‘Qissa’, which is about an uprooted Sikh family’s struggle with identity after the Partition, was chosen for the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema(NETPAC) Award for World or International Asian Premiere at the just-concluded Toronto film festival. The NETPAC jury included Jay Jeon from South Korea, Intishal Ali Timimi from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and Freddie Wong from Hong Kong.
The jury praised the film for its ‘sensitive protrayal of the issues of identity and displacement that affect people not only in India, but in all parts of the world’.
The jury also mentioned the ‘brilliance of cinematic craft and the choice of metaphor that has been employed to tell a moving story’, which, it said, is ‘bound to provoke thoughts, spark debate and give its viewers an intense experience’.
‘Qissa’ is the Geneva-based Singh’s second feature film after the critically-acclaimed ‘Ekti Nadir Naam’ (The Name of a River), which won the prestigious Aravandan Puraskaram in 2002. ‘Ekti Nadir Naam’ was Singh’s tribute to legendary filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, who the director invokes as his teacher. Singh is a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India in direction.
According to Singh, ‘Qissa’ is the story of his own grandfather, who was forced to leave his native village near Rawalpindi just before the Partition. ‘My grandfather carried quite a bit of bitterness, almost avenging himself for his homelessness,’ Singh said after the screening of his film in Toronto last week.
‘Talks of partitions and separations continue with us at more intimate levels,’ he said, adding the making of ‘new refugees happen every month’ and ‘new massacres happen every month’.
‘It is not only history to blame, but perhaps within us there is a certain culpability’, Singh said, referring to Umber Singh, the character of his grandfather played by Irrfan Khan, who goes on to unleash a violence on his family unable to bear the loss of his home during the Partition.
Irrfan Khan had initially turned down the role of Umber Singh, saying it was a ‘dark character’ before he was won over by the arguments of the director later.
‘Our life is already so complicated,’ Khan, who was also present at the Toronto world premiere of the film, said about playing Umber Singh, a vicious character.
‘Qissa’ was part of the contemporary world cinema section of the 38th Toronto International Film Festival that concluded on September 15.