Bulbbul Review (No Spoilers): A Dark Fairy Tale that Gives Lie to the Candy-Coated History of India’s Past

Well, Anushka continues her producer mission of ripping off the covers from India’s sins of the past and present. Yet another harrowing painful examination of the patriarchy and the unrelenting torment of being a woman in India. It’s handled delicately, but there is a rape scene. And a scene of terrible male on female violence. Just disturbing stuff. Watch with the lights on during the day, don’t watch at all if you are feeling wobbly.

We have had a whole string of movies lately trying to re-invent India’s past as a beautiful perfect lost glory. That fantasy has always been there of course, it was a large part of the fuel for the independence movement. And it’s true, in that there were good things in past India that were lost as time moved forward. But it’s not true in that a lot of the things were bad and there is a reason the world moved on. When you are doing a pretty fantasy of history you can simply ignore or re-write the bad (think Lagaan with its noble Raja, and happy villagers who learned to forget casteism and communalism), or you can present the bad as though it was good (Padmavat and jauhar being a prime example). Most often that “bad” which is re-written as good, is re-written at the expense of women. In the past, women were happy in their purdah, happy to devote their lives to their noble men, happy with their beautiful clothing and jewels. Polygamy, arranged marriages between children, leaving your home forever to live with your in-laws, it was all “good”. And rape only happened by strangers, and was quickly followed by Noble Suicide. And those suicides were also “good”.

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This movie is the opposite. The fascinating thing about it is that it is NOT a fairy tale. It is far more historically accurate than the “histories” we have been fed lately. This is not a tale of impossible forgotten time and fantasy, this is the reality that was always there in every history book, waiting to be seen. We just don’t see it, because it is a woman’s story, and women don’t matter.

The movie is influenced highly by Charulata which happens to be the only Satyajit Ray movie I have seen (that’s lucky!) thanks to a film class in college. And also possibly I’ve been told Chokher Bali, which I haven’t seen. But the thing with both those films is that they didn’t go far enough. They showed a sort of poetic ineffable pain of purdah, and being an intelligent woman trapped away from the world with no power to grab happiness. This film rips away that facade and points to the reality that this poetic pretty pain is all we are willing to acknowledge, while the true pain of being a woman is hidden behind it. They were the fairy tales, these version is the truth.

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In Bhansali’s Devdas, he has Aish’s older husband specifically say he will not have sex with her. That’s not in the book or any previous versions. That’s a fairy tale. She was a young woman married against her will to a much older man. Of course he forced her to have sex with him.

While also being a bit of a fairy tale. There are some obvious metaphors, which is fun. Rahul Bose plays twins, always a kick to run through the “meaning” when a filmmaker chooses to have a literal doubling role. There’s a whole thing with women’s feet that flows beautifully as a theme, picking up on the wedding rituals which already exist (marking the sheet when you walk in, wearing toe rings, etc.). And the filmmakers do not stint on the costumes, jewelry, and setting. It’s only 90 minutes. but each of those 90 minutes of screentime is perfectly crafted, I don’t think our heroine repeats an outfit once.

The outfits have to do some of the acting for her, on purpose. Our heroine is meant to be an enigma, because the people around her have made her so. There are only two speaking roles for woman, also on purpose. This is a world where men are dangerous and everywhere and women have no chance to bond with each other. Women exist as men see them, exist to wander through the world being looked at. Tripti Dimri plays our heroine, but the slightly more difficult role (I think) is the other female part, Paoli Dam’s role. She has to be both unsympathetic and sympathetic simultaneously, to let the audience see her thoughts in a way Tripti never does and to not always find those thoughts pleasant. Avinash Tiwary is our hero, in a very clearly defined “hero” kind of way, trying to go through the motions of filling that role for himself, how he thinks he has to be. The more interesting role, and character, is Rahul Bose. A double role for one thing, and on older man who is more sure of himself. And then there’s lovely Parambrata Chattopadhyay once again in his sweet spot of male ally.

Really, it’s worth a watch! If you feel up to some pretty raw material. It’s only 90 minutes and that is appropriate, it feels like a short story or a fable far more than a novel or full-fledged film. Give it a try, and then come back to my other review to discuss it in greater depth.

26 thoughts on “Bulbbul Review (No Spoilers): A Dark Fairy Tale that Gives Lie to the Candy-Coated History of India’s Past

  1. OK, but is it scary though? I got the violence part but are there jump scares? If a person had to watch Stree in a well-lit planeload full of people and even then was a bit creeped out for like a week, would that person be OK to watch it? Should I wait for Mr. Malhotra’s visit and make him watch it with me and protect me from Chudail?

    Because otherwise, it’s my perfect movie, with Rahul and Parambrata and Paoli Dam and Charulata and Kolkata in the 40s. I reaaallly want to see it but I want to be able to sleep afterwards.

