Bulbbul Review (SPOILERS): A Woman is Only an Enigma if You Are Afraid to Look at the Truth

Once again, Anushka fearlessly and furiously rips off the mask that covers “tradition” and “how things are” to show us the ugliness and evil that is beneath. She is just so awesome. I want her and Sonam and Rhea to produce a movie together, it can be about friendship and fun and romance AND THEN THEY KILL ALL MEN. Oh, and spoilers follow, don’t read if you think you might want to watch the movie. Do read if violence against women (yes, there is rape) is uncomfortable for you and therefore you know you don’t want to watch the movie.

Whole plot in two paragraphs:

It’s a very short film, but I am doing two paragraphs because we have a past and present timeline, and it gets confused otherwise.

We open with a child marriage, a sweet little girl (future Tripti) and little boy (future Avinash) meet and play together before the wedding, then he comforts her in the carriage on the way to her new home. Only after her arrival is it revealed that the little boy is not the groom, her husband is Rahul Bose, a grown man of at least 30, while she is perhaps 5 or 6 years old. For the rest of the film, flashbacks fill in what happened in her childhood. She and Avinash grew up as best friends, played together all day, and had a game of writing stories in pieces. As she grew up, Rahul started paying more and more attention to her, grooming her for sex, while Paoli Dam (clearly his previous sexual partner) was upset to be ignored. Paoli helped Rahul be jealous of his younger brother Avinash, Rahul sent Avinash away for school with almost no warning. Tripti in sorrow burned their book of stories, and Rahul saw the scraps in the fire and mistook it for love letters. He beat Tripti with poker until her bones were broken and bloody. The new doctor Parambrata came to care for her and understood immediately that she was beaten, but could do nothing. Rahul left the next day, upset at Tripti’s “betrayal”. Tripti, strapped in and held up by bandages, was raped that night by Rahul’s disturbed twin. The next day, Paoli comforted her and revealed that she was so jealous and broken because she had been raped by Rahul’s twin many times, Rahul was her savior of sorts and he left her and stopped protecting her for younger Tripti. She hurt Tripti, but only because she had been hurt herself. Rahul’s twin is mysteriously murdered shortly after, and now Tripti lives alone in the manor house, doing as she pleases, and carefully running the village and looking after the people.

In the present, Avinash is finally returning home after 5 years away. He is shocked to see Tripti so calm and confident and unlike the fragile emotional young girl he knew. He is also shocked by her closeness with Parambrata. And he learns that there is a murderer terrorizing the village and immediately suspects Parambrata, although the villagers say it is their legendary with woman who walks with backwards feet. To the viewer, especially as the flashbacks role out, it is obvious that it is Tripti killing the abusive horrible men of the village, starting with her rapist. In the end, Avinash tries to take Parambrata away with him for trial, but their carriage is stopped and the carriage driver killed. Avinash runs through the woods in search of the “witch”, Parambrata tries to stop him and make him see the truth but he won’t listen. He finally sees and understands after he has set the whole forest alight and Tripti dies in a burning tree. A year later, Rahul has returned to the mansion and receives a letter from Avinash saying he will never come home again, and he does not want to become a man like Rahul. Rahul goes to bed, and Tripti appears in his as a ghost and bares her teeth at him. THE END.

Bulbbul Movie Review: The Anushka Sharma production is an ...

Like I said, it’s pretty obvious that Tripti is the “witch”. Tripti’s whole story is pretty obvious. And I think that was the point? There’s this fantasy of the female “enigma”, the woman you can never really understand, and blah blah blah. That’s a toxic fantasy. Either the surface reveals nothing and inside she is more tortured and suffering and saintly than we can imagine. Or the surface reveals nothing and inside she is evil and scheming and so on. But either way, the lesson is “ignore the surface, we can never really know the truth”. But YES!!! You can know the truth!!!!

When a very little girl is married to a grown man, that is not a happy marriage, that is not a good husband, that is going to end in rape one way or the other. When a woman is married to a mentally retarded man she dislikes and is forced to care for, that is not good either. When a young man and woman are raised together and love each other in many ways, and are forced to be apart because it is not “right”, that is not a good thing. LOOK AT THE SURFACE!!!!!! The surface tells you that things are WRONG!!!!


That’s the point of Parambrata versus Avinash’s characters. Parambrata has far less information about this household than Avinash does, but he came in as an outsider, he looked at it with honest fresh eyes, and he saw what was happening. Avinash is willfully blind. He wants to believe that Tripti loves her husband because girls always love their husbands, no matter how INSANE that is to expect. He wants to believe that Paoli is unhappy as a widow and misses her husband, no matter how many times he saw her avoid him when he was alive. He wants to believe that Tripti is struggling with her responsibility for the village and it is up to him to step in and “save” her, no matter how much the health of the village and her overall actions give lie to that.

There’s a small moment to bring it home, Parambrata and Tripti are shaking their heads over the household servant who beats his wife to the point of breaking her bones. Avinash says “but he is a good man” and suggests perhaps the wife really did fall down stars. And Parambrata and Tripti just look at him and laugh. The truth is there, the truth is obvious, Avinash is looking away from it because he doesn’t want to see it.

