Why would you want to watch a horror film at a time when there is enough horror going on around you and the world over?
Netflix’s recent Bulbbul gives you more than one reason to do the contradictory i.e. watch a horror film even amid unprecedented horrible times.
Directed by Anvita Dutt and having stalwarts like Rahul Bose and Parambroto Chattopadhyay, the film traverses the historical era of 19th and 20th century. The lead character Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) meets you in the very first frame of the film, doing exactly what a Bulbbul is supposed to do, perched on a tree branch and relishing life. But the little, curious Bulbbul is soon taken away to be caged forever.
Little ornaments are stuck in her even more little fingers so that she can’t fly ever again. As a child, Bulbbul is married to a man supposedly twice or thrice her age and she wakes to a whole new life where she befriends Satya. Satya is her brother-in-law and of a similar age. Later in life, this childhood friendship which began with Satya telling her a horror story develops into a companionship where they both write stories together. Satya is her only friend in the huge mansion of the Thakur household where her sister-in-law Binodini (played subtly by Paoli Dam) shares quite close a bond with Bulbbul’s stern-faced husband Indranil.
Indranil (Rahul Bose) happens to be the “Bade Thakur” of the entire village. Binodini warns him of the bond between Bulbbul and Satya and heeding the warning, Satya is sent to London by Indranil. Bulbull is shattered by Satya’s sudden separation from her as if someone took away her breath. The scene that follows the mourning of this separation demands the viewer to have a very high threshold of sensitivity.
Bulbbul is subjected to multiple onslaughts, first by her husband and then by her brother-in-law Mahendra. But Binodini asks her to keep mum because after all, the perpetrators are “Thakurs” and in “large manors live large secrets”.
Five years later when Satya is heading home, he is intrigued by the story of a witch having inverted feet that lives in trees and hunts the men of the village at night. Surprisingly to his knowledge, his elder brother Mahendra too has been devoured by the same witch. Reaching home, he finds an all-new Bulbbul who asserts the authority of “Bade Thakur” in the village as well as inside the Thakur mansion.
Bulbbul has found a new friend in Dr Sudip. She shares both cigarettes and stories with Sudip and perhaps even something deeper. As more men are killed in the village by the purported witch, Satya begins the hunt to unravel the mystery of the witch. A hunt which is about to change his life forever, along with Bulbbul and Sudip’s and perhaps that of the entire village.
Bulbbul is interspersed with the events of the consequential contrast in the characters. How a naive, innocent and vulnerable Bulbbul develops into the authoritative “Thankur” of the village, who is never short of a smile no matter what the situation is; how a young Satya is now a man of rational who refuses to believe in the existence of the witch and is also jealous of the bond between Bulbbul and Sudip; how Binodini who was ever adorned with jewels is now a widow with a shaven head and a plain white saree (Both the attires not chosen by herself but dictated by the society).
Bulbbul might seem like a mystery in the beginning but as the story unravels, you get to know that it is the sheer portrayal of the brutalities that women go through in their everyday life. Brutalities meted out on them by none other than the most important men in their lives; for whom they enter womanhood at an age where all they were supposed to be playing with dolls and relishing freedom; for whose long lives they fast and pray to the unknown almighty; for whom they become slaves of all kinds.
Those very men are the actual demons sometimes and yet all we hear are the stories of witches who devour men!
Bulbbul is a film for you whether you believe in ghost stories or not because either way, we live in a society where life is ghostly for a lot of women.
Where a woman enters a cage as soon she enters the institution of marriage and sometimes even as soon as birth. Bulbbul wrenches your soul in a few scenes and stays with you long after you have left the screen.
Tripti Dimri has played Bulbbul with the innocence and maturity as when demanded by the plot. Avinash Tiwary as Satya is also good to watch but here the one to be watched is Rahul Bose, playing double roles of Indranil and Mahendra. Paoli Dam as the cunning, frustrated, ever insecure sister-in-law does justice to her character. At last, my favourite Parambroto who is the mysterious Dr Sudip plays it as beautifully as was required. His role, however, could have been crafted more minutely.
The later plot of the film carries a melancholic colour scheme which quite suits the sequences. The special effects dominated by the colour red(the colour of Rebellion) create an aura that very often looks this-worldly rather than supernatural.
In my opinion, the 19th-20th century Bengal presidency could have been portrayed more minutely especially regarding women’s conditions but it seems that the director is more focused on the Thakur manor and the haunted orchard. The horrors of Sati could also be a significant feature of the film along with being a child bride, but it missed the plot. However, it has a few strongly filmed scenes where a faint-hearted person like me could not bear to look directly on the screen.
As we see in the film, the perils of patriarchy are often tolerated and seldom reverted and when reverted, they become a tale to be told for generations to come. Still, since patriarchy is not a phenomenon which came into being overnight, it can not be eradicated with overnight acts of rebellion. As long as we do not address the origin of the demon (patriarchy), we will be unknowingly aiding it.
Gradual severance of women from the forces of production, the origin of private property and their domestication are the tools that have perpetuated patriarchy so far. Later in time, capitalism too started strengthening it in certain ways to its benefit.
Take the example of a female executive who knowingly glorifies keeping the fast of Karwa Chauth because the company is selling offers on its jewels on this occasion. Here, she is working solely for her company’s profit even when her hard work for the company furthers a highly regressive idea against women. The same pattern can be applied across sectors.
The most important and unfortunate thing about patriarchy is that the cage-keepers are not just men but women to their fellow women as well and patriarchy is also deep-rooted in women as in men. It is because the development of their consciousness has been controlled by men so as to further their (men’s) interest.
But unfortunately, now in an era when they are participating in the production process across all the sectors, their consciousness has still not developed as much as they have developed in a material sense. So, here the culprit is capitalism along with men.
Capitalism talks very often about the empowerment of women but seldom of their liberation. While the former is a compromising and patronising term, the latter denotes the opportunity to be free from previous shackles.
Let me ask you a question. How often have you come across a Hindu marriage ceremony which is solemnised without performing the highly patriarchal rituals, the most important being Kanyadaan which represents the transfer of authority from the father to the husband? Even the so-called “progressive” women carry on such patriarchal ideas and practices. They fast for their husbands, carry every sign of marriage even when it hurts them(try wearing bichhiya on a swollen toe) and even when the husband has to wear none.
The solution to Patriarchy does not lie in clearing men from the planet because it is highly nonsensical but clearing the notion of the inferiority of women.
Women need not embody manly traits in order to claim equality because their womanhood is enough for it. But in popular culture, stern and hardcore women are thought to be eligible for equal rights. This whole idea of sternness and strength is highly disadvantageous for men too as for generations they have been conditioned to suppress their soft emotions, their vulnerabilities and their insecurities. This suppression also plays a role in demonizing them and making them a frustrated being for life. Therefore, our current system does not allow any of the genders to be in their innate, natural self.
So, my dear women, patriarchy has become more subtle now than it ever was and if you want to actually eradicate it, merely being financially independent is not enough. You will have to question every idea and practice of yours and of those around you, especially the most glorified ones.
My dear men, Patriarchy harms you a lot even when it might seem to privilege you. It renders you incapable of even being able to shed tears even in front of your mother or partner. So, smashing patriarchy is to your benefit also.
We will be able to become a socialist society when women will be engaged in the process of production not to further capitalist interests but to realise their actual beings, liberated to define themselves unshackled by the stereotypes, and men will no longer be demons but dear comrades to women.