The Indian film industry doesn’t have a particularly impressive track record of making good horror movies. The total number of horror movies made till date in India that are actually a decent watch can all be included in a single listicle titled ‘Top 20 horror movies from India’. So when I heard about a period horror film ‘Bulbbul’ being produced by Anushka Sharma, I was eagerly awaiting its release, especially because the last one I watched – Tumbbad – was absolutely magnificent in all aspects.
Having just finished watching Bulbbul, all I can say is – this would have been an excellent mini-series!
Pros – Fantastic premise, arresting visuals
The one thing that really stands apart in Bulbbul is the gorgeous cinematography, accentuated during the night shots. Swathes of the forest dipped in lush shades of rose provide an ominous feel of the terror that hovers around the people. Every moment in the forest is laced with dread and tension, providing the traditional scares necessary to attract the casual horror fan to a movie. However, the true horror lies not in the forest but within the sprawling haveli – the more spacious it seems, the more oppressive a symbol it becomes for the malevolent patriarchy it holds.
The premise is pretty straightforward – as a kid, Bulbbul (played by the spunky Tripti Dimri) finds out she has been married off to a much older Rahul Bose (in a double role), instead of his younger brother Satya (Avinash Tiwary) who is closer to her age, and with whom she has shared moments of affection through a mutual interest in scary stories.
Despite resigning to her fate as the betrothed of Mahendra (Rahul Bose’s character) and staving off lecherous advances by the mentally challenged Indranil (Bose’s second role), Bulbbul isn’t able to suppress her desires for Satya. This provides the narrative for the horrors that lay ahead – and how rage and vengeance threatens to engulf them in an inferno – metaphorically and literally.
Cons – Underwritten characters, predictable plot
Bulbbul has been billed by many as a ‘feminist revenge’ saga and it certainly plays to the trope. The plot is without doubt quite predictable – you will figure out the entire story in the first 5 minutes. However, despite the predictability, the narrative could have unfolded in a more convincing manner if some of the characters had been properly fleshed-out. While Bulbbul’s arc is pretty solid, it would have been amazing to learn more about Paoli’s Dam character, whose entire background can be imagined vividly in her haunting dialogue “Bade haveliyon me bade raaz hote hain”. The dialogue happens just after a horrific incident with Bulbbul, but its searing intensity makes us immediately sympathise with Dam – a testament to the power of brilliant writing of characters.
While it can be argued that the short running time effectively encapsulates the entire saga and the evils of patriarchy needn’t be shown explicitly, a more nuanced understanding of the characters would have been possible if the movie had been a tad bit longer. And even better if it were a 6-part miniseries.
Nevertheless, any movie with a decent horror background and a strong, resonating message is a welcome sight in Indian cinema. Let’s bring on Bulbbul 2!
Verdict – 3/5 stars