As a child, I remember being acutely aware of the Other. It intumesced through rusty incidents narrated in the dimness of a drawing room, passed on from each generation to the next, like a septic tumour that had to be discharged, if only through tired, repeated recounts. It lurked inside textbooks and faded discussions about the past.  It often erupted amid inane conversations. And always, there was a sense of loss involved, swathed in the dingy banner of verbose reasoning, with some disoriented words thrown in; words like betrayal, loyalty, even sedition.

And when I was a tad older, I remember my mother narrating to me the story of the Partition. How her mother and grandmother practically lost all their wealth while fleeing from the Muslims, and I’d imagine the hoarse screams and the shrinking of musty carts into mounds and mounds of land disappearing into the horizon. And as always was present the twinging sense of loss. The burdened dragging of the incidents that we were doomed to carry around; even those of us who hadn’t lived at the time of the Partition.  But the Partition always lived on- sagaciously, hauntingly, like an aging, mourning bride. It was present in the bitter, dysphoric reminiscences. And in the aftermath of the wrinkled, pummelled silences that followed.  It moulded us even in our ochre, twisted moments of lamentation. It faded further and further away as each day, each year, each decade passed by but remained, like some sinister, benign tumour. And we were taught to mock those who were the apparent remnants; the Muslims.

The Other is, in some oft-revolting, burgeoning manner, an intricate part of the One. Like a lost arm. Or a hidden heart, maybe. It is locked away in the sanctity of our bitter silences. In all my childhood and adult conversations, if India was the One, then Pakistan invariably became the Other.

Quissa, the movie I had the privilege of watching last night, sweeps and swirls through whining landscapes of gleaming orange and bemoaning blues to mount an entire history of  loss and condemnation. The loss that often drives us to the heights of bitterness was gravely, evocatively captured through Umber’s eyes.

Here was Umber, with his wife and two daughters, splintered and wistful already, getting ready to leave behind house, heart and soul to move to the Indian territory of Punjab. Amid another riot, his wife gives birth to yet another daughter. Umber is searingly disappointed. In a painfully soul-stirring scene, Umber smashes his last few possessions that he is forced to leave behind and is about to bang his door shut when his wife interrupts ‘Don’t latch the door. I don’t want strangers breaking open the door of my house.’ This moment of acute loss, captured in a people who express an almost unacknowledged attachment to a house and a land now not their own, was nimbly and abundantly, yet implicitly excruciating.

The movie begins with Umber lamenting his loss. His many losses- each one clasped and twirled into another- all lead toward the Other. In one of his most variegated, yet singular roles (and he has played several), Irrfan Khan plays a bitter provincial man with an extremely limiting view of the world that is so violently coloured by his losses that it ultimately leads him to lose even the little that he believes he possesses.

The journey to India leaves Umber wildly ambitious, and consumingly aggrieved. He decides to have a son. He builds himself a luxuriant fortune that seems to push him, ironically, toward overwhelmingly callous resentments. In a particularly memorable scene, he wolfishly snatches a few belongings of a family that has left for Pakistani territory. And yet, with all his hoardings and wealth, Umber mourns. This mourning has evidently a lot to do with a far more profound loss than just those of material possessions.

If Irrfan Khan seeps through this heavily  mucid rendering of loss and longing, then the glistening flash that strikes through the tale would be the character portrayed by Tillotama Shome- a girl raised to become a man by her turbulently obsessive father. She is raised in a mesh of conflict that is her own body. As often as she likes to believe that pleasing her father by being the son that he wants her to be would help her sail through the surge of chaos left behind by the mourning for the Other; she fails- if her determined grit ensures her success in becoming a man, her Body and Biology fail her. As the movie tumultuously staggers by, her conflict worsens and Biology wins. She isn’t able to hide her body behind the sheath of bandages and male attires anymore; it shrieks to be let out. Hers is a hauntingly poignant performance that wedges itself deep into your mind.

Clearly this is an era of truculent male pride that teeters itself at the expense of yieldingly tacit female suffering. Umber is the typical male patriarch who is vehemently unseeing of his daughters and womenfolk; his consolation and blind approval exist only for the one whom he considers his male heir. Eventually, when his ‘son’- Kanwar, shoots him, he deplores sorrowfully that he had been blessed with a good son, but who was, regrettably, a ‘mere’ woman!

The cinematic landscapes are a rich fusion of amber and dust. Paints peel off walls, iron rusts through peeping yards and vibrant fields hang under bewailing shrills of dull greens and oranges. The smell of earth mingles with the lavish scenic sublimity. Qissa is more like doleful, unhinged poetry that explodes gradually with hysterical intensity.

Brilliant performances, lugubrious panorama and the feverish suffusion of visuals apart, Qissa deserves to be seen for the aching sense of demented loss that gushes through the screen- the same sense of loss that warps our seemingly sundered worlds of futile lines and obfuscated memories.