By Uzair Firdausi
When we think of the word ‘chudail ’(witch), what comes to mind are the countless tales told by elders and the portrayal of them in popular culture. They never fail to evoke fear. But what is it that makes a ‘chudail ’so scary? Was it the fact that their feet were turned the wrong way around? Or was it the idea of a woman with superhuman strength? Is society so afraid of a strong woman that it demonised her? Why? What is the reason behind all this?
Bulbbul uses the trope of the ‘chudail ’to narrate the story of a child bride Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) who is married to a much older man Indranil (Rahul Bose), a landlord. They live with Indranil's developmentally challenged brother Mahendra and his wife Binodini, and younger brother Satya. Indranil feels insecure about the relationship that Satya and Bulbbul share, which is further exaggerated by Binodini who plots to further his doubts about their relationship. The use of family politics, especially the politics between two ‘bahus ’in a family, as the inciting incident for the story is reminiscent of Tagore’s classic ‘Chokher Bali’.
Bulbbul is a feminist movie done right, it uses folklore to hit back at patriarchy. It fails as a thriller as the non-linear storyline of the movie does not make the already easily workable twists of the story any harder to work out. What it does succeed in being is a tragedy, the tragedy of lost childhood and the tragedy of sexual abuse and assault. If the sight of torture and pain being inflicted on others triggers you, steer clear. The red tint to the film was unnecessary and inconsistent. Even the film was unique and thought provoking. The writing feels weak in certain areas of the movie.
For example, the relationship between Bulbbul and Binodini is left unexplained. In fact, Binodini’s character lacked depth when it could have been developed into an interesting plot device and character. Instead, the movie focuses on an unimportant relationship between Bulbbul and the local doctor of the village. This screen time could have been better used to develop her character.
Rahul Bose’s performance, in both Indranil and his developmentally challenged brother Mahendar’s role, was commendable. There was a menacing feel to his acting despite the roles being bereft of dialogue. The insidious nature of Mahendra was also well pulled off by Bose. Tripti Dimri also did a good job bringing Bulbbul’s character to life which brings an air of mystery to her character.
Patriarchy is as pertinent a social evil today as it was centuries ago. Bulbbul, though based in 19th century Bengal, is a timeless story, with an ever-relevant message patriarchy and demonization of women in a patriarchal society.
Edited by Tanishaa Jain and Sahil Shah