The legend goes, that when I was really young, my father predicted my vibrant love life. He estimated the number of rendezvous, all based on his understanding of me as a kid. He was obviously spot on, but what was it that gave him the data crunching ability for such a valid projection. The fact that I was much freer in talking to everyone, or perhaps my ability to speak my mind even at that age? My proximity to well tasted freedom, that only childhood assures or maybe that very few things in life deterred my ability to take chances. When I probed further, it was a mumbo jumbo of free mindedness, whatever that means dad, whatever that means.
Why are we talking about my father's epiphanies and what is his decided success at that? Because that’s the first thing I remembered when I was 15 minutes into BulBul. The story is based in Kolkata in 1881, of a flamboyant family of Bengal Presidency and Bulbul, a spirited girl who at a young age of 5 is married off to Indranil (Rahul Bose), a much older man from the Thakurate Estate. The movie opens to Bulbuls alta ridden feet dangling from a tree. They are meant to represent her childhood, carefree life, and probably the last time she experiences true freedom. Cut to some years later, where she co-authors stories with her brother-in-law, her only friend in this mansion of unspoken rules, salacious secrets and what we Indians have never been able to fully comprehend- maryada. Parallel to this plot runs the folklore among natives of a chudail who kills her prey and has what is essentially backward feet. As the story advances, there are enough hints dropped to the viewer on Bulbul being the said chudail. However, I am not writing a review of the movie for you. I don’t specialise in that.
I am here to point out our love for dichotomies and classic assumptions via bulbul. The classic assumption by the brother in law (Satya), is that if Bulbul is friendly around a man who isn’t her husband, she is an infidel. The classic assumption that besides men in the family, it’s beyond the tehzeeb of the family for her to mingle with any other male member of the society. The classic assumption that a woman will be able to leash another woman and report on her actions better than anyone as he invites his elder sister in law to keep Bulbul in check. The classic assumption that her biggest enemy and critic in the house has to be another woman. The classic assumption that being married in a Thakur estate is enough for a woman, what else could she possibly want? And then of course the classic assumption that the wife who is more enamoured by her brother in law, deserves punishment and desertion instead of a friend. She is beyond repair.
Bulbul isn’t a subtle take on the dichotomous approach of our world too. There is no middle ground, no room for grey. A woman is either a chudail or a Devi, she cannot be just a woman wounded by unfair hands dealt out to her. She has to be a Devi to legitimise being raped and then avenging for the heinous crime. Keeping the variable of witchcraft aside, do you think the actions of bulbul would be forgiven or even validated had it not been made clear that she is no longer human? Do you think the benefit of doubt would be extended, if they had known all those men killed were rapists, molestors or wife beaters? The dark side of the world we live in, whether it was a hundred years ago or today, remains the same. A woman either has to be a Devi to earn that respect, or create fear in the hearts of men and women. There is no in between. She is either a cheater or a devoted wife, either a barbaric out of hand rebel or the family’s pride. She cannot be both, cannot have shades of grey. She is beaten, broken and raped, yet the only legitimate explanation for her murders is the fact that she is blessed by the Gods themselves and is no longer just a woman.
To round off my argument on simplified storylines courtesy our love for black and white, please understand that the movie expresses the same as a satire. Blessed are those who observed it. It’s brilliant writing, I even appreciate the red tones in half the movie. But it takes much more than a vigilant viewer to know where the storyline is coming from. Bracketing it as a horror masala movie with lessons peppered on top isn’t the only aim behind good cinema. And it’s been a while since we have had a taste of it anyway.