Anvita Dutt calls Bulbbul a fairytale in the very indigenous sense of the word. This supernatural drama, currently streaming on Netflix is the conformist tale of the demon-woman or “chudail”, as we all know it, but with the very empowering undertone of feminism.
Set in the backdrop of 19th century Bengal Presidency, Bulbbul starts with a spitting image of patriarchy as we are introduced to the form of child-marriage where a young girl is married off to a rather old man. The eponymous lead of the movie- Bulbbul (played by Tripti Dimri) is strikingly beautiful in her role as we see her turning into the “Thakurian” of the manor years later.
The story unfolds in two non-linear narratives- one is the present and another is Bulbbul reminiscing her past. Throughout the story, we encounter several characters with the core characters being Indranil (played by Rahul Bose), who is Bulbbul’s husband, his mentally challenged twin- Mahendra (again, by Bose), Mahendra’s wife- Binodini (Paoli Dam) and their younger brother, Satya (played by Avinash Tiwary).
A striking abnormality in the family is the absence of any children in the household. Given, the movie is from a time when women were treated nothing more than seed-bearers to continue the family tree, this plot hole strikes a different tune. Along with the fact that even though set during the British empire, we do not actually see any interaction with the British government and use of any dialect from that time, which only takes away the essence of the timeline the movie tries to depict. The premise is the age-old fable and is pretty predictable even when presented with mysticism.
However, even with the apparent loopholes and basic storytelling where a girl loses her innocence in the process of turning into a woman- Bulbbul stands out as a rather stunning movie due to the phenomenal visuals and literary symbolism. The fact that Dutt uses Tagore’s ingenious Choker Bali as her namesake for Mahendra and Binodini, establishes the thrusting cultural enrichment the movie tries to portray. How symbolic it feels seeing the edgy, messy, and tangled up relationship between the young widow and our child-bride.
We also find the touching influence of Satyajit Ray’sCharulata in Anvita Dutt’s Bulbbul as we see the broken nest be instrumental for both Charu and Bulbbul’s awakening. A little too literal as well as metaphorical for the latter though. Even the relationship between Bulbbul and Satya resonates with Charu and Amal’s camaraderie and shared interest in verses. The misty blood moon nights, in synchronization with Amit Trivedi’s enchanting background score, makes the film all the more bewitching to watch.
The cinematography is on point as it never fails to capture the quintessential moments, be it Bulbbul’s wait for Satya by the window or the painful, blood-drenched truth within the four walls of the bathroom. The frame shifts effortlessly to capture the changing colour scheme between the past and the present.
The performances are stellar. Tripti Dimri is beguiling as the doe-eyed young bride looking for the warmth of companionship in the haveli and changing into the mysterious “Badi bahu” with mischief and untold secrets twinkling in her eyes as she fans herself using the peacock feather hand-fan which marks her newfound regal demeanour. The change in her sarees’ hue from pastel (in the past) to slate (in the present) signifies her transition to own up to the title of the house’s most honourable member.
Rahul Bose in the twin roles wreaks havoc with his unparallel performance stunning the audience. Paoli Dam as the jealous “Choti Bahu” oozes poison all over the household. Parambroto Chatterjee is his subtle role as Doctor Sudheer is the lenient holder of a soft-spot for our Bulbbul and never fails to make that eye contact which entrusts our belief in him. Avinash Tiwary falls short by a little in his character as the “dewar” of the house but never disappoints us.
At times, the film falls short of capturing the ethnic Bengali air and rather settles for a contemporary North Indian tone. Even with the magnanimous Thakur-bari, heavy golden jewellery, big red bindis and Alta and crisp dhotis– not a single character speaks Bengali. No, not even the minor ones. With a fleeting Bengali song that we hear Binodini hum, the unsettling feeling of the entire movie set in pre-Renaissance Bengal and still not a single hint of it other than the apparent indication of the location written on-screen which never leaves you as you watch the film.
But, at the most, Bulbbul will still amaze you. It never stops to shine as an apostasy towards the ever-existing patriarchy and more than anything tells a feminist tale.
Psychology, Cinema, Literature and Writing are my four Arch Angels. When, I am not devouring over thrillers, I like listening to indie folk while I enjoy my extra-milk tea. Exclusively in the business of creating and spreading art with love.