Tripti kills Rahul’s twin, the man who raped her. She kills that household servant who was beating his wife. She kills an older man who was with a little girl when he died (pretty obvious what was happening there, especially as he was found in a bathtub). She kills the carriage driver, who she had previously warned not to miss-treat his first wife after marrying a second and then his first wife killed herself. Again, it’s right there on the surface.

Most movies put us in the position of Avinash, we are lost and confused and miss obvious clues, and then learn the truth and go “oh! Of course! we were blind and should have seen, we should be better in future”. That’s good, that’s a good lesson, to tell us to think things through and see the reality. But this movie decided to do something different and put us in the mindset of Tripti, looking at Avinash and going “how can you not see it? how can you be so blind to what is in front of you?”

It’s bigger than this one film. All the things we accept without question, and I include the non-desi Indian film watchers in this, because we are told we should accept them, we should look past the surface and see that it is all perfectly fine. Child marriages may not be in many films now, especially not child marriages to grown men, but what is accepted over and over again is the idea of an innocent young woman marrying a successful NRI. There’s a difference of degree with the marriage shown here, but it is fruit of the same tree. Why do we say “oh look, the hero got his teenage sister engaged to an NRI doctor! Good for him!!!!”? Why don’t we say “that 19 year old who has never left home is being sent off with a 30-something to a whole new country. That is shocking and terrifying and just plain WRONG”?

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How different is this from the scenes of the ideal innocent college student heroine, falling for the 30-something hero-cop hero? I’m not even talking about the actor’s ages, just the characters, how many movies set up the romance as between a naive young girl and a macho experienced man and that is good?

Our heroine’s rape happened outside of marriage. The film carefully built up the way Rahul taught her to serve him even as a little girl without necessarily having sex with her. At least, not penetrative sex. And then we see her as a teenager and Rahul is flirting and playing with her hands and seems to be “courting” her in a way. When Rahul’s twin rapes her, there is blood the next day, which could be meant to indicate a broken hymen, or just rape. However, seeing as there are no babies from the marriage, and seeing the way Rahul seems to be courting her differently as she matures, I think we are intended to interpret it as Rahul playing up to her and preparing her for sex, before suddenly reversing himself and beating and leaving her. So her rape is “wrong”, she was a pure innocent wife until her evil brother-in-law forced himself on her. But Paoli comes to comfort her and reveals that she experienced the same violence, only within marriage, and given over to it by her parents. She repeats what they told her, “he is a little crazy, but it is a good family, you will have jewelry, you will have silks, it is a good name”. That’s something we still hear now, isn’t it? The reluctant bride’s family convincing her that it doesn’t matter if the guy is bald, or old, or any other reason it is a rich family, she will be happy and spoiled and all will be good.

There’s another parallel here I kept thinking about, Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog. In that one the young bride was gently being courted by her new (age appropriate and very nice) husband and had reached the stage of kissing him when he suddenly died in an accident. And a few days later, her brother-in-law raped her. Raj handled the rape beautifully, we had the terrifying build up as she sensed the “wrongness” and tried to get away, and then all we see his her foot, cut on broken glass, struggling and bloodying the sheets. When it was over, the sister-in-law took responsibility for it happening and our heroine left that household for her own safety. But, what about the sister-in-law? Merely because she is married to him, she is supposed to not care that her husband is a rapist? Because he is married to her, he will not rape her?

Prem Rog' clocks 33 years, Rishi thanks fans | India Forums
Another nice questioning of convention in Prem Rog, our widowed heroine is sad after her husband’s death but not really changed. Nor was she particularly changed by marriage. It is the rape that turns her sad and broken, and yet no one sees it, because widows are “supposed” to be like that. Only this film says “no, widowhood doesn’t break you down like that, no more than any other grief. That is a myth that is used to hide the reality of her rape”.

Rahul does not rape her, not like his twin brother does. But the lifelong grooming until she reaches sexual maturity, that is another form of rape. And that, again, is something we hear about all the time with marriages and ignore. A good match, she is young enough that he can train her. She will adjust. Or the idealized child bride who worships her husband from childhood onward, dreaming of the day they will be united. That’s grooming, that’s what sexual predators do to children they prey upon. If this were modern day and between your child and their teacher, you would be calling the police. But since it is in the pretty costumes past of fiction, it is “romantic” it is “traditional” it is fine.

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Parineeta the novel had a more than 5 year age difference between the “childhood sweethearts”. But it’s olden times, it’s romantic, it’s fine.

And there’s Tripti and Avinash’s “romance”. In other stories, it would be poetic and tragic and lovely. But this movie brings it down to the ground. First, they fell in love primarily because they were the same age and intelligence. It was isolation, not true romance. We see how dull both their lives are, how happy they are to have a playmate of a similar age. And second, there was no tragic impossibility to their romance. Avinash makes it impossible in his own mind, even when Tripti directly confronts him with his jealousy, he still clings to the fantasy that she “loves” her elderly husband who has abandoned her. All he has to do is admit the truth of her words, reach out his hand to her, and they can be together. Nothing is standing between them but his own pride. And not tragic beautiful heroic manly pride, just stupid manly pride, immature pride. When we look at tales of lost impossible romances, were they really impossible? Or do we just hear those tales because that is what was repeated in order to convince us they were impossible?

