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I was just telling myself a fairy tale: Anvita Dutt on Bulbbul

The writer-director reveals why she was compelled to write her debut film and why Binodini is her favourite character.

Our Correspondent

In August, four first-time filmmakers, whose projects all debuted on Netflix, came together for an online conversation where they shared the journeys of their features.

Anvita Dutt, writer and lyricist, spoke about her first film Bulbbul (2020), starring Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Rahul Bose and Paoli Dam. The stylized horror-fantasy, set in Bengal, was backed by actress-producer Anushka Sharma.

The filmmakers were asked how they balanced their respective film's narrative with its discourse without one overpowering the other. Dutt responded by saying she just wanted to spin a yarn without a message.

“I wrote it because I couldn't help it,” she said, saying the story was written nearly ten years ago. “I'm a commissioned writer [and have] been writing for other people.”

But there was something about Bulbbul’s story that kept coming back to her while she was writing other stories and finally she was compelled to finish it.

“I was just telling myself a fairy tale,” Dutt continued. “The politics or message or the themes of it seeped in, because like any writer will tell you, you bleed... like [writer Ernest] Hemingway said, you bleed on the typewriter. So when you bleed a bit of you, the things that move you, your politics, all those things seep into the story.

“For me, it was just a magical story that I was telling about this lost little girl who just learns to speak for herself and the fact that it becomes this discourse about what women feel is because that’s how I feel. And because I wrote it, it came into the story. I’m being true to myself and what I love, and true to the kind of people I know, and what I know about emotions. I think it crept into it,” she explained about bringing her feelings into the story.

Later in the conversation, Dutt was asked about the character of Binodini, played by Dam, which is seen by many viewers as petty and manipulative. However, Dutt’s characterization of her is unapologetic and doesn’t judge her in any way.

The filmmaker opened up on why she was drawn to the tragedy of Binodini and why the character has stayed with her. “I know the film is called Bulbbul, but Binodini is my favourite character,” she said. “She is the most tragic character in the story, though she comes across as manipulative and petty. She is up to no good. The difference between Bulbbul and Binodini is that Bulbbul transforms, she rises above the constrictions, and Binodini doesn’t.

Paoli Dam as Binodini in Bulbbul (2020)

"Binodini has little power and agency and therefore imposes herself on the only person she can, Bulbbul."

Calling her a heartbreaking character, Dutt said, “Her tragedy is that she carries on playing in that perceived power, she has zero agency. She cannot even rise above that and think that I can be more. I wanted to show Bulbbul as someone where we like to be. The tragedy is that most of us spend our lives being Binodini.

“Women, when they are so thwarted and so tied down by the people who impose their power on them, become actually each other’s worst enemy, because that’s their playing field. Binodini, in that sense, becomes everywoman, and the reality and the invitation is to go from being Binodini to becoming Bulbbul. She is someone who makes me feel so helpless, I want to protect her. I want to save her,” she added.

Bulbbul is now being streamed on Netflix. Catch the full conversation between Anvita Dutt and filmmakers Honey Trehan, Sharan Sharma and Neeraj Udhwani below.

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