‘Qala’ Ending, Explained: Does Qala Forgive Herself? Is She Dead Or Alive? What Happens To Jagan?

A period drama always takes you back in time. Any film in this genre helps you understand the era, the people, and the mindset of those who lived through those years. The fashion, the music, and all things fine of that era come with a touch of nostalgia. It is hard to look away from any version of cinema if it is set in an era when time stood still. “Qala” is the story of a woman in the 1930s who is struggling to come to terms with her past and her present. Directed by Anvita Dutt, who gave us the impressive “Bulbbul” in the year 2020, two years later, Anvita gives us a glimpse into the lives of women in India pre-independence and how they managed to carve their way out in a man’s world. Starring Tripti Dimri, Swastika Mukherjee, Babil Khan, Amit Sial, Sameer Kochhar, Girija Oak, and Varun Grover.

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Spoilers Ahead


Story Of Qala Manjushree And Urmila Manjushree

Qala is one of the first singers to win the Golden Vinyl for her work as a playback singer in the Hindi film industry. She is being celebrated and accoladed by all the who’s who of the industry and media. She holds a press conference to celebrate her achievement. At one point, she is asked about her brother, whom her mother had brought to Calcutta, a claim she dismisses right then and there. Qala is elated by her achievement, but somewhere deep in her eyes, one can spot a never-ending sorrow. Qala is longing for something, but she cannot grab hold of it, as is clear from her brief press conference. Qala admires the trophies that she has received so far, and suddenly she sees a reflection of a man on the glass cabinet who holds her hair and hits her head against the glass. He keeps repeating the word “liar” and the fact that he deserves it more than anyone. Qala is in shock that the person she has been running away from keeps haunting her in this manner. We get to see Qala’s life story as a young woman growing up in a home in Himachal Pradesh, where her ancestors were known and won many accolades in the field of classical singing. Qala’s mother was supposed to have twins, but only the girl child survives, and the other child, which the doctor confirms was a boy, does not. Urmila names her daughter Qala to represent the art Urmila’s family has dedicated themselves to. Urmila is struggling with the fact that she lost a son while her daughter survived. She is proud of her heritage, and unlike her ancestors, she was an accomplished singer but never intended to receive any monetary gains from it. Urmila comes from a time when women, no matter how talented they were, did not indulge in being independent. Urmila also would have preferred to have a boy over a daughter because a son could be taught how to sing to gain accolades; she cannot do that with Qala.

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Qala admires her mother and always tries to get her attention, she is in awe of how beautifully her mother sings, and she starts dreaming of being a talented singer just like her mother. Qala grows up hearing stories of her grandfather’s talent and the glory they have received in all those years. She intends to carry forward the legacy of her family by taking an interest in learning music from her mother. Qala wanted to imitate her mother but also showcase her talent, which is very unlike her mother. Urmila starts teaching her daughter but starts realizing that she is not as talented as Urmila thought to be. She starts belittling her during all of her training. Qala is initially disturbed by the way Urmila treats her but gets used to it, hoping that one day she will be a good singer and her mother will be accepting of her. Qala works very hard on herself, but she also stresses herself out over the fact that her mother always points out her mistakes and never appreciates her talent. She starts getting affected by her mother’s words.

Qala is a well-known singer who gives opportunities to only women around her. She hires a female secretary, works with a female music director, and for several magazine photoshoots and press conference shots, she makes sure the photographer is a woman. Qala is good friends with lyricist Majrooh, who helps her from time to time whenever she is in trouble. She is in a position right now that no woman has ever reached. Even though mentally she is struggling, she keeps seeing images of a person who keeps whispering to her that she is a liar. On consulting a doctor, she conveys that there is noise in her head and fear in her heart, and it seems everything in her is broken. The doctor does not understand her state of mind. She requests a prescription for sleeping pills which the doctor initially refuses to do. Qala is approached by Sumant Kumar, a music director who is not in his prime anymore, requesting that she give him her date. Qala refuses to work with him, and in response, he calls her a bitch because she forgot she is famous because of the time he spent honing her talent. Sumant makes her look like an ungrateful person who forgot the contribution of people who helped her succeed. Qala is anxious and agitated for a lot of reasons. She is disturbed by the images that keep popping up in front of her eyes. Qala feels guilty and overwhelmed and is unable to express her feelings and thoughts to anyone. Interaction with Sumant also brings her down because she did not expect him to show up at her doorstep asking for work.

