Anup Singh: QISSA involves the journey of my family

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Anup Singh seems to have hit all the right notes with his directorial venture QISSA. The film was a part of TIFF 2013 in the contemporary World Cinema category, and won the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) award for the Best Asian film. Immediately after winning the award, it got acquired by Studio Film Group for Canada rights. It was also a part of the Window on Asian Cinema category at the Busan International Film Festival which was held from 3-12 October. And now it’s all set for Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), which kicks off from tomorrow. It will be in the New Horizons section, in the presence of its cast and crew. ADFF has also scheduled a panel discussion titled ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema: Studying the Past to Define the Future’, which Anup Singh will be a part of the panel amongst other influential speakers.


Furthermore, there’s an interesting initiative by ADFF, where the programming of QISSA (Anup Singh), DUVIDHA (Mani Kaul), and SUBARNAREKHA (Ritwik Ghatak), will be presented in a way so as to bring to light the Guru Shishya Parampara – that is often seen in the teaching and learning of Indian Classical Music and Dance forms, but rarely comes across in Cinema. As is known, that Ritwik Ghatak taught Mani Kaul, likewise Mani Kaul has taught Anup Singh. Anup has had close connections with both film makers. His first film TITAS, THE NAME OF RIVER was a docu fiction – biopic on Ritwik Ghatak and his second is in a very subtle way a tribute to Mani Kaul with whom he has worked as well. While at ADFF to present QISSA, Anup Singh, will also present the films of his teacher and his teacher’s teacher to the festival audiences.

But QISSA hasn’t been an easy ride for the director. ”The film took 12 years to make and I approached almost 50 producers. For five years I was in India and I knocked on every door. Most doors didn’t open. A few said that they liked the script but wanted to do the casting. They also wanted the film to be in Hindi, which was something that I was not ready to accept. When I was almost giving up, NFDC came into the picture and they liked the film very much. They also liked how I wanted to make it. They gave me a lot of support. With that, I could approach producers outside India. I was very lucky to find a very prominent German company, Heimatfilm. They have a great track record of beautiful films. Once they accepted to be the co-producers with NFDC, they worked like mad and it took four years for them to find the other producers and the rest of the money. So altogether, 12 years,” says Anup. Ask him if at any point he lost patience and he says, ”Somehow on this film I did not. I was sure that the film will happen. I never stood still. I kept working until it happened.”

QISSA stars Irrfan playing the lead role of Umber Singh, who loses everything during the India-Pakistan partition and longs for a male child.

”Irrfan didn’t want to do the film,” reveals Anup. ”He said that it’s too dark a character and wanted to do a happy Punjabi film. He wanted to do a comedy role at that time. I told him that it wasn’t a dark character and that he didn’t know how to read scripts. He asked me to explain. So I gave him the example of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I said when you look at him singing, he has all these distortions. He has a stain and he almost looks violent. Then I said have you heard any music that is more beautiful? I said that is what I want from you. Under all that violence, there is really a beautiful music playing. So that convinced him and he said let’s do the film.”

Many instances from Anup’s own life have resulted in QISSA. He discloses, ”The film is very personal to me. It involves the journey of my family. It’s something that has been within me for a very long time. Earlier it might have been there as a story or a novel. But as time passed I realised more and more that it has to be a film. It has a lot to do with the journeys of my grandfather who was a refugee from the partition. He always carried a very strong sense of anger and bitterness. This anger and bitterness to a large extent, he could express only in his family. That stayed with me and his violence within the family. Because there was no other way for him to express his sense of loss. That’s where the character of Umber comes from. A man who has lost everything finds that he has not even lost his land and home but also his country. More than that, he’s also lost his family’s history. His forefathers have also gone. So that was one part. The other was that since my grandfather was a refugee, there were lots of refugees around him. One of the stories told to me is of how when their village was attacked, his daughter who was about 16 or 17, with many other women, jumped into the well. Now, 60 years later, he says that he dreams of her ghost in the well, looking up at the circle of sky, waiting for her father to get her back. So these things have been a part of my growing up.”

QISSA is co-produced by Germany’s Heimatfilm, NFDC India (National Film Development Corporation of India), with Dutch production house Augustus Film, France’s Cine-Sud. Producers on the film include Heimatfilm’s Johannes Rexin (Heimatfilm), Nina Lath Gupta (NFDC), Bero Beyer (Augustus Film) and Thierry Lenouvel (Cinesud Promotion).


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