It is not necessary that a woman director will have greater command over a film with patriarchal overtones, than a male director. Nor is a patriarchal slant necessary to present a mother-daughter schism. Anvitta Dutta, who earlier made Bullbul, has now made Qala to deal with a mother-daughter relationship where the mother, a famous thumri practitioner, hates her daughter. The daughter Qala, keeps hankering for her mother's love, acceptance and admiration as a practitioner of music herself.

The unique perspective comes across through the story being narrated against the backdrop of some beautiful, classical-based music and songs created by Amit Trivedi in charge of the music and Amitabh Bhattacharya, Swanand Kirkire, Kausar Munir and Varun Grover taking care of the wonderful lyrics. In fact, music defines the entire film and holds it together.

The film opens with a lot of hope. Qala Manjushree, a famous singer, has just won the coveted Golden Vinyl Record trophy. But her happiness is short-lived as her estranged mother, living in far off Himachal Pradesh, is not interested in sharing in her daughter's success. This leads to Quala sinking slowly and steadily into a depression she finds difficult to come out of. Her mother drops the phone when she calls her, desperate for help.

Urmi (Swastika Mukherjee) is a noted thumri vocalist who never allows herself to forget that she begot a daughter though she wanted a son to carry her line of music forward. She had given birth to twins, but the male twin died, believed to have been weakened by the female twin having taken away nutrition from him.

Urmi holds her daughter responsible for her lack of a son who, she believes, would have the right to add the prefix "Pandit" to his name, carrying on the line founded by his forefathers, while the daughter might have the scandalising "Bai" attached as a suffix.

Qala (Triptii Dimri) is a singer, but her mother is never satisfied and tries to put her down all the time, eating into her fragmented shreds of confidence. Into this dark ambience shot in snow-covered Himachal Pradesh, Jagan (Babil Khan) an orphan from Solan, talented and trained in music, steps in.

He unwittingly creates competition for Qala as Urmi at once takes him under her wing, and decides to nurture him as a musical talent. The mother ignores her daughter's desperate attempts to please her, turning her practically into a servant relegated to the service of Jagan. The Manjushree house has a secretary but no servant or maid.

Jagan who is now poised to become the next musical star on the horizon, realises the situation he has unwittingly created for Qala he likes very much, and commits suicide. But there is a mystery underlying his tragic death. What happens to Qala after this, how Jagan's death turns Urmi more against Qala and makes her quit her now down sliding career in music makes for the rest of the film that leads to a tragic end.

Qala is filled with self-doubt on the one hand, and her mother's distancing herself from her on the other. Though she throws herself into a career in singing for films, she slips into degrees of deep depression more because Urmi, forever grieving over the death of Jagan, holds Qala responsible for it.

Urmi gives up her music, slips into the life of a social recluse and throws Qala out of the ancestral home in Himachal Pradesh. She migrates to Calcutta to become a noted but forever nervous singer in films paying partly for her career by becoming the unofficial 'keep' of the music composer Suman Kumar (Amit Sial) who, it is suggested, was once her mother's lover too.

The story is placed around the late 1940s as we are informed about Mahatma Gandhi's visit which might take away part of the audience for Qala's Inaugural concert in music. This makes this a 'period' film with gramophone records played on a record player, a live musical orchestra used during the recording, adaas and etiquette, and so on.

However, the costume designer seems to have played havoc with the weird jewellery worn by Urmi, and the fringe hairdo Qala is styled in as a teenager. The clothes, other than the grayish coloured chiffons and the dark gowns are not befitting either the ambience of cold Himachal Pradesh or the varying moods of the characters. Why Jagan is always wearing a turban over a long angarkha is a mystery.

Among the actors, Swastika as Urmi steals the show, and is so good that she succeeds in evoking deep dislike for the character. Amit Sial shows a sophisticated side to the manipulative character he has to depict. Babil Khan, however, in a longish cameo in his debut really gets the short shrift from the screenplay as the director 'kills' him before he can prove his worth as an actor.

Poor Triptii Dimri in the lead role is always wearing a sad face. You can count the number of times she offers the semblance of a smile on the fingers of one hand. Her brief probably was just to wear a sad, sadder, and saddest face, therefore, you get a sense of relief when the pain, sorry, film ends.

The cinematography is brilliant outdoors, capturing the visual beauty of the snow-covered horizons, but gets darker gradually when it moves into the interiors of the dark mansion where Urmi lives. The entire film is given a grayish tinge, probably because it is a dark film. The sound design and the editing are quite impressive.

Is Qala a musical film? Or, is it all about a mother's hankering for a son so much that she hates the daughter she has? Or, is it a thriller? Maybe, it is all this and some more, who knows? But all said and done, the film which cares for "mental health" as it's declared "agenda' is itself so dark and depressing that it depresses the viewer by the time it all ends.