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In the past, we see Qala as an eager adult, a trained singer who wants to prove to everyone, including her mother, that she is a capable singer. She is all set to perform for the first time in front of an audience. Urmila is skeptical of her talents at this point, but that does not stop her from performing onstage. Qala performs with a limited audience, but her talent is appreciated, which makes her happy. But soon, she is upstaged by Jagan, a local singer at a gurudwara. He swoops everyone off their feet, including Urmila. Qala is visibly angry at the fact that her mother finds Jagan more talented than her. Urmila gives a standing ovation to Jagan for singing to Qala’s horror. Urmila brings Jagan home to train him further. She starts treating him like the son she lost a long time ago and asked Qala to assist him. Urmila starts ignoring Qala and starts investing her time and contacts in Jagan. Jagan tries to be good friends with Qala, but she is consumed by jealousy, and she ignores him. Qala, all this while, is craving only one thing, which is her mother’s approval. She knows if her mother gave her more attention, she would be a better artist, but Urmila keeps discouraging her. Qala’s emotions throughout this phase go unnoticed, which makes her angrier at Jagan than at Urmila. She believes that if Jagan hadn’t shown up, her path to becoming a renowned singer would have been unstoppable.


‘Qala’ Ending Explained: Does Qala Forgive Herself? What Happens To Jagan?

Urmila introduces Jagan to another famous singer, Chandan Lal Sanyal, who appreciates his talent and promises to introduce him to producers and music composers. Urmila and Chandan have a fling in the hope that Chandan will help Jagan. Qala witnesses this, and she is visibly disturbed. Jagan confesses to Qala that he has been wanting to pursue singing all his life and that it will be good for him, Urmila, and Qala if he can succeed. Qala immediately says she desperately wants what her mother wants. Urmila arranges for Qala to meet a prospective groom. Qala is shocked to see how eager her mother is to get her out of the house. Qala openly admits to the groom that she hates music. Qala feels betrayed by the fact that her mother never understood the craving Qala had in her for singing or the approval she sought from Urmila. This makes her hate music and, by extension, her mother as well. But she never blamed her mother all this time, but only Jagan for ruining her dream. Meanwhile, Jagan may or may not be aware of what is brewing in Qala’s mind, but he ignores it. Urmila holds a small event for Jagan to showcase his talent to Sumant Kumar, a renowned music director in Calcutta. As usual, Qala brings him warm milk right before his performance. Qala has a brief interaction with Chandan Lal Sanyal in which she implies Jagan will replace him soon. Unperturbed, Chandan Lal Sanyal responds that everyone will be replaced soon, but music will remain, and that’s the beauty of this art. As Jagan starts singing, he slowly loses tone and pitch and starts coughing. Jagan is unable to sing at the event, and soon Qala takes over and finishes what Jagan had started. Everyone is impressed by her singing abilities, and Qala loves the validation she gets. Jagan becomes sick, and that sickness starts taking a toll on his singing abilities. Jagan loses his voice, but Urmila and Sumant are hopeful that he will get it back.

