As the credits stopped rolling on Qissa, a Punjabi Partition drama, at the opera house-styled auditorium in downtown Toronto, a member of the audience got up from the front row. “How did you make your young leading ladies speak such good Punjabi?” enquired the salwar-kameez-clad woman of the film’s director Anup Singh, present for an interaction with the audience at the Toronto International Film Festival. The fact that the first question was on language spoke a lot about the subject of identity and the ghost of Partition the Geneva-based filmmaker, a Sikh like the tens of thousands of immigrants from Punjab in Toronto, explores in his film.
Qissa tells the story of Umber Singh, who turns on his own family with despairing and remorseless violence, after bitter resentment at the loss of his home during Partition tears him apart. “Umber is my grandfather and this film is an enemy’s homage to him,” says Singh, referring to himself as the “enemy”.
Unlike Umber (played by Irrfan Khan), who leaves the Pakistani side of Punjab for the Indian territory, Singh’s grandfather left for Tanzania to join his uncle there. “But he continued to seek vengeance against history,” says Singh, who was born in Dar-es-Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. “I grew up on his tears of Partition, which made me realise that while we should respect the pain of a victim, the victim doesn’t have the right to inflict that pain on others.”
Up close and personal
Qissa, which had its world premiere at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival that concludes today, represents a bold selection of new films from India. “The new Indian cinema is very delicate in the way it is portraying different stories from the country,” says Toronto-based Chilean critic Jorge Ignacio Castillo. “The delicacy that is lost in western cinema is still present in Indian films,” adds Castillo, who has been following new trends in Indian cinema for the past two years.
“The selection of Indian films this year shows the breadth and depth of Indian cinema,” says Piers Handling, director and CEO of the Toronto festival.
While Qissa is Singh’s second feature film after Ekti Nadir Naam (The Name of a River), a tribute to Ritwik Ghatak that won him the prestigious Aravindan Puraskaram in 2002, the two other Indian feature films on the Toronto list are from first-time directors—Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, a love story set in the backdrop of