The widow’s ashram where Paoli is sent, is that a torturous place for her or a peaceful escape? There is a child widow who runs past as they are talking and Tripti happily tickles and plays with her until she laughs and leaves. It’s not the tale of woeful widowhood we usually see. In the same way, we have so many films of the “sad” and “lonely” wife, dreaming of her husband returning. Is that really the case? Or did they not really care about this person who was forced on them and they hardly know? Were they like Tripti here, happily and confidently creating her own life and feeling nothing but relief that her husband was gone.

This is a fairy tale that is about revealing what isn’t a fairy tale. Sometimes the “witch” doesn’t have magical backwards feet, sometimes she is just a woman who was beaten so badly by her husband that her ankles twisted backwards.

34 thoughts on “Bulbbul Review (SPOILERS): A Woman is Only an Enigma if You Are Afraid to Look at the Truth

  1. Great job! I absolutely hated the way the abuse scenes were handled in the movie so that really weighed on me when I first watched it but then I went back and rewatched some scenes and I felt like so many more details just jumped out and I find this film to be really well detailed. After spending some more time thinking about it, it’s really starting to grow on me especially in respect to how the character relationships were all crafted. I was very impressed with Tripti especially since I had some reservations about how she’d handle the role before watching this but I agree that Paoli had the hardest role and she was brilliant at being “the bitter scheming sister in-law” who is actually the most emotionally damaged person. We see her make barbs towards Tripti in the flashbacks but it is clearly out of a place of hurt.
    Also just like in Pari, I loved how the romantic tropes were brilliantly subverted. I came in expecting Tripti and Avinash to be a straight forward tragic star crossed romance but then they ended up blowing that up completely when she recognized Avinash was not a kindred spirit she thought him to be. On the other hand, Parambrata is the only person along with Paoli that is the most clued into Tripti’s situation. The relationship they had together feels more genuine and real than what she had with Avinash. Also interestingly Avinash is introduced to us as the “hero” and maybe it’s just me but thought that Param was initially going to be one of those terrible obnoxious guys but it ended up being the opposite at the end. Avinash while seemingly a nice but clueless guy gets more possessive and gives into the whole machismo society that surrounds him especially through the hunting bits.
    Also not sure if you know this by now but in Chokher Bali the heroine is also named Binodini who ends up having an affair with her brother-in-law Mahendra (one of the Rahuls) which of course mirrors Paoli’s story.


    • Paoli’s character was wonderful. To me she felt like an angry response to both the “scheming sister-in-law” and the “scheming first wife” trope. Maybe before we dismiss these women as “evil”, we think about how they were forced into marriage with a man they don’t seem to much like, and how they might have twisted their rape and abuse into being “worth it” for the status they have in the household. And therefore how angry they are and how far they will go to maintain that status. Yes Paoli schemes and doesn’t think deeply and doesn’t help Tripti as she could have. But there’s a reason she is like that.

      I very much enjoyed how Tripti and Parambrata’s relationship was of equals, adults, versus the way Avinash seemed to always see her as a child. Or rather, want her to be a child. He could handle the adult angry powerful Tripti, she scared him and he couldn’t admit it. While Parambrata simply saw her as an adult and treated her that way, no fear. Again, there’s a romantic fantasy here, the perfect childlike woman who is pure and simple and so on and so forth. This movie shows us that the men who want that kind of woman, are the ones who are afraid. Ties into Paoli too, she was that childish sort of woman, and it was because abuse made her so, trapped her back at the young age she must have been when Twin Rahul first raped her.

      On Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 11:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Yes to everything! It was so unflinching in showing the evils shown in history and things like child marriages that are still happening and ignored by most. It’s so twisted, but so interesting and adding to that the cinematography and music to showcase the ugliness under the beauty. I should say that the costumes are period-accurate, more so than Devdas where there is too much bling, too much fantasy, too much of everything, but here it has a meaning and is rooted in reality.

    In a sense, all the pretty things in this movie are here to add to the story, but also make it somewhat easier on the eyes the first time you watch before watching it again and again where you catch the subtle moments and the true horror of the situation now what you know the story already. It really benefits from the short runtime.

    Even though Avinash and Tripti are my favourite Jodi right now, in this movie it was clear they weren’t meant to be, they still had the chemistry but I still enjoyed them together because of Laila Majnu. Rahul Bose, he really was flawless in his 2 parts.

    Honestly, a true clap for Anushka for bringing this movie and the director, Anvita Dutt, who had the idea for it and got the chance to do it. In interviews she always talks about the folklore aspect of it, but avoids the child marriage and those other themes shown in it, on purpose, I think. She did the dialogue for Parineeta and Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, which fits, considering the women’s position in the story slightly laced up with prettiness compared to reality or the book. Also, her lyric writing just adds to the layered dialogues in the film to say so much with so little, a good thing in a very visual film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was thinking about Parineeti! The opening and closing scenes when Saif is being a whiney little angry brat at Vidya, and she is just calm and mature and a little bit above it all felt so similar to this. Thank you for letting me know it shared a writer, makes total sense.

