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Tillotama Shome wins best female actor award at Abu Dhabi Filmfest for Quissa

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NEW DELHI: Anup Singh’s Qissa added one more feather in its cap when actor Tillotama Shome won the Best Actress award in the New Horizons competition at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

She shared the award with Julia Wildschutt for her performance in Love Me directed by Hanne Myren (Norway). In Qissa, Shome plays the youngest daughter of Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan) who decides to raise her as a boy.

Shome made her screen debut with Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding in 2001 and went on to play roles in Florian Gallenberger’s Shadows of Time and Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai.

Qissa recently won the Silver Gateway Award in India Gold competition at the 15thMumbai Film Festival and the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award for Best Asian Film at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival where it had its premiere.

Set amidst the ethnic cleansing and general chaos that accompanied India’s partition in 1947, this sweeping drama stars Irrfan Khan as a Sikh attempting to forge a new life for his family while keeping their true identities a secret from their community.

Beautiful, timeless, and touching the deepest of human impulses, Qissa carries the spirit of a great folk tale. Although it's set in a particular time and place - the Punjab region that straddles India and Pakistan in the years immediately after partition - it is both deeper and broader than any one moment. As this eerie family drama progresses, it cuts to the heart of eternal desires for honour, empathy, and love.

One of India's best actors, Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Festival premiere The Lunchbox, and a feature guest in this year's Mavericks programme) plays Umber Singh, a Sikh uprooted by the religious violence that came with partition in 1947. He and his family move to a safer locale, and it is here that the story takes a remarkable turn. Having already fathered daughters, Singh now wants a son. When his next child is born he celebrates his wish come true, but there is one problem: the baby is in fact a girl.

Qissa is originally an Arabic word meaning folk tale. Both the word and the idea migrated from the Gulf into the Punjab, still connected by the ancient oral narratives handed down in communal settings. Working within this tradition, director Anup Singh gives his film both the grand themes and elemental emotions of classic storytelling. As Umber's daughter is raised as a boy, the characters are propelled with greater and greater urgency towards their inevitable fates.

Part of a new generation of directors with feet firmly planted in India and far beyond, Singh has delivered a film immediately accessible to anyone sensitive to the conflicts that drive classic stories: fear versus hubris, individual need versus social codes. Qissa is a Punjabi story for the whole world. 

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