Tag Archives: Bulbbul

New Indian Shows + Movies by Women

Earlier this year, CNN’s Diksha Madhok reported that services like Netflix and Amazon have offered women filmmakers in India a platform they’re often denied within the country’s own film industry. Madhok stressed that India’s increasingly autocratic government has begun threatening many filmmakers on these services with imprisonment and fines.

Much of this is due to Indian women filmmakers focusing on films that criticize rape culture. Many are based on rapes and murders of women that have become high-profile news stories, and depict the failure of government and police to respond properly or with accountability.

Other criticisms that have resulted in women filmmakers being threatened include presentations of Hindu-Muslim romances. Political firestorms have also resulted from how religious imagery is used, or the inclusion of nudity. Madhok’s article discusses both women and men filmmakers, but highlights the particular plight and threat involved in topics that women filmmakers have very actively pursued.

India is hardly the only country where women filmmakers face issues like these, but right now it presents a huge number of potential viewers for streaming services. Those streaming services often decide that it’s in their immediate financial interests to simply adhere to what a government requires in order to have access to those viewers. Streaming services will very often choose market access over equality.

I’ve been meaning to compile this article for a while, so I want to take a break from what I normally write about to feature this. It’s a slow week for new projects overall, and that makes a great opportunity to go back and look at new Indian series and movies directed by women. The more interest there is in other countries for Indian films made by women, the more streaming services will continue to support their projects despite the Indian government’s interference.

These are several that I’ve featured in the last year. Find one that sparks your love for stories, and please give it a try:

INDIAN SERIES BY WOMEN

Bhaag Beanie Bhaag (Netflix)
directed by Debbie Rao

An aspiring stand-up comic pursues her dream job despite the disapproval of her parents. Reviews from India have been pretty favorable.

Beware heavy user brigading on review sites. There’s early upset that the show shares broad similarities to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Apparently only one woman in the entire world has a story to tell about double-standards in the stand-up comedy industry, and having a second woman tell one that takes place 60 years later from the complete other side of the world is too frequent. I’m not sure what the logic is – that women could only possibly face bigotry in the stand-up industry once every 70 years globally? Point is: review brigading would be silly if it wasn’t so damaging, and if you’re interested in this, do what you like, watch it, and be careful about how much credence you lend user reviews on places like IMDB and Metacritic.

“Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” is directed by Debbie Rao. She’s directed on a few Indian series, including the very well received “Better Life Foundation”, “Pushpavalli”, and India’s version of “The Office”.

You can watch “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” on Netflix.

Masaba Masaba (Netflix)
showrunner Sonam Nair

Masaba Gupta is an Indian fashion designer. Her mother is prolific Indian actress Neena Gupta. “Masaba Masaba” stars the two of them in a comedy where they portray…themselves. It’s entirely scripted and framed as a narrative comedy, so there’s no reality TV element here. The characters the two portray are simply fictionalized versions of themselves.

Showrunner Sonam Nair has written and directed on a few different Indian TV series.

You can watch “Masaba Masaba” on Netflix.

INDIAN FILMS BY WOMEN

Kaali Khuhi (Netflix)
directed by Terrie Samundra

Shivangi’s family moves to a rural village to look after her grandmother. Soon enough, she spies strange occurrences, even as residents of the village wind up dead. What’s a little girl to do but unravel a supernatural mystery?

This is Terrie Samundra’s first feature film.

You can watch “Kaali Khuhi” on Netflix.

Bombay Rose (Netflix)
directed by Gitanjali Rao

A deaf, orphan boy loses his job. A group of workers whisper about unionizing. An English teacher sets the table for her late husband every night. A Muslim man falls for a Hindu woman, each struggling to make ends meet. A single rose connects a city full of characters in a hand-painted animation that took 60 artists a year-and-a-half to make.

