Punjab Research Group

A Qissa for a Globalised by Kavita Bhanot

Posted in Articles, Film by Pippa on August 19, 2014

QissaA Qissa for a Globalised World August 17, 2014

[Following is a guest post by Kavita Bhanot. She is a London based writer. Her short stories and non-fiction have been published widely in anthologies, magazines and journals, two of her stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and she is the editor of the short story collection Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (Tindal Street Press, 2011.) ]

There has, of late, been a revival of Punjabi cinema directed towards and watched by Punjabi audiences. A recent addition to Punjabi language cinema, albeit less ‘commercial’ and more ‘artistic’ is the Punjabi language film Qissa: Tale of a Lonely Ghost which has been doing the rounds at international film festivals and was screened last week at the London Indian Film Festival.

The film is about the violent consequences of son obsession in a Sikh refugee family in post-partition East Punjab.Visually striking, Qissa stands out for its cinematography; the framing, the use of shadows and light, the unusual angles. It was often absorbing, most of all in the scenes between actresses Tillotama Shome and Rasika Dugal, playing the couple Kanwar Singh and Neeli who find themselves in a predicament after marriage when they both discover that Kawar is actually a woman. Their interactions quiver with layered tension and chemistry.

Ultimately, however, the film doesn’t quite come together, it seems to lack internal coherence. I found myself watching it with a sense of unease, it didn’t carry me through, and when, in the post film discussion, the director spoke about the qissa tradition, connecting his film to this ‘genre,’ my discomfort increased.

Encompassed in the title, in the main heading (Qissa) and the subheading (The Tale of the Lonely Ghost), are two very different conceptions of storytelling, the film seems to hover between both of these, but falls ultimately, in the framework of the latter.

The Qissa is a storytelling tradition that is woven into the lives, culture of Punjabis. Qissas have been retold, reinterpreted in each era, often through music – the Sufi versions of these stories that are most well-known. Rooted in time and place – it is through particularity, detail, a connection with everyday life that qissas speak to the people of the region. Waris Shah weaves into Heer, perhaps the most popular qissa, painstaking, almost sociological detail about the customs, practices, beliefs, social, economic and political structures of the time. Qissas often portray, through love stories, the defiance and rebellion of ordinary people, exploring the radical potential of love and sexuality, as lovers and their accomplices defy the conventions, religion, ‘morality’ of an oppressive society. Qissas, in this way, critique social, political institutions, challenging power at all levels. While the lovers in Sufi qissas simultaneously symbolise the relationship between devotee and pir or guru, it is through the details, the emotion and earthiness of lived life that they become metaphors, that they become universal. Sufis understood that this was the way to connect with people.

Read full article: http://www.chapatimystery.com/archives/potpurri/a_qissa_for_a_globalised_world.html

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