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Neither Meek, Nor A Follower, Netflix’s Bulbbul Is The Story Of A Woman Who Is Her Own Hero!

Posted: July 16, 2020

Isn’t a woman supposed to be meek? Someone who is supposed to follow? She is never meant to be a hero. But when she is a hero, let’s call her a chudail.

For some reason, while writing this, I am reminded of a dialogue from the Hindi movie Tanu Weds Manu, “Bhaiya, kya hai na, jo aadmi hota hai wo marne ke baad bhoot banta hai lekin jo aurat hoti hai wo chudail ki chudail hi rahti hai.” (A man turns into a ghost after death but a woman is always a witch, dead or alive)

While the trailer of the movie Bulbbul really intrigued me, I had to wait for a week to watch this movie because I wanted to watch it with a friend. Thanks to the stringent lockdown restrictions, she had to ditch me on this and I had to watch it alone. Since I missed the chance to discuss the movie in person, now I am motivated to share my two cents on the blog.

What Bulbbul is all about

Bulbbul is the story of a girl married off at the age of five or six to a rich zameendar Indranil who is a good twenty years older than her. She believes she’s married to his younger brother Satya who is much closer to her in age. There’s a third brother too, Mahendra, Indranil’s twin, who is shown to have mental disabilities and is married to Binodini.

Since everyone is busy in their own lives, Bulbbul and Satya form a friendship and for years are each other’s only companions. Binodini, jealous of the title that Bulbbul gets of badi bahu tries to ignite jealousy in Indraneel’s heart. This leads him to sending Satya away, breaking Bulbbul’s heart.

What happens between Satya leaving and coming back to the village is the story of Bulbbul. Mixed with the mysterious deaths of several local men including Mahendra which leads to the lore of the ‘chudail’ being back. Satya is on a quest to find the murderer and prove to the village folk that no chudail exists.

My interpretation of the movie

Bulbbul is the story of many women in the late 1900s and even today. Classified as horror, the movie also has a very feminist angle to it.

While the story is categorised under horror genre, there was almost nothing horror about it. For some reason, I felt good after watching the movie. More than a revenge drama, it appeared to be a metaphor for the patriarchal society we live in where each character personified an aspect.

Bulbbul

Bulbbul is the personification of an innocent child who does nothing except obey her elders and the men in the house. She was only five when she was married off to and sent away. Bulbbul dozes off during her wedding and when she wakes up, she is on her way to her new house. She is scared and horrified not to find her pishima around her when she wakes up. Yet no one sympathises with her, but Satya who tells her stories. 

The most ironical scene of the movie was when after marriage, Mahendra came to her, trying to touch her. Indranil shoos him off. He then, justified his behaviour by telling a five-year old Bulbbul that Mahendra, a man in his late twenties perhaps, is a kid. Girls are expected to behave as women right from their childhood while men can afford to continue being immature even as an adult.

Bulbbul spends her entire childhood and adolescence craving for warmth and love that she receives only from Satya. Her love for him was pure and innocent. And her behaviour conformed to all the societal norms. Yet she was punished by Indranil because she wasn’t even allowed to feel affection for the only person who cared for her. At the same time, it was alright for Indranil to have illicit relationship with Binodini.

Bulbbul’s only sin was her trust in her family. The day her trust was broken, the innocence within her died and a fighter was born. And even if it was a divine power who avenged for powerless women’s suffering, she was termed evil by her own kind.

Satya

Satya represents the elusive love and companionship that every woman dreams of in her relationships. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that a woman seldom experiences unconditional love. There’s a long list of to-dos for her to earn that love and respect.

Perhaps Satya too loved Bulbbul but for him, his societal relationship, that of a brother-in-law overpowered his love. He loathed Bulbbul’s new version, was suspicious about her friendship with another man and even asks him to leave the village forever.

Indranil & Mahendra

The fact that both the characters were played by the same person supports my interpretation. Indranil and Mahendra represent two sides of the same coin- patriarchy. While Indranil represents the civilised face of the orthodox system, Mahendra stands for the brute male ego.

Indranil appeared to be just, loving and protective about Bulbbul until she was loyal to him. But the moment he doubted her character, he became the judge, and gave her a befitting punishment. He stripped her of her respect and status and left her at the disposal of his alter-ego.

