By Pranjali Wakde
Netflix is rapidly becoming people’s preferred way of entertainment, over television and even YouTube. New content is seen to be updated frequently on Netflix, with the latest addition to the collection being ‘Bulbbul’, a gripping movie, narrating the complex and fascinating story of Bulbbul,successfully in just one and a half hour.
Producer Anushka Sharma has been dabbling in the genres of supernatural thriller & gothic feminism since a while, starting from Phillauri. Bulbbul, therefore, reinforces her idea of this genre in the film industry.
The film starts with a five-year-old girl, Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri)being married off to the much older, landowner, Indranil or ‘Bado Thakur’ (Rahul Bose). The family consists of Indranil’s twin brother, developmentally challenged, Mahendra, his cunning wife, Binodini (Paoli Dam) and Satya (Avinash Tiwary), who is as old as Bulbbul. Satya and Bulbbul, in their childhood, bond over horror stories, especially that of a bloodthirsty, avenging chudail.
The film then jumps 20 years further, where Satya is seen returning to his home, after completing his law studies in London. He’s surprised to find Bado Thakur has disappeared, his other brother is dead and Binodini is reduced to live an insignificant life of a widow.
What he’s more surprised by, is how the carefree, spirited Bulbbul has now transformed into a beautiful but detached and mysterious woman, overseeing the responsibilities like a true Thakurain.
The return also lets Satya find out about the mysterious killings in the village, from the hands of, as villagers claim, the chudail from the folklores. Satya dons on his Sherlock cap and tries to investigate into the matter, thus kick starting the story.
The story is set in the Bengal of 1880s, when child marriage was a frequent and legal occurrence and when women, especially the ones belonging to royal families, were forced to keep quiet on the injustices they faced (‘Thakuron ke yahaan rishta hua hai. Kaisa rona dhona? Chup rehna.)
The film comfortably jumps back and forth between flashbacks, which provides a slow but steady and mysterious unfolding of the story, acting as an indirect parallel to how Bulbbul grows and transforms.
What I was impressed by the most were the underlying metaphors that ran subtly throughout the film. Red is so obviously the colour of blood and vengeance, but it also, more importantly, signifies passion, sindoor and even menstruation, making it highly symbolic and quite the right choice for the film.
It is only when Bulbbul is seen to be broken beyond repair that the night changes from the peaceful and authoritative black-blue shades to the vibrant and invigorating red-moon-atmosphere.The change is bought by Maa Kali, who revives her and gives her the strength, thus forming a mythological connection to the story.
The score is composed by Amit Trivedi, who gives justice to the unfolding story through his melancholic, pivotal music, which doesn’t dramatize the scenes exaggeratedly, but gives them a soft, rational company, which sets just the right mood and tone.
However, while the reveal at the climax is highly powerful – with substantial evidence for the chudail’s state, including the reason behind her ulte pair – it was obvious, perhaps since the start. In that sense, the story is fairly basic, where the victim tolerates and tolerates and then snaps, takes vengeance, before finally having a cathartic release from the world in the end. And yet, what makes Bulbbul uniquely different is the way Anvita Dutt, the writer-director, has presented it.
This film is her first venture as a director and she has done a commendable job in exposing the dysfunctional workings of patriarchy and the institution of marriage (“Ek patni ka uske pati ke alawa kya niji ho sakta hai?”).
Bulbbul is a fascinating tale from the woman-turned-goddess trope (“Rakshas nahi hai woh, Devi hai”), characterized by frail male ego, men’s careless and self-declared inherent dominance over women, violent but poetic rage, cloaked in an other worldly eerie tinge and an overwhelming sadness on behalf of Bulbbul and indirectly, all the women.
While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the film will surely make you stop and think about today’s so-called liberal society and how it is not that different from 1881, Bengal Presidency.