It is hard not to be effusive about Anup Singh’s Punjabi film, Qissa, a masterful indictment of patriarchy set in partition-ravaged Punjab. Themes of displacement and loss of identity provide texture to a sprawling canvas awash with stunning visuals that are rich in symbolism, from the almost Biblical depiction of the exodus from Pakistan that sets up archetypes of men and women — the stoic Sikh refugee, Umber (Irrfan Khan), and his supportive wife, Meher (Tisca Chopra) who must now rebuild their lives — to the vertiginous shots of bodies that have fallen from great heights, to the conflicted half-smiles of its women that speak such volumes. Dedicated to Singh’s mother, the film is a tribute (even in its own gut-wrenching manner) to the resilience of women who manage to soldier on in the face of great repression. A luminous Chopra is cast in the mould of a pioneer woman in her own right who could be her husband’s equal in every way, but her Meher is slowly deprived of her agency. She becomes an object of abject domesticity, under pressure (as is still typical) to beget a male heir for Umber, given that she has only borne daughters — three cherubic girls lovingly shot in Renaissance frames by the cinematographer, Sebastian Edschmid.
Irrfan Khan & Tisca Chopra in Qissa