KARACHI: First things first, Bulbbul is an uncomfortable film to watch, for several reasons. Haunting music and intense performances aside, the film feels like a South Asian feminist’s show reel, covering many of the horrors that govern the lives of women in this part of the world.
Set in the 19th century, a child bride is given off to a family and married to a grown man at least 20 years older than her, and at the very beginning, we are given a sense of the direction of the film and its feminist subtext when the sister-in-law adorns the child with toe-rings and laments that women are made to wear them because it’s easier to control them then.
The film fast forwards to the complications that a forced marriage, that too of such a big age difference, would bring to a household. Bulbbul (played by Tripti Dimri) is all grown up and fighting against the desires of the other men in the house, and the jealousy of her sister-in-law. She is also fighting her own desire towards the youngest brother of her husband, Satya. And all this family drama is shrouded by the folklore of a mysterious witch with feet that face the other way, who preys on vulnerable men in the vicinity.
Bulbbul easily rests on the shoulders of the main cast. Rahul Bose is magnificent as two twin brothers, Indranil Thakur and Mahendra, with the latter being intellectually disabled. Tripti is extremely convincing as the bari bahu, a title that means a lot in their household and Paoli Dam (who plays the sister-in-law) and Avinash Tiwary (Satya) do their best to convince us of this story.
And as beautifully as this film has been shot, and as eerie some moments of the film are, the witch herself isn’t able to scare us even once. Instead, what is done to her in the film is what is truly horrific. Women are robbed of their agency over their bodies, married off without their consent, silenced and sexually assaulted in this 19th century fantasy world, but unfortunately, these horrors are real even in 2020.
But the film has a predictable ending and that is the biggest disservice one can do to a film. While Bulbbul starts out very strong, with beautiful visuals and a plot that seems to build up slowly, it eventually all comes undone somewhere in the middle and fails to keep our curiosity piqued towards the end. The film is worth a watch though.