Director and writer: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Tripti Dimri, Rahul Bose, Parambrata Chatterjee, Paoli Dam and Avinash Tiwari
Star: 3.5 out of 5
Streaming on: Netflix
Supernatural period thriller ‘Bulbbul’, set in 19th century Bengal, is a fine example of a holy and enchanting union between Indian folklore, mythology and fantasy.
Be warned, there’s nothing holy about ‘Bulbbul’, which draws you into the world of a child bride who’s married to a much older man and her life is transplanted into a palatial manor.
But this supernatural thriller with sumptuous cinematography is the cinematic equivalent of your grandmother telling you that scary folk tales in your childhood, steeped in myth and legend, and how those tales get embedded in your mind and haunt you even as an adult.
The disturbing and superbly crafted thriller, powered by fierce performances, has your heart right from its opening scenes.
The scene in which Bulbbul, an impish child bride, who loves climbing trees and playing in the backyard, is carried in a palanquin to her new home and wakes up disoriented in the night asking for her familiar aunt is heart-breaking. Her helplessness and her lack of agency is shown rather than shoved into our throat like a moral lesson. Almost every scene is poignant and stirring in ‘Bulbbul’.
The child bride quickly makes a friend in Satya (Avinash Tiwari), her husband’s much-younger sibling.
Directed by Anvita Dutt, the movie produced by Bollywood A-lister Anushka Sharma draws you into a mystical world where witches and feudal lords co-exist.
Tripti Dimri, who plays the titular ‘Bulbbul’, grows into this woman with a seductive charm. She has an aura about her.
Dimri is perfectly cast as this beautiful woman with the right smidgen of wickedness. She’s a revelation in this film. The engaging movie oscillates between her past where she’s married to Bose’s character and her present where her aged husband has abandoned her and seems to be punishing her. Satya, played charmingly by Avinash Tiwari, returns from London and finds his childhood mate transformed into an alluring lady of the manor.
The movie reminds you of ‘Othello’, the celebrated Shakespearean love tragedy about an insecure husband doing despicable things when jealous.
Bose as the arrogant patriarch, who’s almost like an indulgent father figure to Dimri, plays his role with studied restraint and command. The scenes in which he unleashes his wrath on his wife is almost romantic and damaging.
The scene in which he beats his wife with an iron rod fireplace poker rattles you.
Bulbbul’s identity is constantly eroded and we get to know about it as viewers like turning pages in a book. Each dialogue — be it with her crafty sister-in-law (Paoli Dum) — triggers a painful memory in her life and lets the viewers into her being.
‘Bulbbul’ is a fine example of a supernatural thriller that looks to Indian tales and mythical influences, instead of borrowing from the West.
Parambrata Chatterjee as Bulbbul’s erudite physician and his forbidden attraction for his lovely, flirtatious patient is an interesting strand in this film.
Bulbbul’s village is being haunted by a ‘chudail’ [witch] who feasts on men and their blood. She’s like an Indian vampire out to haunt those who cross her path. Those supernatural elements are seamlessly woven into this tragedy about frailties of human relationships.
All actors in this film put their best foot forward. While the movie begins on the most promising note, the second half which has dominant elements of witches and demons unleashing damage may require that you suspend logic for a brief time. But there was something wildly enchanting about a witch on a killing rampage in a village. You buy into this stirring story with relish. Paoli Dam is pure evil, yet you cannot help but feel bad for her faulty and flawed mind.
There may be points when the movies seems to be stalling and stumbling in its own twisted and warped logic, but it comes together beautifully. Every character — like the dreaded demonic ‘chudail’ — leaps out of this movie and into your heart. The climax is loaded with fantastical twists, but you never give up on it.
If you are someone who loves and miss your grandmother’s tales, then this film will whet your appetite for Indian folklores that thrill. ‘Bulbbul’ — a bird found in Asia — soars, flits and takes off wonderfully. There’s spirit and soul in this film.