Cast: Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Paoli Dam, Rahul Bose
Director: Anvita Dutt
It is often that cinema depicts the tales of young women, left to survive alone in their ancestral mansions. Tracing back, we see Satyajit Ray’s Charulata—a young bride’s lonesome life at home as her husband goes about his publishing house, how she busies herself, and also a trace of Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali—with the identical daak naam refer to Bodo Bou, thaku moshai, Binodini didi and some what similar relationships among the brothers and their wives, this film strongly narrates a similar tale of love, unjust, evil and power.
Bulbbul takes us back to the India of the 19th century—where young girls were married to older men, the Bengali high class were to maintain their reputation and secrets maintained behind the tall halls, and folklore was much believed in. The mansions are decorated, the brides dressed up from head to toe, the long black hair and the aura of a thakurian. The sound of payal and the classic moonlit angan with a center located fountain as the meeting point. The high class thakur, draping their shawl, strongly identifying to London, busy with their own business, and often married to wives, sitting idly, trapped in their haveli. The name, Bulbbul is often coupled with innocence of the bird and the mythology used it for princesses shut away in remote castles. Bulbbul’s (Tripti Dimri) wedding brings her and Satya (Avinash Tiwary) together, who are of the same age. They narrate and weave stories together, and he helps her settle into her new house, a seven-year old’s sasural. The two become friends—playing around, climbing trees in the forest, they later develop a love interest.
Bulbbul’s husband, Indranil, eldest Thakur (Rahul Bose) is powerful, strict and evil, he is the patriarch of the house—scared to lose control. He is shown as the one who everyone obeys, and is never questioned neither obstructed. The others are secondary to him, his decisions are final and his anger is destructive. He is entitled to his position and represents the ultimate evil patriarchal figure. He has a mentally retarded twin brother (also Rahul Bose), who is to be kept in control, and is yet entitled to his status. The doctor is the safe haven of the violated Bulbbul, the one that knows the evils. He helps her revenge the wrong, he aids her empowerment.
There are times when women become their own enemy and other times when they pledge to protect their own. Binodini (Paoli Dam) is the representation of the woman succumbed to patriarchal structure of society and has adjusted to the circumstances to be who she is today. Her tragedy too is of violence and misery—unfulfilled promises and tied to a man who she never was able to called her beloved. Binodini didi plays a massive role in Bulbbul’s destruction and also her an aid to her dying soul. The characters are strong and have their own role to play.
This is a saga of love but more of the violence that women have been subjected to over the years.The imagery is powerful and traumatizing. Thakur moshai heinously wounds his wife’s feet for a suspicious romance and the trauma returns when the mentally disabled twin rapes the life out of Bulbbul. The dark ambiance and the slow and steady camera is able to wrench the heart for the woman. The elongated rape sequence lets the suffering settle in. It is often said that a woman has nothing to lose once her honor is stolen. Here too, she now lives for revenge and to protect her own sex. The film depicts who women have been a subject to monstrous men, treated as objects and traded as dolls. The ritual of child marriage and the consequences it brings along. How women have been left alone to survive the wrongs, mostly silently.
The metaphor of the doll is stretched with the twin’s constant plea to play with him and the eventual parallel of her rape with the doll lying lifeless of the floor. The pain in Bulbbul’s smile is evidently hollow, and the open hair has often metaphoric with power, or perhaps evil power. For instance, the mythological figure of Medusa, who had snakes for hair was a beautiful maiden seduced by Poseidon in a temple of Athena—and hence whosoever stared in her eyes turned into stone and how she is often mistaken to be the evil. The hair is also paralleled to Maa Kali, with her open hair and the power she resonates. Red, the color of love and blood,the film starts with a red sky, the plague that has dawn the forest and town,the ‘chudail’ is on a hunt but never did the men know that she killed the evil, not the innocent.
The oral traditions of the mythology often depicted the ‘chudail’ or the ‘evil’ women to be a reincarnation of them who were wronged, coming back for revenge, to right the wrong that has prevailed over the ages. The movie depicts this ‘chudail’ as the ‘devi’—who has come along to destroy the evil. It is about the strength of a woman who is wronged, her revenge and her power to protect her own gender further. Maa Kali is often presented as the utmost power a woman can hold, the angered self and how she is often mistakenly described as the angry woman who wronged her husband.
The cinematography and the sound are what hold the movie together—from the red bled sky to the abandoned shed, Maa Kali’s temple and the later abandoned haveli. Bulbbul’s horrors are captured in the camera—from the empowered woman, the evident boots under her saree, and the soulless smile, her carefree attitude. Binodini didi resonates how a woman can be the destroyer of her own, how she empoisons the thakur, that leads to the violence and how later she tells Bulbbul to shush the rape. The rituals of the white attired woman are depicted with appropriateness of the era the film is situated in. The sounds of the pujo bells or the sounds of celebration are often heard. The dangling jewelry and the house-keys depict the ‘thakurain’ and the classic representation of the housewife, enjoying the status of her husband.
Lastly, though it depicts the empowerment of women and how they have stood up for their own sex, it is also a heart wrenching tale of the wrongs that women have been subjected to—the assault, sexual abuse, the domestic violence, the abandonment and misunderstanding.
Though the movie might not end as powerfully as the rest of the movie, the viewer is left much to dwell upon. The eventual confession of Satya of how was to be handed over the duties of a thakur on his return (to again belittle Bulbbul) and his understanding of how he was turning into the cruel elder brother who has blood on his hand. His self-recognition of a patriarch, and his withdrawal from the wrongs but he too has been entitled to the masculine-protector figure. The burning forest and the hiding Bulbbul is the end of her saga, however, the evils haven’t and will not end. She awakens the power within women to not endure the wrongs that society has inflicted upon them. The movie ends with the sound women’s ‘Ollu’—an auspicious sound, pujo ritual to ward away the evil. It leaves behind a few questions to dwell upon. Why did Indranil come back to the abandoned mansion? Did the last moments depict a apologetic patriarch? It resonates how often empowered women are termed to be evil, irrational or with twisted pasts or crooked features. The movie strikes the viewer to rethink power and gender, and the normalized problems of the society.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.