Dir: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Rahul Bose
The sky turns deep red as does the entire screen, for significant portions of this film, shown to be shot in natural light, namely fire at night. The setting is a medieval mansion in late 19th Century Bengal. Or what you’d call Raj/Thakur/Zamindar’s Bari, with a massive courtyard, and a series of rooms facing the front. The smoky forest with the horse-carriage riding through it look like they could be in Transylvania.
Keenly aesthetic, slightly overboard; no, what is this? A Sanjay Leela Bhansali film in the supernatural space? Or Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (1964), supplanted from the same time-frame, in a separate context? Is the lead male actor (Avinash Tiwary) styled like he’s straight out of Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera (2013)?
And it’s not that we haven’t seen a Bombay film that, on the face of it, appears to be about ghosts/witches perhaps; but production-design wise, it is as mainstream as it gets. Ek Thi Daayan (2013), produced by Vishal Bhardwaj, comes to mind.
I mean all of the above as genuine compliments, of course. The film does well to visually draw you in. Those many allusions anyway mean this is original. It’s certainly not a picture you’ve seen before. As none should be. This is quite an achievement, in fact. Given that the director (Anvita Dutt) is a first-timer. Although she’s been around in the films for long — mainly in the music department as a popular lyricist, plus as screen/dialogue-writer.
Too many fine titles to her credit (Queen, Kahaani, Gippi, Lipstick Under My Burkha). My respect/admiration for her especially comes from the fact that she once went up to personally receive the self-explanatory Golden Kela Award, for her words in the equally self-explanatory song, Ishq Wala Love! That’s a true sport.
Do you see any of that playfulness in this picture? If the first few scenes are anything to go by, yes, you do. There is a classical fable-like storytelling to start with. The opening sequence concerns a child marriage. Actor Rahul Bose as the old zamindar shows up next to the bed. And splits into two — meaning a double-role (not literally). There is a sense of something deeply interesting going on here.
Watch the trailer of Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary-starrer Bulbbul here:
The question is, if the film — once its essential novelty has worn off, as it would be for any movie after the first few minutes — manages to consistently hold your interest. Honestly, it doesn’t, quite. Not for me. And not for long, long passages, anyway. That’s because there is really nothing going on, by way of keeping your mind ticking.
Keeps you guessing, on occasion? Perhaps. But not even so much of that, really. There is low rhythm and drama. But more so, a declining sense of anticipation. In terms of basic plot, the film seems to be hinged on the possibility of a witch doing the rounds. There is a relevant reference to the cult of Kali; in many ways the patron deity of Bengali culture.
The extremely loaded, strong sub-text concerns patriarchy. The lead character, Bulbbul (camera-friendly Tripti Dimri), dressed in heavy jewellery all day at home, stands in for a bird in a beautiful cage; but a prison, nonetheless.
Do all these elements envelope/jolt you by the senses, or pull you further in ever so gently to seek more? Only over the last 10 to 15 minutes. Glad I surrendered my sleep for this visual splendour, right up until then. Wasn’t particularly easy. Your turn.
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