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Qala approaches Sumant the way her mother approaches Chandan Sanyal. It is implied that she gave him some sexual favors. On returning to her room, she has a conversation with Jagan in which he conveys that there is noise in his head, fear in his heart, and everything in him feels broken. Qala is told the next day to visit Calcutta for a recording. Urmila is angry with Qala for choosing this path. Qala soon notices Jagan can’t be found anywhere. She goes looking out for him, only to see him hanging from a tree, killing himself. Qala is shocked by the turn of events, and she feels responsible for how things turned out. Though she decides to go to Calcutta for recording, Urmila asks her not to come back because she does not support a woman taking up singing for cinema. She believes women who sing for films are not virtuous. Qala finally opens up to her mother, stating all her life she wanted Urmila’s approval, but Urmila never gave her that; instead spent time mourning Jagan. Now that Jagan has gone, Qala hopes her mother will support her dream of becoming a singer, but the opposite happens. Qala is again heartbroken but pursues her dream, hoping someday her mother will be happy for her and approve of her choice of career. On the day of the recording, Qala is nervous, which leads to the music director having to do her take multiple times. His team concluded that maybe she was not cut out for the job. Sumant approaches Qala to inform her that his team is not keen on keeping her as the singer. Qala is desperate at this point and requests that he give her one more chance. He asks for another sexual favor from Qala, and soon he agrees to let her sing. Qala knows if she doesn’t make it here, she won’t be able to go back, and she has nothing else to fall back on. She requests Sumant to give her one more chance and desperately agrees to give him what he is asking for. Starting from then on, Sumant starts taking advantage of her situation by asking her for favors regularly and not letting her work with other music directors. Qala becomes good friends with Majrooh, who understands her predicament with Sumant.

As Qala remembers every incident of her past, she sees Jagan again, who calls her a liar once more. She asks him why he took his life, to which he responds that singing was his life and identity. Without his voice, he is nothing. Qala soon has a mental breakdown during a recording session where she is unable to hear any music. Qala starts wandering in her home and starts seeing snow everywhere. Finally, a memory she is unable to forget comes back to her. The memory of Qala adding mercury to the milk she gave Jagan before he sang at the event organized to showcase his talent. Qala wanted to make sure Jagan lost his voice, but she never intended for him to die. Qala never tried to know Jagan and the love he had for music. This is the reason she never imagined Jagan would end up taking his own life. She did not understand that it was her jealousy that drove her towards singing and not her love for the art. At one point, he did tell her to sing for herself and not for her mother or anyone else. Wracked with guilt, Qala attempts suicide by consuming one too many sleeping pills before she is stopped by her doctor and her secretary. Urmila, who never responded to Qala’s phone calls through a radio interview, comes to know of Qala’s state of mind. Urmila reaches Calcutta, but it is too late, as Qala hangs herself just to get rid of the pain and guilt of ruining Jagan’s life. Qala was disturbed as a child and as an adult, for she never received the love, encouragement, and support from her mother that she wanted. Qala always craved Urmila’s love, attention, and validation, and her need for approval from her mother drove her to do unspeakable things. She was emotionally and sexually abused, from which she never recovered. All she wanted was support in the form of a friend, which she briefly got from Majrooh, but that was not enough to keep her alive. Qala never forgave herself for being complicit in Jagan’s suicide, and that’s the reason she hallucinates him calling her out repeatedly for all her achievements so far.

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Final Thoughts

“Qala” is a good attempt to talk about mental ailments and the adverse effects of human interactions that take a toll on them. Screenplay-wise, “Qala” is a hit-and-miss, as the story deserved a better exploration of the subject matter. There is no complexity or layering given to Urmila, Jagan, or Sumant. Only Qala has been given varied layers, and she has been portrayed as someone with shades of gray. There is no reason why Urmila behaves the way she does. The character of Jagan is also not explored well. His relationship with Urmila and Qala could have been stronger for the audience to feel sorry for him. “Qala” technically excels in the music, background score, cinematography, production design, and costume departments because they do justice to the era the film is set in.  

Amit Trivedi’s music does the magic of letting the audience enjoy an era where music was appreciated for the pure talent it showcased. The cinematography by Siddharth Diwan and Anvita Dutt’s direction creates a mood of sadness, hopelessness, madness, and dejection. One won’t be able to come out of these emotions during the entire runtime of the film. Performances of Tripti Dimri as the broken Qala is the soul of the film. Swastika Mukherjee, as the stern matriarch of Urmila, is incredible. Babil Khan did not have much screen time, but he, as Jagan, left an impact. “Qala” is a melancholic tale of a woman trying hard to find a place of her own in a man’s world, which can be viewed if you are in the mood to listen to some good old music that takes you back in time.

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“Qala” is a Netflix Original film, now streaming on the platform with subtitles.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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