How Netflix’s Qala, a period drama, melds architecture and art to bring a bygone era to life

How Netflix’s Qala, a period drama, melds architecture and art to bring a bygone era to life


And then there’s the lighting by Diwan. For example, says Dutt, he used the lighting found in Vermeer paintings for young Qala—to accentuate the feeling of loneliness—and Rembrandt’s for Urmila, a colder beam. “Whenever Qala looked at her mother, there was always a halo-like light behind her, like a twisted Madonna-and-Child.”  

Visual metaphors abound in Qala. More than the dialogue, the chandeliers, mirrors, wallpapers, gargoyles, mazes, zoetropes speak volumes about the protagonist’s turmoil. Dutt, a bibliophile who finds inspiration in everyone from Ursula K. Le Guin to Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman to Bram Stoker, invests heavily in world-building. “This isn’t art for art’s sake. It’s in service of the story. And every frame conveys an emotion.”  

Gargoyles, or chimera popular in the Elizabethan-Jacobean period, appear twice to mark Sumant Kumar’s (Amit Sial) entry and exit: “Almost as a warning of the monster in plain sight,” says Dutt.

Hitesh Mulani/Netflix

Agarwal, who worked as a photographer for a decade before this, delights in the possibility of moving images; something she first realized while watching Tarkovsky’s Mirror and the documentary Man With a Movie Camera. “Still life might seem corny now,” she laughs, “but then you look at the work of someone like [Dutch painter] Adriaen Coorte and you realize there’s more to it. The Dutch invented the microscope, and it reflects in their paintings.” Not unlike Qala, “you have to zoom in to notice the details, the darkness.”

Sumant Kumar (Amit Sial), Qala (Tripti Dimri) and Majrooh (Varun Grover) at the recording studio in 1950s’ Calcutta. “We dug around Mehboob Studios and found references for the Hammertone paint used to cover the equipment, the locks and dials, stands and wheels for the mics; that they used fabric heavily to muffle sound,” says Agarwal. 

Hitesh Mulani/Netflix

 ALso read: How the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi recreate 1950s’ and ‘60s’ Bombay

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