Now that more Bollywood movies are going to a streaming platform, many fantastic films are now being made available to audiences in their home. Bulbbul, from actress Anushka Sharma’s production house, Clean Slate Films, is a story with strong, female protagonists in a supernatural world.
“Bulbbul” is set in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency in 1881. It is a supernatural fairytale gone awry, a large manor with secrets, and unjust landlords.
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Bulbbul, a young girl, is robbed of her childhood when she is married to a middle-aged aristocrat, Indranil Thakur (Rahul Bose). At the same time, Bulbbul and her brother-in-law Satya, only a few years older than she is, befriend each other. To amuse a frightened and confused child bride, Satya tells her a folk story about a demon woman with inverted feet, who prowls the earth, thirsty for human blood. Thus, Bulbbul and Satya forge a friendship on the basis of fairytales.
Twenty years later, a grown-up Satya (Avinah Tiwary) returns from his studies in London to find that nothing has remained the same from his childhood. Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) is the authoritative lady of the manor, Indranil has disappeared, and the menfolk of the village are being murdered. The locals say it is the doing of the demon woman who avenges victims of injustice. Through a series of flashbacks, the circumstances surrounding the manor and the village are slowly revealed.
With beautiful cinematography and a haunting musical score, the film promises much, but with a weak — almost predictable — script, it fails to deliver.
Reviews have been positive. Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express stated: "Bulbbul is very much its own film, the mix of classic pre-Renaissance Bengal and desi horror gothic making for gripping viewing...It is a powerfully feminist, revisionist tale of a woman wronged, and it is told with economy, precision and feeling...Dutt uses the ancient trope of a bloodthirsty ‘chudail with ultey pair’, a familiar creature tale in our scary ‘kisse-kahaani’, to create dread and fear. The writing is skilful and stays on point, and the performances are all solid."
Shilajit Mitra of The New Indian Express stated: "A slender mix of supernatural horror and social commentary, Bulbbul...is a bewitching tale of trauma and heartbreak. It sings of clipped wings and feet, capturing the injustices of a feudal world built on the subjugation and enslavement of women."
Namrata Joshi of The Hindu applauded the rebellious idea of Anvita Dutt and stated: "Anvita Dutt mixes the feudal with the supernatural, the spooky, the mythological and the fablesque in a thoughtful, moving and engaging manner....She mixes the feudal with the supernatural and the spooky, the mythological and the fablesque to strike at the putrid core of patriarchy in a thoughtful, moving, engaging and powerful manner."
Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV stated: "The visually lush film uses unshod feminine feet, the mysterious forest, the trees and its shifting colours as narrative codes that conceal secrets and truths that are out there for all to see if one is attentive enough...Tripti Dimri justifies the top billing with a performance that blends the coquettish with the mysterious in fine, enigmatic harmony."
Nairita Mukherjee of India Today applauded the film and its producer Anushka Sharma and stated: "The Anushka Sharma production is an uncomfortable yet almost intoxicating watch...Bulbbul cleverly uses the fairytale trope here to trap the audience....(it) is a brave commentary on patriarchy, and how strong women who cannot be boxed or chained have threatened it in every century. Therefore, they must be burned, just so the phallic pillars of patriarchy can remain standing tall. Except once in a while, a Bulbbul is born from those ashes. And a fairy tale unfolds."