      With the costumes, there was a dismissive like Paoli said to Tripti about still wearing her small dowry jewels like a little girl. Made me look at her jewels in a new light and see that was the case, I think straight through the movie. In other films, there is just jewelry on jewelry, a new look in every scene. This time they thought about what that jewelry means to the women wearing it, Paoli wanted as much as possible because it was all that justified to her, her rapes. But Tripti clung to her childhood and the old small jewels, she didn’t want to grow up.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 4:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

    • Rekha Nigam not Anvita Dutt (also known as Antiva Dutt Guptan) wrote the dialogue for Laaga and the screenplay for Parineeta. Rekha introduced Anvita to Aditya Chopra. Anvita wrote dialogues for Patiala House, Pari, Phillauri, and others like Shaandaar and Baar Baar Dekho.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loveeeed this movie,but felt it was too short to make the kind of impact it aspired to make. Some more detailing for the characters of Avinash & Parambrata would have been nice. The rape scene was handled so well,making us feel her pain & terror. I guess when the writer is a woman,we truly get a woman’s perspective. Loved loved Tripti- she goes through so many shades of emotions so subtly making her role seem easier but it is anything but an easy role. It is a wonderful non-showy performance. Her feathery voice & dialogue delivery adds on to that ethereal quality & I kept seeing resemblance with Nitya Menon in the decked up appearence. I just wish the movie was tad longer & the reveal was more gradual & organic.


    • I wonder if the structure came first, or the length? Meaning, did they realize they only had funding for a 90 minute movie (or Netflix warned them it needed to be 90 minutes) and then they wrote a simple fable-like story to accommodate the length? Or did they have a simple short story in mind all along and were looking for a venue where it could shine? I could see it either way really. It was a very cheap movie, if I think about things like number of sets and actors, probably the same cost as one TV episode. But on the other hand, the short story kind of structure was so strong, it didn’t feel like they rushed the ending or cut off vital bits, just that it was stripped down to the essence.

      I agree though, it felt a little fast somehow. There were some moments I would have liked to have been given longer to breath.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 4:27 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  4. The connection to Chokher Bali is obvious – as a non Bengali, the main character in that story is the first person I think of when I hear the name Binodini. Add to that, an affair with a brother in law named Mahendra. Plus, Binodini in Chokher Bali is also a young widow. You should check it out. It also does not paint the past in a rosy light. The Charulata connection, on the other hand, is through Tripti’s character – young, intelligent woman trapped in a mansion, forming a bond with a similar age brother in law, both of them connecting over art and literature.

    That scene were Paoli is cleaning up Tripti after the rape was so well done. Her entire character comes into focus the moment you realize that she is talking about herself and not talking to Tripti. Paoli does so much heavy lifting in that scene.

    I never felt like Avinash was in love with Tripti. He was happy to go to London without a second thought. Or, he was so far into denial that it never even occurred to him.

    Did you feel like Rahul’s departure was a bit abrupt? I don’t understand why a man like him would just up and leave. If he had any guilt associated with beating up his wife, he could have easily sent her back to her parents house or relegated her to some corner in the mansion (a la Mr Rochester) under some made up excuse.

    I have not yet watched Pari, but this movie has made me want to watch it.


    • You should watch Pari. It’s similarly angry and attacking the patriarchy through horror/fantasy. It’s scarier, more jump scares and stuff like that, but just as the rape is the centerpiece of this film, there are two birth scenes that are the center of that film. That’s the real horror, the stuff that happens to women’s bodies every day.

      I think I would go that Avinash is too far in denial. And a more general statement on what their relationship meant in her life versus his. For Tripti, Avinash was the guy she liked, but also her only friend and confidant in this house where she was trapped. For Avinash, she was the girl he liked, but he was going to London. He would see new things and make new friends and his whole world would open up. I think the movie might be saying “this is as true as love gets for a woman. He loves her, but he’s still willing to leave her to be tortured by his brother because it is the ‘right’ thing to do”.

      For Rahul, I think we are meant to take his leaving as a sign of how incredibly self-centered he is. He does what is easiest for himself, he worked out his anger by beating Tripti, now if he stayed he would need to watch her heal, and then beat her again, and so on and so forth. Easier to just walk away, forget about her and the whole household. I also think there might be an implication that he is only attracted to young girls, and that he does not want an heir (fear of passing on the taint from his twin?). He married Tripti when Paoli started to get too old for him, he probably had his brother married to Paoli so he could have an available woman in the household with the promise of another woman (his own wife) once she started to age out. Tripti might have been getting too old for him anyway, so no great loss in his mind if he just walked away. He didn’t want an heir anyway, and why stay with a wife if you don’t desire her, and you don’t need an heir?

      I like that the film left us hints without drawing it out, but it would have been nice to know some things for sure. For instance, I am going to assume that Rahul and Avinash had different mothers. Which would fit with the big age gap. And that would explain why there were no babies in the household, if the blood taint was believed to be from Rahul’s mother, then Avinash would be the heir and could have “clean” children after he married. I’m also assuming that Paoli married Twin Rahul at a very young age, not as young as Tripti, but perhaps just barely sexually mature, and Twin Rahul raped her immediately. No waiting and grooming like Rahul did with Tripti. And that Rahul jumped in as her savior, and groomed her to be his partner also at that young age, until he tired of her.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 6:30 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


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      • Like you, I also filled in some of the backstory for Rahul while watching. He was married before to someone younger, though not as young as Tripti. She died (or was killed/raped/beaten up). Then he moved on to Paoli. Like you said, when Paoli is “too old” for him, he marries again. It makes very little sense for his marriage to Tripti being his first marriage. There would be intense pressure on the eldest son of the zamindaar family to get married and produce heirs. He was probably married before when his parents were still alive to carry on the name of the family.