The absolutely awe-inspiring feat was helmed by writer, director, and editor Gitanjali Rao. This is her first feature animation, but her previous shorts “Printed Rainbow” and “TrueLoveStory” have earned praise and awards at Cannes and other festivals.

You can watch “Bombay Rose” on Netflix.

Cargo (Netflix)
directed by Arati Kadav

People who pass away appear on a spaceship, where a man named Prahastha takes care of them. He prepares them to move to the next life. He’s been doing this alone for a long time when an assistant arrives. It’s Yuvishka’s job to learn everything he knows.

This is director Arati Kadav’s first feature. In interviews, she’s described the film as fusing Indian mythology to Eastern sci-fi. She’s cited her influences as science-fiction writers Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, writers who have fused the abstracted edge of the genre to some of its most human moments.

You can watch “Cargo” on Netflix.

Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava

Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.

Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.

You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix.

Bulbbul (Netflix)
directed by Anvita Dutt

Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been.

I watched and reviewed this last year. It’s a deeply gothic inversion of horror with a message and aesthetic I loved, and a superb performances by Tripti Dimri and Paoli Dam. The truth is that there’s no horror that can match the ones people enact on each other, and the film makes its horror a hero. To paraphrase writer-director Anvita Dutt, “Bulbbul” is less about what happens, which you can infer pretty early on in the film. It’s more about how it happens, and why it’s cathartic.

Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.

You can watch “Bulbull” on Netflix.

Shakuntala Devi (Amazon)
directed by Anu Menon

Shakuntala Devi was someone who could calculate just about anything in her head. She became known as a human computer, and demonstrated her ability for crowds. She later became a writer in India. This included what’s considered the first study of homosexuality in India, one that argued for its decriminalization. She passed away in 2013. The film is an energetic biographical take on her life.

Writer-director Anu Menon has come to prominence more recently in the Indian film industry.

You can watch “Shakuntala Devi” on Amazon.

Tribhanga (Netflix)
directed by Renuka Shahane

“Tribhanga” follows women of three different generations in India, and tells the stories of how each raised the next. The title is derived from the name of a dance pose that’s often described as simultaneously beautiful and imperfect.

The film was originally envisioned as a smaller production, but gained momentum (and a Netflix deal) as major producers joined.

Director Renuka Shahane is a popular Indian actress. This is only her second film listed as director after 2009’s well-received “Rita”.

You can watch “Tribhanga” on Netflix.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape. What follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming.

It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

You can watch “Guilty” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

When Human Horror Exceeds Our Fables — “Bulbbul”

CW: Please be aware the following review includes discussion of two topics in “Bulbbul”: child marriage and sexual assault.

How does a movie scare you with the threat of a supernatural horror when it opens with a very real one? “Bulbbul” is an Indian film set in the 1880s. It starts with a child bride being married off. It doesn’t happen in some criminal underworld, in a cult, or on the dark web as in so many other films. It takes place as a celebration, attended by nobility, decorated to an exacting detail. It takes place in the open, according to a tradition, as everyone watches smiling.

The child is Bulbbul, who is taken from her home by carriage. Here she meets Satya, a young boy. He regales her with fairy tales of a vengeful ghost, a monster who lurks in the woods at night. She’s reassured because she can connect with him. Surely, this must be her new husband. Yet when Bulbbul arrives in her new home and she’s set upon her new bed, it’s not Satya who meets her. It’s an adult man.

We’re sped along by years. An older Satya is returning to India from London. When he arrives at the home where he grew up, it’s not the same. His brothers are both gone – one missing, one murdered. His sister has become a monk. Bulbbul now runs the house in peace.

Satya has been away studying law. He believes in evidence, not rumors of a demon in the woods. So he studies it. He hunts it. He tries to put clues together. Despite being away for years, he dismisses Bulbbul, who’s been there. He tells her he knows better, that he’ll discover the killer.

