In a dark discourse, dim lights dance the day Qala is born — the only alive child out of the two. The twin male is lost to a chaotic demise following which their distorted mother — Urmila clasps Qala firmly. Equal parts haunted, equal parts grateful — on the surface, her embrace appears to be an amalgamation of two extreme emotions. Losing a newborn so early, and yet being thankful that, at least, one was alive and thriving.
For those of you wondering the context of this narration, this is a tale portrayed in Netflix's December release, Director Anvita Dutt's 'Qala'. As the story progresses, Urmila’s initial cuddle appears a cryptic clench symbolising regret. A whisper, perhaps to her own daughter — “It should have been you who should’ve died and not him.”
Jagan— The Son Urmila Never Had
These sentiments are reinforced as all it takes is an unfamiliar male Jagan in Urmila’s life for Qala to fade into absolute obscurity. Jagan, an orphan who’s a self taught singer becomes the son Urmila never had. In Jagan, Urmila identifies her protégé, a true ‘pandit’ to progress her ancestral legacy. Jagan is not merely Urmila’s disciple but becomes a descendant Qala could never be, irrespective of her desperate endeavors.
Before she witnesses Jagan’s soulful alchemy, Urmila makes attempts to train her own daughter. “You are a woman. You’ll need to work harder,” she says while training Qala to hit the right notes. But even these stringent words which were the only affection Qala knew fade into oblivion as Jagan becomes the lost child.
Urmila attempts to erase her existence from her life by marrying her off. In her desperate attempt to stay with her mother, Qala whispers in despair, “I’ll marry Jagan. That way I could live with you," to which Urmila gives a disgusted disposition calling her names and walking away from her.
Qala’s 'barely-there existence' in her own mother’s life turns completely dark, synonymous with the theatrical thematic of the isolated mansion she resides in.
While training her daughter, Urmila had once said, “Akal mein zero, shakal mein zero, talent mein zero”, and then doing justice to her coldness, sends Qala out of the home and she’s left shivering in the snowfall. It is here where Qala develops a friendship with chill and turns cold — cold enough to then steal what she deemed hers — Jagan’s voice.
A Daughter’s Urge for Her Mother’s Nod & Warmth
Qala’s urge for validation doesn’t depart even after obtaining what she often fancied. In a scene, when she successfully distorts Jagan’s voice and melodiously chimes “Pherro Na Najariya'' — everyone stands in awe of her, but her eyes sought only her mother’s presence. Qala’s toxic relationship with her morally gray mother develops a constant yearning for validation which stays with her till she walks the path of her own deadly departure.
Even though what Qala does with Jagan was exceptionally wrong, Jagan’s character isn’t all black and white and is painted with selfish undertones. Her attempt to diminish Jagan’s voice stems not less from her need to be a Musical Majesty, and more to get her mother to praise her once.
When Urmila stops Qala from singing (Bikharne ka mujhko shauk hai bada) midway, Qala’s existence quivers while Jagan continues to have his moment. Jagan had Urmila’s love Qala could only dream of.
Qala’s despair does not leave her even after acquiring all her wildest dreams. She copes with that by pretending to speak with her mother while internal battles demean her.
Often in our country, when children seek creative pursuits their parents do not approve of — a need for validation arises. In such scenario, these children long for the barest whispers of validation. The situation is worsened if it’s a woman as it means battling the professional battles which are steeped in sexism along with battling the internal ones, which are the most eerie. Qala portrays that brilliantly. It is, indeed, a haunted tale of validation we seek, but never receive.
(Pulkit is a Freelance Journalist and currently head the Fashion Vertical for a Digital Site, The National Bulletin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)