Bulbbul, a movie that was said to be a horror flick has nothing scary about it. But it does leave you haunted for few hours or days.
A poignant and haunting tale of a girl whose innocence gets crushed and emerges as a strong woman because of it.
Bulbbul is set in feudal Bengal, the movie faithfully attempts to recreate the tone and ambiance of leisurely zamindar era, it largely remains unsuccessful.
A young carefree Bulbbul who loves stories especially of monsters and witches, who loves to roam around among lush nature is married off to a zamindar Indraneil, who is several decades senior to her. Circumstances construe to make her think that she has been married to Indraneil’s younger brother, Satya who belongs to her age bracket. Thankfully, this misunderstanding is cleared by Indraneil who informs her that HE is her husband and not Satya.
Kids being kids, Satya and Bulbbul grow close and become best buddies . Their mutual love for stories, the lack of like aged people around them pushes them towards one another. They become inseparable friends.
Years roll, Bulbbul and Satya have grown into their youth. Both are still close to each other. But can such idyllic circumstances stay forever, there is a jealous Binodini, wife of Indraneil’s mentally retarded twin brother Mahender. Her desire for power, her insecurity and her perceived loss of position goads her into certain actions that leads to certain grave ‘consequences’ for Bulbbul.
Meanwhile Satya who had left the shores of India for higher studies, returns to a vastly changed household. His brother Mahender is dead, Indraneil has left the house and Bulbbul. The Widowed Binodini is staying in a dilapidated house along with other widows.
Worst is the change wrought in Bulbbul, his bff and more .. She is no more the timid, naive girl that he left behind. Bulbbul has shed that skin, now she is a assured Thakurain, who handles the affairs of the house and the people of the village. She is friendly yet distant, self contained and restrained.. in short Bulbbul has become a puzzle, a disturbing one for Satya. Added to this confusion is Bulbbul’s closeness to a doctor. While Satya tries to grapple withthis changed dynamics, news reaches him of a mysterious witch murdering men from his village. People are petrified! Like a well educated man, Satya scoffs at villager’s belief. He sets out to discover the murderer and also save his bhabhi, Bulbbul from the clutches of the doctor.
Will Satya find the murderer? Why has Bulbbul changed? forms the crux of Bulbbul
Bulbbul is not horror movie even though it tries the usual tropes, it is not a fantasy film though there is an air of whimsical. Bulbbul is a successful blend of elements from Bengal’s rich folklores, of British Raj , hint of fantasy and undercurrents of horror (not terror).
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bulbbul is a multilayered story. On one hand, we have a rather simplistic story of a girl who goes through a shocking incident and emerges as a vengeful, strong, raging woman.
On the other hand, it speaks of women and how patriarchy almost always tries to suppress and dominate her. A little Bulbul is first shown traipsing on trees when a hand comes and grabs her ankles effectively shackling her ! What a beautiful and under stated moment that was !
The process of chaining begins with the illusion of freedom. Bulbul befriends Satya, her husband’s younger brother.They became inseparable, the bond between them strengthens day by day much to the disquiet of Indraneil. Bulbul who has lived an infettered life so far grows into a impulsive, restless, gauche young girl.Even though well treated by Indraneil, the bright spot in her life is Satya. She is dependent on him. At some point, as a viewer, we may feel that probably Bulbul is in LOVE with Satya ( I certainly thought so) but reflecting back on the movie, I feel that it was a strong attachment borne of loneliness , of shared love for stories and writing and that fact that they were the only young one’s in that haveli served to deepen the relationship further.
What about Satya’s feelings? He comes across as a caring man who puts himself first. He does love Bulbul as his Bhabhi and as a friend, but does he feel more for her? Unfortunately, he shies away from exploring that aspect. He respects his elder brother and strives to be like him and he sees Bulbul as part of his family. When an opportunity comes for him to pursue his interests, he sails off to Britain without even picking up on tumult going on within Bulbul’s psyche. Satya comes across as a rather callow and self centred man.
So far Bulbul had a seemingly unfettered freedom, but it changes when a series of assumptions paints Satya and Bulbul as discreet lovers. Enraged Indraneil is moved to violence. Bulbul, who had a modicum of freedom to live the way she wanted, who did what she wanted is now broken however her spirit is not broken. Though grievously injured and apparently abandoned by a thoroughly shaken husband. She survives under the diligent administration of Sudip, the doctor hired to treat her.