“Bulbbul” understand the gothic horror framework where the aristocratic man pierces the veil of the supernatural with the logic of a well-ordered society. Yet if this well-ordered society starts with child marriage, then what is there to understand? How could that logic possibly present truths or accuracy? When it starts from a place of justifying horror, how can it be imagined that this logic could expose it instead of cover it over?

Flashbacks are frequent and skillfully done. We see the difference between Bulbbul growing up and connecting with Satya, versus the disconnect that exists between them now. It contrasts Bulbbul’s aching and emptiness then, with her satisfaction and a greater completion now.

Tripti Dimri’s performance as Bulbbul is remarkable, especially in contrasting these younger and older versions of herself. Each fits into a different archetype of gothic horror. The younger is understandably manic, alternately exuding joy before plummeting into depression and fear – like a Regency-era heroine who’s barely holding on. The older Bulbbul is calm, collected, precise, often amused.

Here, Dimri finds a precise balance to walk between the casually self-assured gothic horror hero and the sort of Anthony Hopkins-esque performance of a character who acts for the camera while others act for her. Discovering the bridge between her younger and older selves is what makes up the core of the film. While Satya may fill the typical hero’s role, the film never strays far from Bulbbul because that typical hero’s role is useless and misguided.

Does “Bulbbul” work as a horror movie? Yes, in that director Anvita Dutt does the work of shifting the anchors of horror movies in order to explore territory that’s often ignored. “Bulbbul” is extensively stylish and meticulously designed, but it’s also efficient. Gothic horrors do their best work in their extravagances, but “Bulbbul” is a movie that inherently finds extravagances are built on someone else’s suffering.

This means “Bulbbul” takes some build-up to fully convince you of its most intense genre moments. It might never fully do so. I was creeped out here and there, but there was no point where I was scared by the supernatural elements. I was aghast at the real moments, though. These are far more oppressive.

After all, it opens with a child being married off to an adult. It witnesses just a few of countless more horrors that child must face as a result. What monster could possibly be more horrible than that? What make-up effect could they put on-screen to make us scream in revulsion more than a child sitting in a bed asking who her husband is, and an adult man telling her it’s him? It’s already horror before there’s any hint of a demon, before the moon turns red, before men are hunting in the forest and being picked off one by one.

“Bulbbul” doesn’t need to be loud in its genre moments when it thunders in its quietest. It’s dressed in all the style of gothic horror, and that style is impressive, but what “Bulbbul” really becomes is a fairy tale. It’s a fable, and a powerful one. It inverts what gothic horror typically does to remind us of what gothic horror too often forgets in its obsession with style: the most brutal monster that creates all his others is man.

It could be criticized as predictable, but its effectiveness and intelligence is what makes “Bulbbul” stand out over many less predictable horror options.

It’s a pretty good horror movie. It’s a phenomenal fable.

“Bulbbul” can be watched in the U.S. on Netflix.

Does “Bulbbul” Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Bulbbul” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Tripti Dimri plays Bulbbul. Paoli Dam plays Binodini. Ruchi Mahajan plays Bulbbul as a child. There are some other, brief roles.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. Binodini and Bulbbul in particular have a complex power dynamic that shifts over time.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Among other things, they talk about each other, restrictions in their lives, and unsolved murders (of men, but I think it counts in this circumstance).

Some of what they talk about is coded speech to talk about a man without directly talking about him. This relates to the restrictions in their lives as women and the positions they’re expected to hold.

Some of what they talk about is a man, in a way that’s coded to talk about something else that they have to tiptoe around discussing.

There’s a good amount of smartly written dialogue between them that takes place along multiple layers of code – sometimes both understanding, sometimes only one.

Their dynamic is so interesting because in the past and in flashbacks, Binodini is alternately trying to protect Bulbbul while also diminishing Bulbbul’s power or sway within the house (and thus increase her own). This dynamic is completely reversed in the present, where Bulbbul is the one in control, after Binodini did something awful to suppress Bulbbul’s voice and access to justice.

