A free spirited little girl climbing trees in a bridal attire – she’s curious, she’s playful and she’s unconfined. Not for long though.
Bulbul is a fun-loving girl introduced to us as a child-bride in 1880s Bengal, who loves jumping around and climbing trees and plucking raw mangoes. She is carried off from the amicability of her homely backyard to a lonesome and anomalous castle.
She is married off to a royal but unloving man, Thakur Indranil. She is unaware, scared and confused – and amidst these discordant emotions, she finds companionship in her husband’s younger brother, Satya, who is almost the same age as her. They are connected with their common love for horror stories. After noticing their attachment, Indranil sends Satya away to London to study that furthers Bulbbul’s lonliness and isolation in the castle. The Thakur has a twin, Mahendra, who is developmentally challenged and is married to a conniving woman named Binodini.
Fast forward – Satya comes back from London, Mahendra is dead, said to be killed by a demon woman. Indranil has left the castle.
The movie moves from a colorful past to the present covered in red mist. Along with the red mist, we also see a bubbly and docile Bulbbul transform into the confident, poise and stern woman – holding within her the secrets of her dark past in the castle.
‘The castle holds many secrets’ – they keep reminding us, while unraveling one secret at a time and untying the knots. The red mist is not just a color scheme but holds a higher meaning and grips us with anxiety of something horrible happening. As Satya returns from London, we learn, along with him, about the mysterious murders happening in the village – that the villagers are blaming upon a demon woman or a witch. He doesn’t believe in this myth and makes it his mission to uncover this mystery and find the culprit.
Satya suspects the culprit to be Bulbbul’s doctor friend who seemed to have become closer to her in Satya’s absence. We sense jealousy and judgement towards Bulbbul on his side. Jealousy and seeking companionship is a common theme in the movie. The jealousy and companionship leads to some of the most horrific parts of violence and rape in the movie that are difficult to watch but are also the core to the movie. It explains the sudden change in Bulbbul. It’s not that difficult to figure out that Bulbbul is the said ‘demon woman’ and is killing all the men hurting women.
Bulbbul uses an ‘old wife’s tale’ and turns it into a woman claiming justice against oppression and violence. The said ‘demon woman’ is not the villain – but the hero, the goddess punishing those who hurt women. It uses the mythology of back-legged witches and turns it into a story of justice and resilience of women.
Bulbbul starts with the little girl climbing trees and ends with a goddess jumping from one tree to another – signifying nothing has changed, but that the same time, nothing is the same.
Regal costumes, haunting background score, a well-crafted story that is driven amidst oppression of women, Bulbbul is a historical thriller, but is still relevant for the present time. Women are still being oppressed. Child marriage is illegal, but not eliminated completely. The cases of domestic violence are filing atop one another, and so many get suppressed in silence. Justice is still hard to claim. It feels as though everything has changed.
But.. has it really?