Left alone to the mercy of the family, an assault occurs that finally breaks Bulbul’s spirit. She is shaken, her will broken and the free spirited, naive, impulsive young girl dies under the relentless onslaught of physical and emotional abuse. The final nail or thread that ultimately binds her are the words of Binodini, whose few, well chosen words underscores the essential helplessness of women, their freedom to pursue their happiness nor the right to live the way they wish to. Bulbul absorbs her words, her eyes riveted on Binodini and in that moment she to all intents and purpose gives up !!
From a dreamy, flighty young girl content to live in her world, unbothered with her home or her duties as a eldest daughter in law, Bulbul emerges as a strong woman who takes the reins of her house,is self contained, distant and detached. She fulfills her duties as a Thakurain and necessarily does what is expected of the gentry. Her only friend with whom she is herself is Sudip!
But can Shakti (denoting feminine power) be imprisoned? Won’t she roar when pushed into a box and locked up? In her own way, Bulbul finds a way to escape from the prison …. set right to things that went or are going wrong.. tries to mend the infractions of Indraneil , Mahender and Binodini on her persona using her own strength and the strong support of non-judgemental Sudip as salve!
Meanwhile, Satya who has completed his higher studies returns. He is disturbed to see Bulbul meeting Sudip and the closeness between them. Once again begins the process of confining Bulbul within the expected norms and conventions. Bulbul’s response – You all are the same !! True !! Educated or uneducated, patriarchy has always been terrified of independent and free willed feminine. At every turn, it has sought to restrict feminine, draw a circle seeking to entrap her within that enclosure. However, like Bulbul feminine has found a way or cracks to escape this forced or manipulated captivity. When patriarchy realizes it, he goes for all out subjugation ! When Bulbul realizes that she cannot escape her fate, she with quiet dignity embraces it ultimately gaining complete and total freedom!
A moment that brings home the point to Satya that fear, assumptions, mistrust and violence will only lead to loss and utter devastation for patriarchy to exist, femininity has to flourish. There always should be a balance between both, when there is imbalance , destruction will follow. When you smother the desires, happiness of a woman, curtail her rights for your power trip, ego – then there will always be a payback in some form or the other.
(** I have combined both feminine and woman’s rights here. For centuries, women were conditioned to keep their own happiness in abeyance for the sake of family, father, husband and son. She was denied a choice, to choose, to live. She was taught that her happiness lay in the happiness of her family .. This movie subtly highlights that**)
The other aspect or layer that I particularly loved was the quintessential man vs nature. Man has always been afraid of nature. It’s unbridled power to wreck havoc or alter the situation has terrified him. Wherever possible, man has tried to dominate nature, to harness her for his own selfish ends. He has pushed her to the edge. Sometimes he goes too far culminating in extinction of nature. However, Nature is not fragile, give it enough time , it will regrow, recoup and it will launch its own counter measures. The cities man built by destroying nature is sooner or later reclaimed by nature. If Man destroys one arm of nature, she grows another, more potent one. Everytime Man thinks he has conquered nature and can now breathe freely, nature has served him a dollop giving him an unpleasant surprise. You and I will be gone one day but nature will live in some form.
Tripti Dimri, delivering a flawless performance is the soul that keeps the movie alive. The transformation that she brings into Bulbul is amazing. However, the biggest plus point in my eyes is nowhere in the show does she portray Bulbul as a weak character. She does not turn Bulbul into a ‘Pity party’ girl , her portrayal draws our respect and compassion for Bulbul.
Rahul Bose plays both the characters with elan. We have seen versions of Indraneil before, the insecure, honorable family head with feet of clay, it is as mahender he excels. To his credit, he brings out the fragility of Indraneil without turning him into a wimp. It would be very easy to dislike Indraneil yet in some far recess of our minds, we understand his actions. Kudos to Rahul for that.
Satya, every time I saw him , I was strongly reminded of Jonathan Harker of Dracula. Perhaps it was his attire or his unbridled enthusiasm to hunt down a ‘witch’ – his actions brought Harker to mind. Having said that, Avinash Tiwary was good but his acting did not go or blend with the ‘tone’ of the movie. I felt that it had a more contemporary feel to it than that of a 18-19th century languidness. Another reason could be, Satya did not have scenes to explore his feelings, we did not get to see his emotions. He was used more as a cog that sets things in motion.
T’was a cameo but Parambrata simpy wowed us as the unassuming, non-judgemental Sudip. As Sudip, Parambrata played the role of non-judgemental, honest, forthright friend to Bulbul who accepts her as she is and for what she is.
Excellent cinematography breathed life into the frames. The story could been polished more. A minor irritant that was overcome by the sterling acting of the cast.