Mahendra had always been on the lookout for an opportunity to assault Bulbbul but was stopped as well as sheltered by Indranil. He finally got his way. But he wasn’t termed guilty. Isn’t this the same way how society works?

 Binodini

There is a very popular saying, “Women are women’s worst enemies.” Binodini is an example of this. She is not just a villain but a victim who has learnt her life lessons the hard way and values survival more than fighting. Binodini is hurt, angry and cynical. She feels undervalued and realises that she’s nothing but a replaceable object.

However, she doesn’t have the power to confront the person who replaced her. So she chooses to attack the new object of his affection, she was replaced with. Right from the beginning, she’s jealous of Bulbbul – for her luck, her status and the affection she receives.

She neither loves nor hates Bulbbul. Binodini has just turned stone-hearted. Her pain was clearly visible when she narrated her own story to Bulbbul while cleaning her wounds.

Dr. Sudip

Dr. Sudip represents the rare tribe of feminists– the ones who sympathise with women’s suffering. He is one of those who truly support equality for women- the likes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy who played a major role in getting sati abolished. Unfortunately, they are often misunderstood, insulted, and discouraged. In the absence of Satya, he was the only one to support Bulbbul, give her strength, and help heal her.

Bulbbul’s transformation: Before vs After

There was a time when Bulbbul was a coy and innocent bride. She had no interest in fine silks and gold ornaments. All she liked was writing stories with her brother-in-law Satya. Her life revolved around him.

Her life was hard and she knew it. She was married to an older man and her brother-in-law lusted after her while her sister-in-law manipulated and constantly taunted her. However, everything seemed okay as long as Satya was around.

Bulbbul was everything a woman ought to be as per the society. She obeyed everyone around her, wasn’t a threat to anyone and accepted all the wrongs without questioning them. Her life was picture perfect until the day her heart betrayed her.

She went from the coy bride to a goddess

The look on her face – trying to hide her broken heart, the way she controlled herself, the embarrassment clear in her eyes. She was ashamed but selfless too. What was her fault here? That she wasn’t a robot that could be programmed to respect the namesake relationship and forget the real bond.

Whatever it was, she was the only one to bear the consequences of her love. The pain, the shame, the invasion- she couldn’t take it anymore and something died in her – the woman. And a goddess was born.

But was it a goddess actually or a witch or simply a woman who realised her true potential? A woman who gave up on all the fake bonds she had? One who brought justice to perpetrators in her own way? How can the society call her a woman? Isn’t a woman supposed to be meek? Someone who is supposed to follow? She is never meant to be a hero. So, let’s term her supernatural. If her actions bring glory to the heroes of the society, she’s a Goddess like Sita, Draupadi, Radha, Rani Laxmibai. But if not, she’s a witch, demon, evil like Surpanakha, Tadka. Hence, Bulbbul was a witch for the men and Goddess Kali for the women.

The controversial song: Kalankini Radha

And while I talk about the Goddesses, how can I forget about the controversy around the song Kalankini Radha (a Bengali folk song that means ill-reputed Radha). I came across some IMDB ratings that said this:

To be very honest, I just could not hold my laughter seeing this. I am thankful to God, these people didn’t exist on earth when stories on Radha and Krishna were being written. Being trained in classical dance, I have grown up dancing on verses from Geeta Govinda.

Lord Krishna isn’t only my favourite God but my muse too. Anyone who truly loves Krishna and has actually watched the movie would understand how apt the song was to the situation in the movie.

Radha was Krishna’s soul but she was married to someone else. And even though their love was spiritual and platonic, in the eyes of society, it was wrong. Bulbbul’s and Satya’s relationship was similar which made Binodini taunt her by singing this song.

Overall, I really liked this movie. Of course, I am no critic to comment on the technical aspect of the movie but as an audience, I truly enjoyed it. I am glad movies like Stree and Bulbbul are being made. They are not only entertaining but also portray some real issues through interesting plots. I am loving it. If you have watched this movie too, do let me know what you think of it.

A version of this was first published here.

Picture credits: Still from the movie Bulbbul

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