The film begins in Pakistani side of Punjab before Partition. Sepia tones and a melancholy mood effectively capture the anguish of uprooted Sikh families crossing the border and arriving in India. Like the rest of his tribe, Umber Singh (Irrfan) leaves the ghosts of his past behind and starts to rebuild his life and home. While Umber is struggling to find a sense of belonging in the new land, his wife Mehar (Tisca Chopra), who has three daughters, is worried she will deliver a fourth girl. But Umber, who longs for a son, has already made up his mind to raise his fourth child as a boy – irrespective of its sex.
Surely enough, when his fourth child turns out to be a daughter, Umber raises her as a boy – in a move that is part delusional, part self-resentment and part despair. Not only is Kanwar (Tillotama Shome) made to dress like a boy and adopt manly routines, she is also married off by his father to a naive gypsy girl, Neeli (Rasika Dugal). When the truth unfolds on the wedding night, a cheated Neeli is placated by Umber who offers her his wealth just to keep his family secret intact.
Anup Singh’s film, told in a languid fashion (a bit too slow at times), narrates a story which immediately strikes a chord with Indian society that is obsessed with producing sons. It also boldly shows that the Partition may have affected people in a subliminal way, but its wounds run deep. Qissa has a disturbing effect and in that, lies the film’s strength. It is also shot beautifully across deserts, snow-capped mountains and lush, green landscape.
Irrfan, Tisca and Tillotama give A-grade performances, making this film imminently watchable. If only the filmmaker had decided to buck the pace up for a bit, the points being made here would have hit home harder.
Umber Singh longs for a son. So much so that when he has a daughter for the fourth time around, he takes destiny in his own hands and raises ‘her’ as a ‘boy’.
The Times of India