Set amidst the ethnic cleansing and general chaos that accompanied India’s partition in 1947, this sweeping drama stars Irrfan Khan — also appearing at the Festival in The Lunchbox — as a Sikh attempting to forge a new life for his family while keeping their true identities a secret from their community.
Beautiful, timeless, and touching the deepest of human impulses, Qissa carries the spirit of a great folk tale. Although it's set in a particular time and place — the Punjab region that straddles India and Pakistan in the years immediately after partition — it is both deeper and broader than any one moment. As this eerie family drama progresses, it cuts to the heart of eternal desires for honour, empathy, and love.
One of India's best actors, Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Festival premiere The Lunchbox, and a feature guest in this year's Mavericks programme) plays Umber Singh, a Sikh uprooted by the religious violence that came with partition in 1947. He and his family move to a safer locale, and it is here that the story takes a remarkable turn. Having already fathered daughters, Singh now wants a son. When his next child is born he celebrates his wish come true, but there is one problem: the baby is in fact a girl.
"Qissa" is originally an Arabic word meaning folk tale. Both the word and the idea migrated from the Gulf into the Punjab, still connected by the ancient oral narratives handed down in communal settings. Working within this tradition, director Anup Singh gives his film both the grand themes and elemental emotions of classic storytelling. As Umber's daughter is raised as a boy, the characters are propelled with greater and greater urgency towards their inevitable fates.
Part of a new generation of directors with
feet firmly planted in India and far beyond,
Singh has delivered a film immediately
accessible to anyone sensitive to the conflicts
that drive classic stories: fear versus
hubris, individual need versus social codes.
Qissa is a Punjabi story for the whole world.
Contemporary World Speakers
Janice Gross Stein, Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and a member of the Order of Canada, is an internationally renowned expert on conflict management. She will speak about Qissa in an extended Q&A session following the screening. Visit tiff.net/worldspeakers to find out more. Special thanks to the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.