The relationship presented here between them is beautifully and realistically complicated. Binodini has been victimized by a patriarchal system, recognizes how Bulbbul is being victimized by it, occasionally moves in roundabout ways to protect Bulbbul, but also understands her own power relies on this system and that she understands it and can take advantage of it better than Bulbbul can.

Binodini alternately fears that partiarchal system and loves its rewards. She both resents and loves Bulbbul, protecting her in some ways and victimizing her when she’s must choose between Bulbbul and that system. Paoli Dam hits every note of this relationship in a convincing way.

The film often centers on Bulbbul’s relationship with Satya and that is absolutely given far more screen time. The most complex and winding relationship belongs to Bulbbul and Binodini, though. It helps that Dam joins Tripti Dimri in delivering the best acting in the film, and that the script gives them such complex, coded, haunting material to work with together.

I’d also note that the film is both written and directed by Anvita Dutt. A longtime screenwriter and lyricist in the Indian film industry, “Bulbull” is her directorial debut.

Since this section can also function as a window into other forms of representation, I will say that it presents intellectual disability as a danger in a way that wasn’t necessary to getting where the film wanted to go in its story. That aspect of it is problematic.

A Note About Fighting Child Marriage

“Bulbbul” takes place in the 1880s, but it very much speaks to the world today. Child marriage is still a problem in India, with UNICEF reporting in 2017 that 27% of women in India are married by the age of 18. This relies on self-reporting, so the number is likely higher.

UNICEF also reported that 7% of women in India are married by the age of 15. That’s one in every 14 girls – and again, this relies on self-reporting, so the number is likely higher.

This isn’t just a problem in India, though. It’s not just a problem halfway around the world either. Hell, Ghislaine Maxwell was just arrested for helping Jeffrey Epstein supply the rich and powerful in Western countries with underage girls.

To learn more about how to fight this, take a look at Girls Not Brides. It’s an international organization dedicated to ending child marriage in every country. They work with many local organizations that don’t just fight child marriage, but that also fight for girls’ access to education, health care, and other resources to eliminate many of the elements that feed child marriage and other forms of victimization of girls. Please look at Girls Not Brides to know more and see what can be done to help fight this.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Movies + Shows by Women — June 26, 2020

Last week featured so many movies I had to split the article into two. This week only has four entries, but you can find a great and needed film out of a stack of four or a pile of dozens. Please heed the following as you read:

A Content Warning

I want to be very particular about two of the entries this week. One is an Indian gothic horror movie that centers around criticizing the country’s history of child marriage. The other is a U.S. documentary that focuses on the cover-up perpetrated by USA Gymnastics to hide the sexual abuse of 500 girls.

I delve into some of the statistics or similar incidents for each, as well as providing some resources for learning more about helping, so please consider this a content warning. I’ll also place individual content warnings before those specific entries, which are the first two being covered.

Bulbbul (Netflix)
directed by Anvita Dutt

CW: CHILD MARRIAGE

Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been. A gothic horror mystery ensues.

Director Anvita Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.

“Bulbbul” has received a mountain of praise in India as a fable with a strong feminist message. Though child marriage is technically illegal in India, UNICEF reported in 2017 that 27% of women in India are married by the age of 18. Believe it or not, that’s an improvement from 47% a decade earlier in 2006. India’s own National Family Health Survey has mirrored these numbers very closely.

However, both of these studies rely on self-reporting. This means that with a stronger national prohibition passed in 2006 and a greater focus on eliminating child marriage, that improvement – such as it is – may reflect an increased number of people lying about marriage ages more than it does the actual reality of the situation.

UNICEF also reported in 2017 that at least 7% of women in India are married by the age of 15. That’s one in every 14 girls.

My knowledge on this ends about where the statistics do. I don’t want to pretend I can educate on the problem much further than that. To learn more please take a look at Girls Not Brides, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage in every country. They have a lot of information on the topic, resources to help educate all of us about the problem, and steps you can take to help with girls’ empowerment, education, health support, and a number of other important priorities for girls around the world.

