Anup Singh on Qissa and the Mystic Strains of Culture

05 March 2015
Anup Singh (right), director and co-writer of Qissa, and Irfan Khan (left), who plays Umber Singh at the premier of the film in Munich, Germany.
Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images for Filmfest Muenchen
Anup Singh (right), director and co-writer of Qissa, and Irfan Khan (left), who plays Umber Singh at the premier of the film in Munich, Germany.
Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images for Filmfest Muenchen

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost is among the most striking films to have released in India in a long time. It is a film of multiple ideas, but essentially tells its story by following the family of Umber Singh, a Sikh man who lost all he had during Partition. The trauma of Partition plays out in Singh’s life in a strange manner and with tragic consequences when he decides to raise his fourth and last-born daughter as a son. Apart from an intense exploration of the deadly legacy of Partition, it is also a searing critique of patriarchy. Qissa earns its place alongside cinematic masterpieces such as Meghe Dhaka Tara, and Anup Singh is a true successor of the mantle of Ritwik Ghatak.

Basharat Peer spoke to filmmaker and co-writer Anup Singh, who was 13 in 1972 when he had to leave his home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after Idi Amin began forcing Indians out of Uganda, a process that affected Indians in several African countries.

Basharat Peer: You grew up in Tanzania. The journey from Dar es Salaam to Qissa has been a long one. How did Africa shape you?

Anup Singh: I was born and grew up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and my memory of the African sky has always been very important for my feelings about cinema. There is a boundlessness about the African sky; it doesn’t seem to end in any horizon. And yet, somehow, it does not seem so far high above our head. The clouds hover in three-dimensions in that light, just overhead. The feeling is one could stretch out a hand and pluck a feather from one of the clouds. The gods in the sky do not seem so far away. My experience of the African sky is one of the reasons, I’m sure, that I make the films that I do.

BP: What led to Qissa?

Basharat Peer is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. He is the author of Curfewed Night.

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