'Bulbbul' Review: An exquisite feminist drama
Anushka Sharma's latest Netflix release is a period film that's all things gorgeous
When you come away from a movie besotted mainly by its exquisite setting and gorgeous costumes, you ordinarily would have an issue. But Anvita Dutt's debut film Bulbbul, produced by Anushka Sharma's Clean Slate Films, that dropped on Netflix today, has all that and a bit more to keep you hooked.
The blood soaked tale of vengeance set in 1881 Bengal, centres around a girl Bulbbul (played by Tripti Dimri of Laila Majnu fame) who is married off as a child to a much older Thakur, Indranil (a broody Rahul Bose).
Arriving at the dimply lit haveli, set on the edge of a mysterious sun-dappled forest by day and a crimson hued, fog-infused setting at night, the little girl soon grows up to find that 'there are big secrets within the four walls of a big haveli.'
Dutt skillfully takes on an insidious family drama and infuses it with elements of the supernatural, folklore and patriarchy - themes that run through the one and a half hour movie consistently.
While the casting is perfect, it is Dimri as the earthy, mysterious Bulbbul, played with an equal air of enigma and self-assuredness, that captivates you.
Bose, of course, is skilled enough to don the avatar of the debauched Thakur, totally enamoured with his young bride but battling emotions of jealousy and possessiveness, with such finesse that we don't know whether to empathise with him or look on with horror as he goes about his business.
Avinash Tiwary (Laila Majnu) as the London-returned brother-in-law, Satya and Parambrata Chattopadhyay as Bulbbul's close aide Dr Sudip equally play their part to perfection. As does Paoli Dam as the wily Binodhini, Bulbbul's sister-in-law who is beguiled by the jewellery and silk saris in the humongous mansion, but finds to her chagrin that marrying into a zamindari family isn't all it is made out to be.
The eerie and plaintive background score by Amit Trivedi matches the action on a perfect note.
Bulbbul is a movie that offers up its setting as a visual spectacle (much like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie) - the candle-lit haveli with its deep, dark secrets is a perfect foil to the lush forest outside. But at night everything is mysteriously infused with crimson from the blood moon, which can be a bit distracting.
In fact crimson is the dominant colour that overruns the movie, from the blood-drenched mysterious deaths of the men in the neighbourhood to the vermillion mark on Bulbbul's forehead to signify her marital status or the alta-dipped footprints left by a new bride as she walks into her husband's house for the first time.
The screenplay that covers roughly 21 years moves effortlessly between the past and the present and the plot keeps pace, though the action in the end, could have done with a bit of slick editing.
Bulbbul lays bare a patriarchal society that oppresses its women in different ways - be it getting one wedded to a man with developmental issues by justifying that 'marriage will sort out the issue'; or making her don a toe-ring to suppress the nerve that will make it impossible for her to 'fly' away; or one which looks at a relationship between a young girl and boy through one lens alone. So what's a spirited girl to do but break free of these shackles and fly free?
Dutt marries the folklore of the bloodthirsty chudail with the twisted feet which probably every Indian has heard of, with themes of feminine power and toxic masculinity, most adroitly.
But somewhere towards the end when you see the 'chudail' perched atop a tree, you wonder if you have been beguiled by all the optics. And if that's enough to fight the system. firstname.lastname@example.org
Director: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Tripti Dimri, Rahul Bose, Avinash Tiwary, Paoli Dam, Parambrata Chattopadhyay
Rating: 3 out of 5
Streaming now on Netflix