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Bulbbul: In Large Manors Live Entitlement, Patriarchy, Violence Against Women

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.

A still from the movie Bulbbul.

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”.

A still from the movie Bulbbul.

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.

A still from the movie Bulbbul.

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.

The Perils Of Patriarchy

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.

Representational image.

Capitalism Furthers Patriarchy

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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