Bulbbul is a disastrous gothic horror that only succeeds in continuing a run of Netflix doing Indian cinema dirty.
Unlike Nobody Knows I’m Here, which was a 90-minute film that felt longer to make a larger point about self-suppression, Netflix’s other new original today, Bulbbul, is a 90-minute film that feels longer because it’s garbage. An intermittently nice looking but aggressively dopey period gothic horror from writer-director Anvita Dutt, this is the latest in a long line of disasters that make it seem as if the streaming giant is deliberately playing a joke on Indian cinema.
Fittingly, then, the title character of Bulbbul feels like a joke at the film’s own expense; a smirking, smug villain who knows what kind of film they’re in. Of course, the audience is on the same wavelength, so watching every other character failing to realize what’s going on quickly becomes an exercise in frustrating tedium. In the film’s opening, a young Bulbbul (Ruchi Mahajan) is married off to the much older Indranil Thakur (Rahul Bose) after mistakenly believing she was to wed the similarly-aged Satyajeet (Varun Paras Buddhadev). Two decades later and a grown-up Satya (Avinash Tiwary) returns to Bengal after studying law in London to find an adult Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) living a life of relative luxury; her husband is gone, his developmentally challenged twin brother Mahendra is dead, and Mahendra’s conniving wife Binodini (Pauli Dam) has been ousted.
The ensuing story is told needlessly across two parallel timelines that link Bulbbul to a spate of killings of men that have been attributed to a folkloric creature, and this connection is obvious from the jump. Devastatingly, though, despite being repeatedly hinted at and more or less stated outright on a few occasions, everyone acts like this is a really compelling mystery, making the film’s characters seem idiotic and its audience feel as if they’re being patronized. Which they are.
Dutt is a writer making her directorial debut here, but weirdly enough the film’s visuals are the only area is which Bulbbul is passable. The writing is amateurish and uses its feminist slant to lean into the folklore rather than subvert or at least re-examine it; this is a film in large part about the mistreatment of women that doesn’t have anything incisive to say about the subject, instead allowing its idiotic characters to amble through a rote procession of tropes while viewers question why anyone is doing any of the things they’re doing. A generic score that seems to only gently remind you to feel the obvious thing in any given moment only exacerbates the artificiality of it all. Nothing to see here.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.