- Directed by Dev Gupta -
Mythical places or objects, ones which are said to grant superhuman abilities, cheat death, predict the future or permit an unnaturally high level of self-actualization and the reaching of a state of Nirvana have long fascinated the human mind. Unpredictability breeds a thirst for knowledge and discovery, one that might mean negating a substantial number of other more pressing, tangible things. This is the story of Masoom, a young man suffering what could be called a pre-midlife crisis. His marital problems, almost exclusively born out of reminiscing the past and an unhealthy dose of selfishness, intertwine with creative issues, which, for a full-time scriptwriter as he calls himself, can indeed prove a problematic combination.
‘Qissbah’ is not only a character study, but a wider exploration of life’s trajectory, the passing of time and the human subconscious. Masoom’s wife takes notice of life’s ephemerality, adjusts her dreams and expectations accordingly, and showcases a collective orientation towards the future. In stark contrast, Masoom is selfishly and subconsciously tied to the past – he makes one past confession from his wife the reason for his failing marriage, and orients himself towards replicating what his father had attempted, only to never be seen again. The lack of a father figure could also be one of the main reasons for his particularly problematic status quo, and the entirety of this complex set of interdependencies shows the amount of thought that writer-director Dev Gupta has put into this project.
Characterized by a simple yet compelling style, Dev Gupta provides an entertaining 27 minutes – ‘Qissbah’ never overstays its welcome, despite the fact that at times, dialogues can get very cheesy, dry and lacking in essence. The film could perhaps be shortened to under 20 minutes with the same points being made with equal success. Some stylistic or content choices also work less successfully than intended sometimes: the music, while high in quality, is sometimes used in the wrong contexts. For instance, the cheerful piano soundtrack sets the overall light comedic tone of the film just fine, but doesn’t fit its particular context in the scene where Masoom explains his problems to his best friend. Equally, the flashback sequences are not always used to maximum effect, or integrated as well as they could have been.
This lack of substance in some places situates itself in contradiction with the abundance of subtle, context-defining details which are very smartly introduced. An early frame sees Masoom flanked by two film posters, which amazingly tell his entire story. Just like Travis from ‘Taxi Driver’, the young man is in search of answers regarding the nature of his destiny, and has a tendency to externalize blame when things don’t work out. Equally, his dimension-traveling in search for answers resonates well with Betty/Diane’s course of action from ‘Mulholland Drive’, the other film poster. This is also apparent from a stylistic point of view: the metaphor-laden scene where Masoom leaves the bedroom where his wife is soundly sleeping and enters a pitch-black adjacent room not only speaks volumes about his dimension-crossing, but very much reminds of a similar situation involving Fred Madison from David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’.
While it nails its symbolistic in many places, it severely lacks substance in others. Many of ‘Qissbah’s’ elements contain both hit and miss factors, while one’s knowledge of Hinduism, Buddhism and Indian culture mediates the degree of understanding and satisfaction which one will get from viewing this film. However, the good outweigh the bad, and ‘Qissbah’ could very well be, with slightly more polish and refinement, a thoroughly memorable piece of cinema.