “ghost” spells it out for the audience that singing was everything to him. So, when Qala took it away from him, he didn’t have any reason to live. But what does his whole journey mean? Well, he does represent a class divide as he comes from a background where talent is equated with success and is dropped into an environment where talent is a gateway to opportunism and money. He represents blind faith and optimism, which are squashed by Qala’s jealousy and Urmila’s scheming behavior. And he represents all those people who never taste fame because there are way too many vindictive people standing in front of them just to hold up the proverbial line. The nature of Jagan’s death is undoubtedly tragic. However, it also seems like the last weapon he has in his arsenal to ensure that Qala never gets away with what she has done.
What Do The Men (Sumant, Chandan, Mansoor, Majrooh, and Dr. Banerjee) In Qala’s Life Represent?
By the time we meet Qala, we see that she’s aware of the patriarchal society and sexist industry she exists in, as she smartly dodges the pointed press questions about her relationship with her producer, Rai Sahab. We see that she shares a very amicable relationship with Majrooh, her lyricist, as he not only provides the perfect words for her to sing but also encourages her to avoid bottling up her emotions. When her health deteriorates, she encounters Dr. Banerjee, who blames her condition on her sensitivity as an artist and says that it might be “that time of the month.” Through the flashbacks, we see Mansoor as Qala’s mentor, constantly urging Urmila to fuel the girl’s dreams of becoming a singer. Chandan, an influential singer, appears in Qala’s life to pave a path for Jagan and forge a physical relationship with Urmila. Qala does try to entice him, but he doesn’t show any interest in her. And then comes Sumant to give Qala her “big break.” When she fails to nail her first recording, he begins to exploit her sexually until she becomes popular enough to reject his advances.
So, if you make a scale to measure the wretchedness of men, with 0 being least wretched and 9 being most wretched, Mansoor and Majrooh are going to be around 0, and Sumant is definitely going to go beyond 9. Mansoor represents the father Qala never had, and he ends up being the only source of validation for her. He does the best he can to make sure that there’s a balance between Qala and Jagan’s career arcs. But as soon as money and fame come into the picture, Mansoor exits the frame. Chandan is a monolith and, hence, an unachievable goal for Qala because he’s way too comfortable with himself to be wooed by her childlike innocence. Despite his brief appearance, Banerjee’s medical advice is quite pivotal because it not only reflects how regressive a man of science can be but also shows how important it is for a general physician to be aware of mental health as well. Majrooh is clearly portrayed as the ally that women need and probably have in their lives. However, they are basically useless after a certain point because all they can provide is verbal affirmations when they need to stand up to abusers and leeches like Sumant. And Sumant is emblematic of everything that the male gender is known for and every profession that men inhabit just so that they can exploit women.
‘Qala’ Ending Explained: What Exactly Causes Qala’s Death?
At the center of Qala’s issues is her mother, Urmila. As mentioned before, she holds a grudge against her because she’s the only one of her twin children who survived childbirth. She does teach her how to sing. But she does it in a very insensitive manner, as she tells Qala to only attain the title of “Pandit” (an endearing moniker that’s given to men) and avoid being known as a “Bai” (a derogatory moniker that’s given to women). She forces Qala to stay out in the cold all night because she can’t get a musical note right. She favors Jagan over Qala and treats him like the son she lost. She even wants Qala to give up on her career and marry Rani Mandira’s son. But when Qala responds to all this by destroying Jagan’s voice, because of which Jagan dies by suicide, Urmila essentially disowns her because she knows that it’s all Qala’s doing. She doesn’t listen to her when Qala calls her up and asks for her help. And by the time she does decide to reach out to Qala, she ends up being too late because Qala, too, dies by suicide.
Now, of course, “Qala” starts off as a commentary about jealousy, toxic parenting, and the facade of professionalism in the music industry. But, going by its concluding disclaimer about calling for help if one is feeling suicidal, it becomes a movie about that very topic. The turn is awkward, and the overall handling is weird because Dutt is never clear about what she’s pointing at. Is she blaming Urmila’s horrible parenting for Qala’s demise? Is she blaming the patriarchal system for her death? Is she blaming the lack of proper medical advice when it comes to a patient’s deteriorating health during the 1930s? Is she pointing at some kind of generational trait that has been passed on to Qala? Is she highlighting Qala’s sense of guilt for her predicament? Well, if Dutt is blaming Qala for anything, that’s a form of victim shaming. If Dutt is blaming everything else, she is being too vague about it. All I can say is that the one takeaway you should have from “Qala” is that no amount of money or success is worth your life or your mental health. Never ignore that for your 15 minutes of fame. Get therapy if you can afford it. Keep your friends and doctors on your speed dial. And don’t do anything that’ll ruin your sleep.
“Qala” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Anvitaa Dutt.