Bulbbul review: A moving feminist tale but evil faces extinction

Another Anushka Sharma Production that beats conventional horror narrative by humanising an occult figure

Rating: 2. 5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Like life, a genre too needs to evolve with time. The old school Ramsay thrillers are passe’ but truth be told, not many modern filmmakers have been able to breathe new life into the horror genre. Horror films are now far and few. One actor producer though has made a valiant effort to revive the genre with a few experimental tales. It first began with the fantasy thriller-cum-comedy Phillauri [2017]. Anushka Sharma then delved into myths with the eerie drama Pari [2018]. The Clean Slate Filmz co-founder now brings the Netflix original Bulbbul [2020]. No this ain’t any musical of a singing bird but a feminist horror drama. Sharma’s only produced it, choosing young talent Tripti Dimri to play the lead. Bulbbul is written and directed by Phillauri screenwriter Anvita Dutt.

In 1881, a little child Bulbbul is married off to a wealthy royal Indranil [Rahul Bose]. Too young to understand what has transpired, the little girl had mistaken Indranil’s youngest brother Satyajeet aka Satya to be her husband. The boy (Satya) remains her lone friend in the Thakur household, one who entertains her by telling a dark legend. Twenty-years later, Satyajeet [Avinash Tiwary] returns as an accomplished advocate who is keen to solve the recent murders in the Bengal presidency. The manor is now occupied by Bulbbul [Tripti Dimri], occasionally visited by Binodini [Pauli Dam], Indranil’s lunatic twin brother Mahendra’s widow, and Bulbbul’s doctor Sudip [Parambrata Chattopadhyay]

At the heart of the horror lies a strong, pertinent feminist tale that condemns patriarchy and other social ills. It’s this feminist narrative that makes Bulbbul a distinct tale. While it has a strong message, but the rather dull screenplay doesn’t build enough engagement. Dimri has a constant farcical smile on her face that adds to her sophisticated character. We only get to see the different shades to Dimri in Bulbbul’s background story. Dimri though is emphatic in the emotional scenes.

Dimri and Tiwary reunite after the critically acclaimed Laila Majnu [2018]. Agony follows them here too, but now it is Dimri who smiles at her chaotic world. Tiwary had shown great promise with Laila Majnu but has since flattered to deceive in two successive Netflix horror stories – earlier Ghost Stories [2020]. Bose’s dual characters have two vastly different shades to them, but the seasoned actor is more appealing as the intense, troubled big brother Indranil. Parambrata Chattopadhyay is the wise old head around the Thakur household. No surprise his character is named after Sudip, the much loved revisionist screenwriter of Clean Slate Filmz. Chattopadhyay is his usual brilliant self, but it is Pauli Dam who impresses the most as the shrewd chhoti bahu Binodini.

While the film could have done with a more engaging screenplay, but it scores heavily on the technical front. Production designer Meenal Agarwal and art director Ramesh Yadav’s creations mirror the designs, traditions of a royal Bengal manor from the 18th century. The candle lights only add to the manor’s interior beauty.

Costume designer Veera Kapur deserve full credit for Dimri and Dam’s traditional avatar, backed by adequate make-up. Dam looks appealing as a widow too.

Bulbbul [2020] is strong in its visual appeal and some fine cinematography by Siddharth Diwan. Among the memorable shots the one that strikes us literally is Bose gazing at the mirror eyeing Dimri before he unleashes himself on his wife. The scene is brilliantly shot and covered in different shades at the edit table. The witch hunts on a blood moon night. Dutt and colorist Makarand S Surte of Red Chillies VFX go a bit overboard with the red shade in depicting the one too many blood moon nights. However, the fiery rich visual effects make for a visually appealing climax.

Technical expertise though isn’t enough to pull over a story. Bulbbul is another addition to the recent unconventional horror tales that are increasingly trying to humanise an evil. We saw that earlier with Sharma’s Pari [2018]. Dharma Productions’ Bhoot [2020], too, had an empathetic attitude towards a creepy human. If this humanizing of evil is the new evolution, then you wonder is the conventional evil facing extinction in Hindi cinema? Perhaps our Indian audiences are too heavily brought up on the conventional bone-chilling thrillers that it will take time to be more accepting of Anushka Sharma’s experimental horror. Well, that’s a separate debate. For now though, Anvita Dutt’s Bulbbul is not really humming a pleasant tune.

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