        The chudail thing reminded me of this story my grandfather used to tell from his childhood. When he was maybe 4-5, he was at a male cousin’s wedding. Since he was a child, he could go into the women’s quarters – kind of like the child Avinash in this movie. Somebody had told him to spy and make sure that the brides feet were not turned around and that she was not a chudail. This would have been in the early 1900s. My grandfather always told it as a funny story about silly superstitions, but this movie has got me thinking about whether the person who gave him this task was serious about it.

        Tangentially related to this movie, I found out yesterday that Charulata was very much about Rabindranath Tagore’s own relationship with his sister in law Kadambari. The real life version is more tragic than the story. There is a recent Bengali movie about it with Konkona and Parambrata but I couldn’t find a version with subtitles.


        • I had a half thought that perhaps Avinash was Rahul’s son? If he had a young stepmother (assuming his father married a second time, thus the age gap), I could see Rahul starting a relationship with his stepmother, and after her death getting his twin married to Paoli, then finally marrying Tripti. The father of the family seems to be completely gone, even Avinash does not miss him, and the household is used to Rahul being the head. If his father died shortly after a second marriage to a young wife, Avinash is possibly Rahul’s son, he entertained himself with his stepmother until she died/got too old, then had his brother married to Paoli, and then married. No one could force him to marry, not if his father was dead and Avinash was there to be an heir. Otherwise, your theory works too. For sure they were marrying very young women from lesser households, because there was some kind of taint on their house which made equal families not wish to marry them. Did it feel like that to you? That both Tripti and Paoli were coming from poorer lesser families who would give Rahul total control over them and never interfere?

          Thank you for cluing me in to the Rabindrinath true story. It’s so sad, and so predictable. If a little girl is brought into a household, of course she is going to bond with the little boy who is her age. I found it kind of creepy that all the accounts online, written in the present day, tell it as “she was a second mother to him, she fed him, she cared for him”. She was a little girl! They were the same age!!!! Just because she was married to his much older brother does not make her a “mother” to him!!!! And people are still buying into that fantasy to the present day!!! And then Rabindrinath was married off to another little girl and she killed herself, I have to wonder if his sister-in-law’s suicide was about jealousy/sadness over losing Rabindrinath, or sadness over seeing her companion and friend grow up to be the same kind of blind patriarchal husband who believed it was right to marry a little girl and train her instead of marrying someone his own age. Also, Rabindrinath’s wife had their first child when she was either 12 or 14? and he was 25? And then she died at age 30 after having 5 children and shortly after marrying off both her daughters (at ages 14 and 10).

          On Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 10:39 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • Going back to the Tagore-Kadambari relationship I was at a film festival that had a screening of Kadambari (the movie had subtitles so maybe there IS a subtitled version somewhere) and I remember this lady later on loudly complaining about the movie and how it was tarnishing legacy (the actual movie was actually very chaste! the attraction is inferred and the most we get is a hug) and all of that so people definitely still think that there was nothing between them. My mother thinks that they were in love with each other and finds this entirely logical because they WERE the same age so I didn’t really know that this wasn’t a widely accepted thought for awhile.


          • You want to tarnish a legacy, I think him being in love with his age appropriate sister-in-law is much prettier than his TWELVE YEAR OLD WIFE giving birth when he was 24.

            On Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 12:39 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • Adding to the Tagore story, when he writes “But where is the sweetheart of mine who was almost the only companion of my boyhood and with whom I spent my idle days of youth exploring the mysteries of dreamland? She, my Queen, has died and my world has shut against the door of its inner apartment of beauty which gives on the real taste of freedom” about Kadambari, he is not writing about a mother figure.


  5. This is pretty much a superhero origin story, right? Watched it another time just to appreciate the visuals and music. So many great shots – the witch floating above the forest against the giant moon, the bathroom ceiling mural of Ravan abducting Sita in the background of Rahul abusing Tripti, the moon getting obscured by the black clouds and emerging red – love! The red tone of the night is such a bold choice, it worked for me! Like all great background score, I didn’t notice it the first time, paid attention the second time.

    I also felt similarly that the point was not the witch’s identity, it was clear I think as soon as I saw adult Bulbbul. Which is why I thought there was too much unnecessary exposition in the finale. I initially thought she became a supernatural entity after the trauma so I was confused when she got wounded by bullet and then died. But I think she was supposed to be human who got superhuman abilities, can be wounded and it looked like she sacrificed herself in the forest fire? Anyway, Tripti did so well bringing out the difference in the body language and demeanor between pre- and post-violence Bulbbul! Someone rightly said above, the whole star-crossed lovers thing was misleading. Even if Avinash had any feelings for the old Bulbbul, they were inadequate for the woman she had become. I was rooting for Tripti and Param by the end of that cigarette-sharing scene!

    The scene where Paoli tends to Tripti after the violence is so powerful. I was getting angry at her when she started speaking, then was horrified as she went on and got the chills by the end – which was absolutely the intent and done so well! My only gripe with her character is that while she could’ve become closer to Tripti after Rahul was killed, she still seemed to be that scheming selfish person.

