By Twinkle Ghosh

Cast: Tripti Dimri, Rahul Bose, Parambrata Chatterjee, Paoli Dam, Avinash Tiwary

Director: Anvita Dutt

Streaming Partner: Netflix

Anushka Sharma’s Bulbbul is a profoundly relevant fable. It is powerful, it is feminist; it is the tale of a woman gravely wronged. With Bulbbul, Sharma presents yet another dark fantasy (after Pari) loaded with social critiques.

Bulbbul is very much its own film. It is a unique mix of classic pre-Renaissance Bengal and desi horror which makes it perfect for a gripping Saturday-night watch. It’s also one of those films whose set design and soundscape fits into a flawless whole: Amit Trivedi’s music lulls you and the deep crimson palette becomes a credible manifestation for the sinister affairs in and around the haveli.

The entire setting of the film successfully takes you back in time to Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s tales about the Bengali upper-caste housewife, in this case, Bulbbul, who has a world full of luxuries on the outside but is curbed on the inside. She is bound to a husband who fails to understand her complex persona and creative potential.

The film borders on the horrors of colonial Bengali patriarchy and the routine of imposed widowhood. Then there’s also the ardent need to compete for the affections of the ‘master’ of the household driving women within the joint family structure to be cruel to each other.

However, the narrative sometimes gets a little predictable. For instance, the moment you see Bulbbul’s smirking, mysterious face when Satyendra (her childhood companion and brother-in-law) returns from London, you know that she is no longer the gullible girl he left behind. You also know there’s a witch and why the witch is stalking her victims.

Presenting himself as a stark contrast to this toxic practice of patriarchy is the charming Doctor Sudip, whose relationship with Bulbbul primarily revolves around him taking care of her feet. The representation is subtle—a man who willingly surrenders himself at the feet of a woman, is more trustworthy than the rest

Where the film really undermines symbolism is in its treatment of the equation between Bulbbul and Satya. It is common in stories featuring the ‘possession’ of a doomed woman for a Satya-like figure to swoop in and save the heroine with the restorative power of his love. But in this case, you see a clear a red flag when Satya treats Bulbbul’s newly assumed status as the mistress of the house disdainfully, as if she is only playing a child’s game.

Presenting himself as a stark contrast to this toxic practice of patriarchy is the charming Doctor Sudip, whose relationship with Bulbbul primarily revolves around him taking care of her feet. The representation is subtle—a man who willingly surrenders himself at the feet of a woman, is more trustworthy than the rest.

What sets the film apart, is the rock solid cast.

What makes Bulbbul shoot ahead as a film is its actors and their rock-solid performances. Rahul Bose in the twin roles of the ‘thakur moshai’, and the manchild trapped in his own damaged mind; Avinash Tiwary as the brother-in-law who is a constant companion to his young Bhabhi; Parambrata Chatterjee as the ‘doctor babu’ who has a soft spot for Bulbbul, are all nonpareil in their own rights. Paoli Dam plays the let-down ‘choti bahu’ to a T. And as the little girl who grows into a woman, her perplexing smile hiding the pain which she employs to great effect, Tripti Dimri is simply terrific. That aside, the film goes on to evoke an odd sense of satisfaction as one watches the witch hunt her prey, hauling it once again as a triumph of the genre.  

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