Sunday, October 19, 2014

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost

Qissa (meaning "anecdote, tale") is a tale of frontiers: between nations, between customs, between mentalities, between genders, between life and death. It is also a tale of dissolution, of breakdown, of merging: those of frontiers. Whether they collapse or whether new ones are created, they often bring tragedy in their wake. Crossing borders can be significant, impossible, even leading to confusion, leading one to always live in liminal states. Crossing boundaries, whether voluntary or not, whether conscious or not, is an act that can change destinies for ever. As the director Anup Singh says, Punjab is where all converge: the Mongols, the Persians, the Arabs, the Indians, the others; and in the process are created boundaries, fluid but rigid, flexible but relentless, rivers that divide lovers to two opposite, never-meeting shores. And this is the tale of Qissa, only one among the many qissas, like the qissa that animates Mani Kaul's Duvidha but in a grander dimension: of history and geography, of reverberating ages and clashing gender roles.

There are several faults to the film: an unnecessay, revelatory appendage to the title; poor art direction, meaning too "clean" sets/locales; limited ability of major actors. However, it is the story and its multiple, unending implications that reign supreme here: and the rest is forgiven. The latter half of the film is particularly excellent, and music supports the film throughout. The ambiguous ending is what is best about the film: is it the child-begetting spirit of Umber, or is it the unfulfilled lust of Kanwar the girl, which wants to bed Neeli? And to protect herself from which one does Neeli take the final step? Has Kanwar finally succeeded in crossing the border, but Neeli, the wiser one so far, unable to? Or has Kanwar failed, and Umber's will proved stronger than Kanwar's love?

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