    I know you haven’t seen Chokher Bali, but here’s what’s bothering me about that reference. In that, widowed Binodini has extramarital affair with married Mahendra. In this, Binodini (Paoli) is married to Mahendra (disturbed Rahul). It would’ve made sense if the other Rahul was named Mahendra! I feel I’m missing something.


    • Oh, YES! It is a superhero origin story! And that means, it is saying “all those terrifying witch stories you hear? What if they aren’t terrifying witches, what if they are superheroes?” It’s getting at the same thing that Stree was, the legends of the witches killing men are hiding the truth of men killing women.

      Maybe the Mahendra was a hidden clue that Twin Rahul would rape Tripti at some point? And a nod to the idea that what we see as an “affair”, when a man has that much power over a woman, is probably no truly consensual.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 5:29 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  6. I refuse to watch horror movies and violent movies so I had zero intention of watching this…but your glowing review convinced me…yes it’s really wonderful…shocking..and subversive…glad I watched it…

    Now, I might even be convinced to watch Pari


    • Pari is so good! It’s this, amped higher and set in present day. Same message, “the real horror is in the every day things men do to women”. I want more people to see it, because the stupid reviews focused on the “horror film, not very original, not that scary” part instead of on the “it’s about a woman’s right to control her own body!” part.

      Oh, but dogs get hurt. In case you are someone who can handle human violence but not dogs. They aren’t hurt in anger, if that helps.

      As someone who doesn’t watch violent movies, what was your take on the violence in this film? I also don’t like violence, but somehow it didn’t bother me as much. Maybe because there was no glory in the violence? It was slow and almost dreamlike, not to hype up the audience but just show what happened.

      On Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 8:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  7. Growing up in India with stories of chudails and their feet turned backwards (I actually knew someone who said they had seen such a woman with these feet and they were so scared the memory is ingrained into me), I thought the fact that her husband did that to her was such a thoughtful addition to the story. Her feet are broken by a man and she wears clunky shoes to hide it as a woman. But as a witch she can fly and her broken feet are free — but they terrify the humans who did this to her.


    • The feet thing is fascinating. Because it is such a powerful way to keep a woman trapped. I’m reminded of the foot binding in China, and the story Aish’s film “Provoked” is based on, where a woman killed her abusive husband by burning his feet because she didn’t want him to chase her. And there’s the toe rings as a symbol of marriage. Rahul’s choice to focus his beating on her feet makes complete sense, her ability to walk is the one thing he cares about least. Her hands are there to serve him, her torso is there for sex and childbirth, but the feet do nothing for him.

      On Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 9:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  8. I don’t watch anything remotely in the horror genre but I am so glad I watched this. Thank you. Your review is spot on. I think I never shipped Avinash and Tripti because as you said, Avinash continued to be infuriatingly, willfully blind to everything happening in front of him, his first line when he comes back is asking Tripti if she is “playing” thakur, to taking over her responsibilities so her can “save” her and until the very end when he is admonishing Tripti says, I called my brother to get advice on how to handle you!!!

    There were two scenes that will continue to haunt me, as they were meant to. When Rahul was flirting with teenage Tripti and touching her hand. It showed so clearly that a grown man flirting with a teenager is utterly disgusting and not at romantic like the other movies have you believe. And when Paoli is cleaning Tripti up and talking to herself. I had to stop the movie at both those scenes and take a break because they were so deeply disgusting.


    • Yes! Avinash is so immediately blind to Tripti’s reality. His first reaction to accuse her of “playing” lord instead of actually listening to the good she is doing. And straight through thinking she is sick somehow or troubled, because otherwise why would she be acting so “wrong”. And for him, “wrong” means acting like an adult. Adding to the creepiness, he was so eager and happy to have Paoli in the house and it should have been clear to everyone that SHE was the one who is acting “wrong”. She is so traumatized that her development had stopped at the moment of her trauma, her performance increasingly feels less like a jealous woman and more like a confused young girl grasping at fantasies and toys. But for Avinash, that is what a woman “should” be like and Paoli seemed perfectly normal.

      That flirtation scene was handled so well! And it was one where I debated how I felt about them fudging the ages. We know all this happened around the time Avinash was sent away, and that was 5 years before the “present”. The “present” is 20 years after the marriage. Say Tripti was 4 at the youngest at her marriage, that would make her 24 now, and 18-19 during that flirtation scene. But thinking about it, and reading about Tagore and other marriages, really it all should have taken place in the 15 years after her marriage, she should have been 14 during that scene and more like 20 in the present. Tripti plays it like she is 14, and the costuming gave her kind of childish loose sari blouses which made her look not fully developed yet. On the other hand, if she had been explicitly definitely that young, it might have just been too much for the audience to handle. Plus I kind of like the point that you can be undeveloped mentally and physically at 17 too, there is no hard and fast rule for every girl/woman.

      On Sat, Jun 27, 2020 at 8:02 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  9. OMG I hate what this movie did to me! I know, because you told me, there will be rape and I was prepared for this particular scene but I didn’t know it will be all so DARK! The beating scene was even worse than the rape. So violent. I also can’t stop thinking about Tripti’s broken feet. Everytime I move my anklets i have goosebumbs.
    The movie was beautifully made, and important, and I love all the actors but it was definitely too dark for me.


