Qala (2022) Review: Layered Presentation of How Actions Have Devastating Ramifications

Published 12/02/2022, 4:54 PM EST

What is it that one craves? Acceptance? Success? Happiness? The first two desires could result in the third, but the eponymous character, Qala, receives nothing. The Netflix Original follows the story of this aspiring singer who hates music, as she battles prejudice, rejection, ostracization, and her own demons. Why does Qala Manjushree face all this? 

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The setting of this Netflix film in the 1930s answers this question, but it doesn’t explode in this direction. Qala has multiple layers, where if one aspect is removed, the others still provide the audience with sufficient material to ponder over. 

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Moments after her birth, this then-unnamed baby is subtly accused of being a predator (via the law of nature) as her twin brother was stillborn. Talentless in her emotionally distant mother’s eyes, Qala tries to break into the world of music to find acceptance, only to face brutal dismissal in favor of another. As Qala tries to overcome this, she realizes that her actions have consequences.

Initially, writer/director Anvita Dutt lets us believe that Qala suffers from visions, and has seen her brother grow. It appears as though her mother’s tough (lack of) love torments her and makes her see her grown brother blame her for winning the “survival of the fittest” battle in the womb. As the layers peel away, we understand that it isn’t the case with desperation driving a despaired daughter towards a deliberate devious deed. It is this action in the past, the reason behind it, and its ramifications that get presented via a mix of present-day scenes and flashbacks.

Tripti Dimri shines as and in Qala

Tripti Dimri plays the titular character and is the only on-screen individual that shines. One can expect this when a film is named after a character, but why does she stand out? Dimri’s apprehensive mannerisms and tentative tone, as though she is walking on eggshells, allow audiences to understand her deep wish to find any route to get through to her mother.

Qala’s terror as she witnesses Jagan and spirals into madness exhibits the internal strife that she must combat alone. Her transformation at points in the film where she acts in desperation and oozes charisma is a small win. What is the price for such a small win?

Qala’s mother, Urmila (Swastika Mukherjee), has a small role that shows her aloofness towards her daughter (who she feels deprived her of a son). Without a support system in showbiz, and in the face of Mukherjee’s character’s fortified exterior before her daughter’s imploring efforts, Qala’s alarming and chaotic descent draws the audience’s sympathy to her character. The question that emerges is whether she deserves it despite her guilty conscience.

Elements of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment come to the fore here. Black Swan also does, via an in-your-face sequence, but Darren Aronofsky’s film is far away from this pre-Indian independence drama. A work by Robert Louis Stevenson appears in one frame. This feels like an apt story to compare Qala to.  

Jagan (Babil Khan) barely has screen time in his debut and Amit Sial’s role comes across as an extended special appearance. Would fleshing out these characters have diminished Qala’s story? I feel it is balanced well as the director allows audiences to see an ignored daughter, a haunted singer, and an exploited industry cog in equal measure.

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Qala has astounding visuals

While the acting doesn’t really shine as a collective, one can’t say the same about Siddharth Diwan’s cinematography, Meenal Agarwal’s production design, and Vasudha Saklani’s set decoration. Visuals of the fog as the characters sail in a boat will remain in your vision long after the end credits. If that doesn’t stand out, the scenes at Qala’s home are mesmerizing.

A glimpse of a remote house in the winter where lamps and candles serve as the only source of illumination after dark makes for a spectacle. One may even see this as the flicker of hope, or the slowly dying flame of the dreams of each individual character. 

For Qala, it is the dimming light, as her mother has found another (a worthy) pupil. For Jagan, it is the illumination of a future, and for Mrs. Manjushree, the lights represent a small fire within her that has re-awakened her from her slumber. 

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The music is one thing that will stand out, especially Jagan’s vocals. I did notice that the power of Qala’s vocals altered. They faded when Jagan was around and attained an enviable pitch at other points to convey that she was special in her own way. This creative decision even carried the subtle message of one needing to live their passion to let it thrive. Hard work is an equalizer, but there is a glass ceiling to the same in a field where one also needs natural talent to shatter it.  


Besides the songs, there is also a good use of the background score to convey the terror on Qala’s face. It comes as the tempo rises when she gets her first hallucination. I like the fact that the director didn’t overuse this, after throwing it in to infuse the psychological horror portion of the film. 

Should you watch this Netflix film? 

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With a run time of just under two hours, this deeply layered tale about society, music, exploitation, and acceptance is something that should be on your watchlist. Qala shatters the illusion of success, the desire for perfection, and shows audiences that actions have ramifications. A minor misstep can serve as ‘only a crack in a castle of glass’.

Qala is now streaming on Netflix.

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Reubyn Coutinho

35 articles

Reubyn Coutinho is an Editor and Film Critic at Netflix Junkie. This Mass Media Graduate from St. Xavier's has attended MAMI (2019) as a film critic.

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