Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

Netflix’s Bulbbul and the too common depiction of Bengali women as witches

Content warning: mentions of rape and suicide. Also, spoilers.

Bulbbul is a Netflix original movie that is a hauntingly beautiful supernatural thriller. I deem it to be a fairytale, rather than one which delves more into the horror genre, because tackling the demons of patriarchy is honestly the fairytale we all deserve.

Bulbbul is the tale of a child-bride during the Bengal presidency in India, who is a victim to patriarchy, domestic abuse, and rape, subsequently dying of trauma. She eventually turns into a demon (but is deemed as a Devi or a Goddess) and slashes men who do women wrong. The entire movie with the red and pink overtones, the late 19th-century British regality and Bulbbul’s jewels and sarees is a feast for the eyes. The domestic abuse that is portrayed is triggering and heart-wrenching, but true in this modern society nonetheless. However, my article is not a review of the movie but a link to the relevance with modern Bengali society in current times.

I am sure Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is currently famous, not just because of the significance because of his mental health struggles but because it has become an entire conspiracy theory. I am not commenting on either the justification of making it into a conspiracy or even trying to argue about whether it is a murder case or not. I am simply going to direct the relevance of the case with the movie that is Bulbbul.

Rhea Chakraborty, who came forward as Sushant’s girlfriend right after his death in June, has been accused of aiding and abetting into the murder of Sushant, and consequently allegedly accused of money laundering and shifting his assets. Rhea is an actress who was found with huge lumpsum amount of money transferred from Sushant’s bank accounts. Sushant was believed to have been murdered for money. This whole conspiracy aside, I bring her name into this article for a legitimate reason. No, I am not going into the conspiracy takes, but talking solely about Rhea Chakraborty here. Rhea is a Bengali woman, who has been accused of witchcraft and dark arts solely because she is Bengali and an independent woman.

The sheer mass of comments against Bengali women in India (I am a proud Bengali) has left my mind numb. Bengali women are headstrong, opinionated, and independent and have been fighting patriarchy for the longest time. We women are raised in a familial household where we are taught to rebel. Since Raja Rammohan Roy helped abolish Sati (the burning of live women along with their dead husbands on the funeral pyre), Bengali women have come forward and advocated for women. Our community has managed to help and break through the patriarchal sociological roots, with the help of men and women alike. We are taught to embrace our sexuality, and encouraged to be whoever we want to be.

Characters in Bengali works created by women such as Mahasweta Devi, Ashapurna Devi, Leela Majumdar, etc are feminists and have been breaking patriarchal barriers for a long time. To accuse us of witchcraft and black magic because we happen to be strong is literally equivalent to witches being burnt alive in Salem.

This is why I decided to pen my incoherent thoughts into an article, because what else can a writer do?

Netflix’s Bulbbul depicts a child bride’s transformation into a young woman who gets brutally beaten up and raped and eventually transforms into a demon during a blood moon. Bulbbul and her brother-in-law Satya share romantic intimacy because they are closer in age, and frequently share stories about witchcraft and demons amongst themselves. Bulbbul who gets married to the very old Indranil at the tender age of five finds comfort in Satya who is almost a friend from the beginning of the movie. Their relationship, however, drives Indranil, Bulbbul’s husband, into a jealous, angry rage. He beats her mercilessly, mutilating her legs. While recovering from her grievous injuries, she also ends up raped by her other brother-in-law, Mahendra, and thus she ultimately dies.

So, we as viewers can equally predict that it is Bulbbul who has turned into a witch, Daayan, and is killing men around in the Bengali city. This prediction might be unsurprising but doesn’t fail to make our hearts ache.

The witch Bulbbul, who has imbibed within herself the fearlessness and blood-lust of Kali, is killing men to save the women, because that is what she has become reduced to. Her death brings her the solace that she never received in her otherwise destructive marriage filled with marital abuse. She kills her rapist and to see a woman get justice brings us unequivocal happiness because we can’t stand torturous depictions of patriarchy even in movies. It is satisfying to see the men get what they deserve.

Why Bulbbul stands true in modern times, despite being set 200 years ago is because patriarchy hasn’t faded, even though centuries have passed. Women who can think and fend for themselves are still called a “fucking bitch”. Bengali women are still being termed as witches. I can’t deny Rhea’s involvement in Sushant’s case, and I won’t comment about the entire murder/suicide spin. But you can’t take this situation to paint an entire community of women in a disgusting light.

Unlike the movie’s portrayal of Bengali women, not all Bengali women are witches. Yes, we are independent and strong, vocal and determined. And, we want to destroy rape culture, and protect women. However, we don’t use our dark magic powers to dominate males. Like Lady Lazarus, “…we eat men like air.” And, if all of us had the power to manipulate magic, we would have ended misogyny, sexism, and solved problems of climate change long ago.

Our community boasts of unapologetic women, witches even, like the ever-powerful Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. We are not ashamed of what we are and who we are. Perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes and enforcing the idea that Bengali women are witches is disgusting. Again, little else can be expected from the rape culture normalized society like ours. However, like Bulbbul, our pain as women living under misogynistic shrouds rings through and every day we try to be better feminists.

Bulbbul is a devastatingly beautiful tale of a predictable story but with a supernatural, beautiful twist. With fantastic acting by Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwari, Paoli Dam, Rahul Bose and Parambrata Chattopadhyay, and wonderful direction by Anvita Dutt, it will make your heart ache.

Watch it on Netflix because it will move you to tears by the end of it, and make you want to believe in magic so you can destroy the evils of patriarchy. So you can stop womankind from being called “witches” in a derogatory way.


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