    • Oh dear! Now, for me, I could shake Bulbbul right off, but 96 still infuriates me to think about.

      Yes about the abuse scene being as disturbing as the rape. And really obvious meaning of Rahul playing twins, the abuse coming from his intellect and control, and the rape coming from childish lost of control. Both sides of him are terrible, but perhaps the controlled anger and power of the abuse is worse than the lost of control and desire of the rape.

      On Sun, Jun 28, 2020 at 4:05 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  10. I enjoyed this film. But the timeline is driving me a bit crazy. Her husband left after sending away her one friend and beating her feet to a pulp, she is immediately raped. She heals, and THEN attacks her rapist? So either her sister-in-law was able to protect her from a repeat attack or she was raped numerous times? Her husband didn’t come back for his twin brother’s funeral? And then her childhood friend (love?) comes back and doesn’t even ask why the husband left? Says he wrote to the husband and asked about her as if he didn’t know the husband had left? He seems amazingly uncurious about everything except the doctor with whom she shares a friendship similar to the one he shared with her. And that peacock fan must have been a powerful symbol for something because I immediately hated it. Those strong emotions were of course what made the film so good.

    What struck me as a theme throughout it all was loneliness. Here they were wealthy and in silks, and so lonely. The child bride was so lonely, the sister-in-law was so lonely, the brother-in-law sought out the child bride’s friendship as he was undoubtably lonely. Even Rahul, carried an air of aloofness that could easily be loneliness in disguise. And as a witch/goddess, she was, alone. And in the end, her one friend and would-be-lover, were alone.


    • Yes! Our heroine is married at 4-5-6, something like that. 15 years later her only friend is sent away and her husband beats and cripples her. Shortly after that (soon enough that her feet were still bleeding), she is raped. And meets and becomes good friends with her doctor. She spends two years healing, then kills her rapist. She takes control of the estate and the community around her, occasionally killing to protect women and her doctor friend covers it up. And then after 5 years away, her friend returns and starts shaking things up, eventually leading to her death. I think I can buy all of it if they had made the total time line 15 years instead of 20. So ten years after marriage, she is a young teen when all these terrible things happen, she heals from the attack and the rape and her body finishes maturing, and she blossoms forth after two years of recovery as the powerful “Lord”. Making her 20 when all that stuff happens just doesn’t fit as well.

      I can believe that Twin Rahul never raped her again, because it seemed like Paoli’s job was to watch him and keep him under control at all times. Part of the complexity of her character, she would seed doubts in Rahul’s mind and look after her own interests, but she was upset at the heroine’s rape and comforted her as best she could, and I could believe she put measures in place to make sure it did not happen again up to and including offering herself up for rape by her husband instead.

      On Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 11:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  11. OK, I watched it, and it was indeed the movie for me. Loved the acting and the costumes and the Tagore-ness. Other people have brought up the connection to Chokher Bali, and I found that the mansion they shot it was actually the same one Chokher Bali, the Riturparno Ghosh one, was shot in. And other people have pointed out the the parallel of Chokher Bali’s Binodini, a young widow who chafes against her restrictions and has an affair with her brother in law. This Binodini is kind of the opposite–she’s almost like a widow in her marriage to a man who can’t really be a husband to her, and then actual widowhood sets her free. Bulbbul’s first image is almost the same as Chokher Balis–a bride holding the paan leaves over her face–but it’s a brilliant touch that Bulbbul’s aunt has to hold them for her. Another parallel is the flirty picnic like one in Chokher Bali.

    Really interesting themes of jewelry and also the tinkling noise? Bulbbul’s anklets tinkle with her running around when she’s younger, then it gets horrifying when they have to be removed from her legs, and also the tinkling while Mahendra rapes her. Maybe it occurs in other places; I really need to watch it again.

    Also such great acting, and particularly Paoli. She really didn’t get her due in Hindi cinema; I feel like Hate Story might have tanked her career by typecasting her as an actor who can only be in movies about sexy sexy sex.


    • Totally missed the tinkling. I noticed the bells in the rape scene, that was so disturbing I couldn’t miss it, but I hadn’t put it together with the bangles at other moments. Perhaps a sign of tying her to earth, like the toe ring? Or control? The bells say something is happening to her, she is doing something, and once they are gone, she can move invisibly through the world? That doesn’t feel quite right but that’s all I’ve got at the moment.

      Paoli is so good, playing the “typical” kind of sister-in-law role, but with just a slight twist to it that makes you realize “wow, this woman is seriously damaged and that is why she is acting this way”.

      Was it as scary as you feared?

      On Sun, Jul 12, 2020 at 4:10 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  12. Had to wait for someone to watch this with me, but finally saw it. I really liked the actors, I liked the movie fine, and I came away impressed with Anushka that she’s causing these stories to be made. But I also have many questions. Like I want to understand the connection to Kali better. And did chudails always have a connection to the goddess, or is that a connection the movie is making?

