‘Castle’ movie review: Tripti Dimri’s film weaves an enthralling and captivating tale

In Anvitaa Dutt’s “Qala,” Tripti Dimri penned the titular heroine, Kala Manjushri, a famous and wealthy music singer in what appears to be India in the 1930s and 1940s. Her life seems to be the same as that of successful celebrities. That is, until we see her haunted, seemingly literally, by a shadow of, well, someone, from her past. The narrative shifts to Castle’s childhood. Born to a mother Urmila (Swastika Mukherjee) who hated her for killing her twin brother in her womb, she saw it.

Qala’s childhood was spent in futile attempts to please her mother by practicing her vocal skills for hours on end, not realizing that no matter how good she tried to be a singer, she would never be what her mother wanted: a son capable of achieving more. Her legacy is in classical music.

It’s not like Urmila actively hates her daughter, the thing is, she refuses to acknowledge her existence most of the time. When she does, she gets distracted as if she has other, more important things to take care of.

Then comes the role of Jagan, played by Babel Khan, son of the late Irrfan Khan. A superior talent to Qala at least in Urmila’s opinion, he soon becomes the son she never had.

Presently, despite being among the top talents in the industry, Qala is unable to find happiness. Whatever successes she has achieved in her life, “Golden Vinyl” among them, she is unable to shake this feeling of inadequacy stemming from her mother’s disdain and refusal to stay in touch.

Soon, as the memories triggered by the aforementioned apparition return, Qala suffers a mental breakdown, unable to distinguish between what is real and what is only in her mind.

Dutt’s critically acclaimed (if slightly uneven) directorial debut ‘Bulbul’ in 2020 once again weaves a compelling tale of ambition, envy, rampant misogyny and mental health. It’s easy to see that she’s grown quite a bit in the past two years. Its direction is emphatic, and its admittedly solid material management (she also wrote the screenplay) solid.

The good writing extends to the characters who really feel like they are living and breathing people. Given the character, many other actors would have stooped to melodrama, but Demre portrays Castle with a rare and refreshing nuance, giving a full performance. Even Urmila, a decidedly unsavory character, has been given a human touch. Even she eventually gains sympathy. The swastika is great in this role.

Babel as Jagan doesn’t get much dialogue, but in his eyes he seems to carry a similar intensity to his legendary father. The young actor clearly has talent.

Like Bulbul, The Castle is also an absolute visual feast. The period setting is achieved with immaculate detail. Be it the snowy, desolate landscapes of a small village in the Himalayan foothills, or the interiors of a recording studio, the images were meticulously crafted by surgeon Siddharth Dewan, who also handled the camera for Anvitaa’s ‘Bulbul’. The luxury of images also translates into clothing and fashion design.

I found a very tall castle. The plot seems to be very stretched before the credits roll. But that’s just such a minor thing, for most of its running time, this movie leaves you in awe. And again, I find myself asking about a Netflix movie: Why isn’t this movie showing in theaters?

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