You can watch “Bulbull” with a Netflix subscription.

Athlete A (Netflix)
co-directed by Bonni Cohen

CW: SEXUAL ABUSE OF MINORS

“Athlete A” is a documentary about USA Gymnastics systematic cover-up of the sexual abuse of more than 500 children by the organization’s doctor.

Everything I just mentioned in the commentary for “Bulbbul” – we see it happen in other countries and there’s a privileged impulse to imagine they’re backwards and that sort of thing doesn’t happen here. Yes, it does. Our culture, our country isn’t immune from this. This was one organization that saw 500 children abused by one man. How many other systems aren’t scrutinized?

Dozens, if not hundreds, of politicians and celebrities who cavorted around with Jeffrey Epstein will likely never be held accountable. He was hardly the only perpetrator. He was just the largest we know about. The system in the United States just practices it differently, so let’s not feel better about ourselves when we read about what happens in other countries. Let’s recognize that it needs to be improved everywhere.

For every Penn St., for every USA Gymnastics, for every Jeffrey Epstein, how many do we not know about? If those can be successfully hidden for decades, how many were successfully hidden even longer? How many are still hidden? Let’s not pretend our country doesn’t have this same problem, and let’s not pretend as if we’ve magically avoided allowing it to be systematized in how it’s ignored and covered up.

The documentary follows the investigation not just into the perpetrator of these crimes, but those who covered it up, destroyed evidence, and lied to police – allowing it to continue.

Director Bonni Cohen is a powerhouse in documentary filmmaking, having produced “The Rape of Europa” about Nazi art theft, “Cooked: Survival by Zip Code” about environmental redlining, directed “An Inconvenient Sequel” about climate change and green energy, and produced and directed “Audrie & Daisy” about online bullying – just to name a few. She directs here with Jon Shenk, who she’s produced and directed with before.

You can watch “Athlete A” with a Netflix subscription.

Clemency (Hulu)
directed by Chinonye Chukwu

This is a movie I featured before when it was first available to rent. This is the first time it’s on a subscription-based service. In a time of sheltering-in-place and social distancing, I can’t keep track of which rule about re-featuring I’m being consistent about or not, so new rule: movies starring Alfre Woodard get to break the rules.

“Clemency” won director Chinonye Chukwu the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. She was the first Black woman director to win it. Woodard plays a prison warden wrestling over the execution of one more inmate. The film itself seems to examine the social and racial implications of what she does, while allowing Woodard the room to play a character losing her own humanity.

The film feels like it could be especially relevant right now.

You can watch “Clemency” with a Hulu subcription, or rent it for $6 from Amazon, Fandango, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, or YouTube.

Daddy Issues (digital rental)
directed by Laura Holliday

“Daddy Issues” is a slacker comedy about a struggling stand-up comic who moves to L.A. to take over her late father’s business. She’s been distant from him and doesn’t know what – or who – she wants out of life.

This is director Laura Holliday’s first feature film.

You can rent “Daddy Issues” for $4 from Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube, or $5 from Microsoft or Vimeo,

Other Releases

I’ll quickly highlight a pair of other projects that are getting additional ways to see them.

Director Nubia Barreto’s telenovela “All for Love” is now on Netflix. It’s a Colombian series about a poor boy getting involved in organized crime in an attempt to find his lost sister, and developing a relationship with an up-and-coming singer along the way. You know, as one does.

“XX” is a horror anthology featuring four segments each written and directed by a woman, including horror master Karyn Kusama, first-time director Annie Clarke (better known as musical artist St. Vincent), Roxanne Benjamin, and Jovanka Vuckovic, as well as a title segment by Sofia Carrillo. It’s been on Netflix before, but Hulu’s got it now, so that may make it available to some new viewers. Anthologies are often a great way to learn about writers and directors whose work you’re seeing for the first time.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.