    Also interested in how fear is used in the story, but I’m not totally sure it always makes sense. When Rahul is about to send Avinash away, Tripti says she’s scared, but what is she scared of at that point? We’ve been shown the one encounter with crazy twin Rahul on her first night, when husband Rahul and Paoli protected her. The flirtation scene with husband Rahul is creepy exactly because she seems so receptive, not scared of him. Plus Avinash is never shown as her protector, being scared about his departure doesn’t feel quite right. Tripti is also a bit scared of Paoli at this stage, and we the audience are too because we see her stirring the pot. After the attack and rape, there is a reversal. In the present, Paoli is clearly afraid of Tripti, while Tripti is powerful and not afraid of anyone. Avinash is never afraid either, the traditional hero role, but here it seems like a character flaw, a willful blindness. I guess the thing that nagged at me is that the reversal is classic horror, you often have the predator become the prey or the clueless become terrified, but here we only witness that in Paoli while the main male characters, the three brothers, end up either dead or gone but never really looking into the face of the monster. It kind of feels like Paoli was the one punished while they got off easy.

    Lastly, can Anushka only be subversive while working in horror? I don’t much like horror, so this question comes from a selfish place. But wondering if it’s the only genre where she feels like the truth of the violence can be fully expressed while still making popular cinema.


    • Yaaaaay, so glad you finally saw it!

      The “goddess/churail” connection is original, churails are churails, evil demons who want to destroy and hurt and so on, and the goddess is not related. They film works on multiple levels there I think, you can either read it as a limited statement “this particular person was miss-identified as a witch whens he is really an avatar of the Goddess”, or as a general statement of “there are no witches, they are all Goddesses”.

      Interesting questions with “fear”. I think a big point of the movie is that the men simply never learned the wisdom of fear. While women are so attuned to danger that they fear even where they cannot yet understand. There would be no point in trying to scare the men, because they simply did not believe they could be hurt. On the other hand, Tripti’s fear of Paoli and of Avinash leaving I read as an instinctive grasp that Paoli represents her future after she is raped and beaten like other wives, and Avinash’s presence is what is keeping her in the realm of “child” instead of “wife”. She didn’t fear her husband exactly, not consciously, instead that sense of danger came out in her reactions with Avinash and Paoli. Sure enough, once Avinash left she was beaten and raped, and Paoli welcomed her into “womanhood”.

      One scene I can imagine and wish they had included, was Tripti and Paoli after her widowhood but before she was sent away to the retreat. As I saw their relationship, Tripti wants Paoli to be free and fearless and happy (as she is) and Paoli is just not capable of that. I want to see her encourage Paoli to be free and happy after her husband dies, and Paoli not being able to do that, until Tripti finally sends her to the retreat since it is the best thing for her. I saw their relationship as simply too different. Tripti wasn’t trying to hurt her or scare her, but Paoli could not understand her and felt scared of her power and freedom. One of my favorite small touches is how we saw the widow’s retreat as this place of sunshine and happiness and pleasantness. Those places are always treated as these nightmare lands, but this movie points out that marriage is powerlessness and rape and constant loss, why exactly is it so bad to go live in a pleasant place with a bunch of other women? Avinash foolishly pulled Paoli out and brought her home, but was she actually happier at home?

      There is Phillauri, which is kind of sweet and nice with a lesson about sexual and artistic freedom for women. But based on this and Pari, I think Anushka is angry angry angry about the state of Indian womanhood and for her it is truly horror. So that genre is the only one where her vision can fully be expressed. This one is bad and infuriating at the way Indian arranged marriages are idealized, Pari is just chilling and makes you want to dedicate your life to Planned Parenthood. Oh, and of course her first movie was about honor killings and how women themselves are part of the patriarchy, mothers killing their own daughters to protect “honor”. I’m placing a bet now, next movie is gonna be female genetal mutilation.

      On Tue, Aug 25, 2020 at 11:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • I like your reading of the widows retreat as a nice place, but I think there’s a possible reading of Tripti that’s less benevolent toward Paoli, based on what you said about Anushka’s recognition of women as upholders or enacters of the patriarchy. There’s a line in the present where Tripti says “not all of us can be like you, looking nice even in drab clothes” (in reference to Paoli’s widow garb) that kicks off the flashback that fills the backstory of their relationship. By killing Mahendra, Tripti removes Paoli’s abuser, but she also removes the source of her power. Paoli’s beautiful long hair is shaved, she loses her silk and jewels and her place in the house and in the village. If you read Tripti’s line as a dig, Paoli’s character has been punished for her willingness to participate in the unjust system in return for having a place of honor in a rich and powerful family.


        • Alternative reading, Paoli is kept trapped by the patriarchy through the jewels and silks and so on, it’s a bad thing for her to enjoy (her dialogue about her family telling her she will have jewels and silks if she marries into the family. Tripti frees her from that, from the unhealthy things that were keeping her complacent. Paoli may be too stunted to realize that she is happier and better off this way, and there’s a larger question of if Tripti is right to decide what is best for her, but it’s not necessarily malicious. I guess to me it felt more like kind of an abused wife story with the frustration that brings for those outside. Tripti sees that Paili would be better off without Rahul, and away from her crutches of jewels and silks. But Paoli isn’t ready to see that yet. Both women end up frustrated with each other, Tripti for Paoli’s passivity and unwillingness to see she is better off now, and Paoli for Tripti’s unwillingness to buy into her delusion of Rahul as a saintly husband and her life as worse since she was widowed.

          On Thu, Aug 27, 2020 at 12:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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