Almost every problem with writer-director Anvitaa Dutt Bulbbul’s first film can be felt, all at the same time, in one scene. Framed from the perspective of Rahul Bose’s sinister Thakur, it climaxes with a flurry of graphic violence inflicted on the titular Triptii Dimri’s naivety. Regardless of the bizarre motion of presenting the brutal beating of a woman from the point of view of a male abuser, the scene remains memorable for Dutt’s aesthetic choices. Her decision to shoot Thakur in slow motion, for example, and cut in occasionally to capture the painter’s bloodstains was painful to watch, and not for the right reasons.
The scene literally glamorized violence, and on a non-textual level, played out archaic Rape revenge metaphors Where women are not allowed to flourish until they have been brutalized first. But more than anything, it represented Dutt’s tendency to sacrifice story and character at the altar of superficial beauty. It may have been validated by Bulbul’s generally positive receptionshe chose to double down on that aesthetic—visually and thematically—in her last second feature, Qala.
It’s a film that romanticizes women’s suffering, presenting it not as a horrible reality of patriarchal society, but as a rite of passage instead. Qala, the character, is a psychopathic musician who kills an innocent boy in a constant display of jealousy, yet the film portrays her as a tragic heroine. In doing so, he not only undermines her struggles, but also reduces the story of a real historical figure to a conspiracy plot.
The movie is basically a series of distraction tactics – pristine frames, pretty faces in those pristine frames, and great music surrounding pristine frames with beautiful people in them. Your attention is frequently directed toward Qala’s lush cinematography and soundscape, not toward the characters they’re meant to serve.
The most outrageous example of this is a scene from the third act in which Qala is forced to perform oral sex on a sleazy CEO. It’s built in such a disjointed way that it’s not clear what’s going on even for a moment. We watch the honshu, played by Amit Syal, express ecstasy, seemingly standing alone on a moonlit rooftop. We don’t see the verb in detail, but we don’t need it. A suggestive shot of Castle pushing to her knees, however, would have helped. Because as it is, the shot makes it look like Amit Syal urinated on the gargoyle. Seconds later, we see Qala rise to her feet, wiping her mouth in disgust. But Dutt’s frame is so crowded that there’s a good chance you, like me, will be distracted by the unfinished Howrah Bridge in the background rather than focused on Qala’s face.
The problem here is in the lighting. Demre’s face appears in the foreground, illuminated by a nearby flashing live wire. But rather than using these flashes as an excuse to obscure the background, the light (and thus our attention) is distributed evenly, illuminating both the bridge and the protagonist’s face. It sure looks pretty; But it is self-defeating.
Nice cinematography is different from good cinematography. It is understandable to the audience who only watches the popular Marvel films and arch For not knowing the difference. But it’s especially annoying when the filmmakers seem to be confused by this, too. Blank visuals alone can’t tell a story. Sometimes, the ugliest frames are the most evocative. But Dutt tends to direct at the paintings. It’s like she wants to pause every moment of her movies, admire them, and then use them as wallpaper. This is how you end up admiring a CGI background in a shot meant to elicit disgust.
Now, compare this to a similar scene in Blonde, another modern Netflix film also ostensibly about a young woman’s turbulent relationship with her mother, framed against her ups and downs in the world of entertainment. Much has been said about Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of a blonde, and whether she was exploitative at all. But consider the scene in which she is made to perform a similar sexual act on John F Kennedy. It was horrific to watch, mainly because of director Andrew Dominik’s visual choices.
Star Ana de Armas is framed in extreme close-up, her eyes locked into yours; No Washington Monument in the background, nothing. JFK has remained out of focus, even on the brief occasions he has appeared on screen. The film’s provocative perspective was resolute; Marilyn will not give up in the slightest. On the other hand, Bulbul and Qala not only focus men but make the abuse of women breathtakingly beautiful.
When you remove the outer layers of the film, it becomes clear that Dutt doesn’t think much of her audience. Her observations about feminism are tired at best, and counterproductive at worst. In Bulbbul, she introduced the titular character’s transformation into a man-eating witch as a plot twist, though it was clear from the start that she had been the mystery killer all along. And in Qala, the death by slow poisoning of Babel Khan’s character is also designed as a massive revelation, even though the film telegraphed this plot long ago. Even more incoherence can be felt when Babel Khan is given a big introductory scene early in the film, mere moments After, after It had already been submitted. What happened there?
Then there are the obvious acts of plagiarism, which, for some reason, makes Dutt even more obvious by squeezing into one surreal sequence. It’s the one that reminded people who saw the trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s similarly themed modern masterpiece, Black Swan. You might not notice that the background music in this scene was lifted from another Netflix title, David Fincher’s serial killer Mindhunter. They didn’t bother to change it often; They sat with their fingers crossed, hoping she wouldn’t notice.
Well excuse me.
Post credits scene is a column in which we dissect new releases each week, with a particular focus on context, character, and characters. Because there is always something to focus on once the dust settles.
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