Kolkata, 25 Jun 2020 3:00 IST
There are moments of interesting detailing that make the film an engaging watch even if it is not hard to guess at the truth behind the legend of the woman-demon.
Anvita Dutt’s debut supernatural thriller begins with a fairy-tale-like approach, featuring the refreshing screen presence of lead artistes Tripti Dimri and Avinash Tiwary. The recreation of a royal ambience in 19th century rural Bengal, along with the use of a psychedelic red tone, prepares the audience for a fantasy film.
While the gorgeous décor of the interiors and authentic period look of the characters transport viewers into the pre-modern era, the story of a free-spirited girl being married off to a husband more than twice her age hints at a story about how female agency was suppressed in those times. The sequence in which Bulbbul’s mother makes her wear a toe-ring and tells her it is important to wear that piece of jewellery to stay in control reinforces the objective of the story subtly.
Bulbbul is married off to Indranil (Rahul Bose), the head of a royal family. Indranil has a mentally deranged twin called Mahendra. However, since Indranil’s younger brother Satya, closer to her in age, keeps her company, Bulbbul mistakenly considers him to be her husband, until Indranil corrects her. Bulbbul and Satya’s innocent childhood friendship revolves around the world of stories with Satya introducing her to the legend of a bloodthirsty witch.
The director has intentionally overlapped the world of Bulbbul and Satya’s fantasy with the time-space of the film, creating a surreal ambience around the palace in a dark forest. As Satya mentions the witch, the forest and the moon gets drenched with red, signifying blood. The colour tone changes in similar fashion at significant moments later as the story unfolds.
It is not hard to guess the course of the relationship of Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) and Satya (Avinash Tiwary), with Bulbbul hardly engaging in companionship with Indranil. But the director has also refrained from depicting their relationship as an extra-marital affair. They rather grow into companions of similar age, sharing the same interests and energy.
The simple storyline of Bulbbul the film is told through the juxtaposition of past and present. The story begins in 1889 and the 'present' unfolds as Satya returns from London 20 years later, having obtained a law degree.
A lot has changed in 20 years. Indranil has left the palace, leaving his twin's widow Binodini (Paoli Dam). Bulbbul now manages the estate on her own. However, instead of showing any pangs of separation, she greets Satya with a perpetual smile and a look of contentment. Her smile remains intact even when Satya discusses Mahendra’s mysterious death.
Satya, just returned from the West with newly acquired knowledge, finds the account of the demon nonsensical. He begins to inquire into the legend of the woman-demon when news of more murders is reported around the village. Meanwhile, Bulbbul’s affinity with Dr Sudip (Parambrata Chatterjee) instigates jealousy in Satya. He brings Binodini back into the palace out of insecurity and the latter feeds his jealousy.
However, Binodini is also witness to a dark past of the palace, carefully hidden by Bulbbul's perpetual smile. Binodini is also an example of those women who grow to be a part of the systemic patriarchy and uphold its evil principles out of personal frustration and insecurity.
The palace over which Bulbbul now reigns stands as a symbol of the regressive patriarchal system passed on down generations. While Satya unknowingly carries the practice forward, Bulbbul smashes it with an extremist approach. This review will refrain from disclosing any more about the counter-narrative of Bulbbul, but the plot progression and the actions of the characters make the mounting of the story quite predictable.
It is not hard to guess at the truth behind the legend of the woman-demon, nor does the film offer any spine-chilling moments of horror. Though the surreal ambience pervades the narrative till the end, elevating the not-so-fantastic storyline with larger-than-life sequences, the film ultimately fails to live up to the experience it had promised at the beginning.
Anvita Dutt’s message comes across clearly in the climax, but the blatant approach reduces the entire discourse of years of subjugation of women systematically into a cycle of avenging violence with violence. Another aspect that struck this reviewer as odd is that Dr Sudip seemed to be secretly aware of the demon's identity after the first murder but appears utterly surprised by the revelation at the climax.
Tripti Dimri’s enchanting presence on screen is definitely one of the more engaging factors of the film. She portrays her character with utmost ambiguity, retaining an economy of expression. Avinash Tiwary also has commanding screen presence as he convincingly depicts Satya's jealousy and suspicion through his eyes.
Parambrata Chatterjee hardly puts a foot wrong in his portrayal of a benevolent soul. Paoli Dam is quite dramatic in portraying Binodini's acute insecurities but without going overboard. Rahul Bose makes sure to establish himself as the symbol of regressive patriarchy.
Siddharth Diwan’s camerawork lends the required fantastic and poetic mood to the film, ensuring the cinematic experience is rich and engrossing. The close frames of Bulbbul, capturing her vulnerable emotions, the sequence showing Indranil in a mirror in a violent avatar, and translating Dr Sudip’s thoughts during the capture of the demon are commendable. Rameswar S Bhagat’s editing does the most important job of overlapping reality and fantasy convincingly.
Amit Trivedi’s music is rich from the very beginning. He aids the innocence of childhood with soft chorus humming and shifts to the heavy use of classical notes as the plot acquires dramatic intensity and seriousness. The film has fewer dialogues than you might expect and Trivedi’s background score fills up those spaces with intent and meaning.
There are moments of interesting detailing that make the film an engaging watch until the revelation of the past makes the mounting of the story quite obvious. However, the relatively compact length of the film saves it from turning into an exercise in frustration.
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