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    • Village, not Calcutta, and 1901. But otherwise, yes! Your perfect movie! There aren’t jumpscares exactly, but it does have a very dark vibe to it. Probably about as scary as Stree, without jumpscares. Mysterious figures in the mist, bodies, and so on.

      On Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 9:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Oh, great, I’m looking forward to it, then, but it will have to wait a bit because I’m going to watch in the daytime, definitely.

        A bit nervous about the violence, but I understand it’s perpetrated by Rahul Bose? Who in real life has been an outspoken feminist for his whole career, so I’ll think about that.

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        • This is one of those roles where you would have to be a good feminist in real life to play it correctly. He does a lot of stuff which is considered “right” and “proper” and yet plays it so that there is this tinge of disgusting in what he does, so subtle you almost can’t sense it, but there.

          On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 5:28 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I was thinking while watching it, why are Hindi filmmakers doing him dirty by casting him in these terrible regressive roles? First DDD and now this! In the same way Param is always this sensitive supportive guy, they are getting typecasted!

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          • Wouldn’t it be great to see them play opposites opposite each other? Param is some super macho sleazeball confidence machine, and Rahul is shy and sensitive and kind?

            On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 9:53 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Parambrata played the stereotypical Bengali hero in Kahaani and he’s had to play one ever since in Hindi films. In Bengali films he sometimes plays, not exactly a sleazeball, but the sort of thing Saif did when he was younger. Rahul has run the gamut, and he did actually do sweet and sensitive in Mumbai Matinee. But, yeah, I would watch a movie where they were cast as opposites!

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          • Even better, opposites who no one realizes are opposites. Rahul looks so in charge, everyone thinks he is, and Parambrata pretends to be sweet and nice, but ISN’T.

            On Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 2:14 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I warned you! It’s right there at the top of the review!!!!! And yes, if that bothers you at all, do not watch. It’s handled very well, which means it is very disturbing, because it should be disturbing.

        On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 4:54 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • There are no songs, it might be too depressing but it is also very gothic. It’s only 90 minutes, so an easy watch in that way.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 1:06 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I’ve seen it in several films, a new bride steps into red paint and then walks along a clean sheet of fabric, or else the stones of the house, leaving her footprints. It’s a nice thing I think, I like it.

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      • My favourite scene of this ritual is in Paheli. Rani as a new daughter in law marks the sheet, and years later when her husband misses her he hugs the sheet.

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        • My favorite is Chalte Chalte, when Shahrukh makes Rani wait outside, then scatters talcum powder on the floor for her to walk through.

          On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 7:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. The movie is a visual feast,everything from the costumes to the cinematography is hauntingly beautiful.The actors,especially Tripti,are excellent and I wish they might do more of mainstream cinema.That said though,I found the movie a bit too predictable.I get the whole thing about people deliberately missing a point,but it was too obvious.And with the beautiful build up,the climax somehow felt a bit cold.The cinematography,generally stunning,sometimes felt overdone with the shades of orange,but the more natural scenes were jaw dropping gorgeous.
    The movie however gets points for being so innovative.The “gothic” that has been done to death was almost a historical aesthetic,and there is so much unexploited potential with Indian history that movies like Tumbaad and Bulbbul tried to unearth.It is not a perfect movie of the horror genre,I would love it more if it were a psychological thriller.Nothing is scarier than unjust subjugation of a human.The movie is like Bengali literature marries Crimson Peak,but,like the latter the style occasionally overpowers the substance.But the dedication to that style is praiseworthy.
    Although I said that it was not a perfect film for horror genre,I am glad that it wasn’t!I cannot watch a horror movie alone from beginning to end.I don’t know how people watch horror without someone to hold their hands.I stuck with this one mainly for the aesthetic,which was too beautiful to scare me.I think if Bhansali ever does horror,he would certainly incorporate a similar aesthetic(someone would have to hold him from amping up the melodrama though).

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    • If they had removed the supernatural entirely, I think it could have been a different equally good film. Just have a serial killer scaring the village, no witch ghost stories at all. Maybe make it spooker and have the killer torture his/her victims before they die, cut off their feet or something symbolic like that.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 11:55 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Anurag is like the go-to person for aspiring filmmakers with scripts, so I won’t be surprised if all non-mainstream movies being made now have been pitched to him at some point.

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    • Thanks! That was interesting. I assume he saw the script at some point when Anvita was sending it around? That’s pretty familiar for a first time filmmaker, has her dream project and keeps refining and sending it around again and again until it gets picked up.

      I’m torn about him calling out Anushka’s business partner at the end. On the one hand, he’s right, Anushka’s name is what everyone focuses on and I am sure her business partner pulls his weight. But hey, ANUSHKA! It’s her money and name that get these films out there! Give her credit! Even though everyone already is giving her credit. Yeah, I’m torn.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 5:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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