Anushka and Karnesh Sharma’s production company Clean Slate Films has been trying to reinvent the supernatural genre in Bollywood. With ‘Bulbbul’, they are exploring gothic horror in an Indian context, using the eerie romanticism of Bengali culture and cinema, Raja Ravi Varma paintings and superstitious folklore. There are no spooks or jump scares, but the result is haunting and unsettling.
Satya (Avinash Tiwary) returns to India from London after five years to find everything has changed. His home, which was previously occupied by his older twin brothers and their wives is now almost empty. His eldest brother Indranil’s (Rahul Bose) child bride Bulbbul (Tripti Dimri) is the only person left in the house, but she doesn’t seem like the chirpy young girl he left behind. Around town, men are being murdered by a mysterious witch. According to his widowed sister-in-law Binodini (Paoli Dam), his own brother Mahendra (Rahul Bose) was one of her victims. Nothing makes sense, so he begins to investigate.
The story might be weak, but the makers of ‘Bulbbul’ understand that film is visual medium and use that to their full advantage. The film has a slow pace, but each frame is so visually satisfying. There is so much attention to detail, you are compelled to dwell on the little things. The impressively beautiful production design amplifies the storytelling. You can’t help but stare in awe at the silk saris glistening under the sun, glowing in the moonlight. Even the pools and splatters of blood are artfully unnerving. There is no aspect that hasn’t been thoroughly planned. The lighting, set design, color grading, everything has a purpose. The styling has tiny quirks to it, like Bulbbul’s choice of sari color, or her constantly messy hair, which serves to depict her innocence, her grief, but also the menacing energy inside. The beautiful part is, all characters are treated with the same care.
The cast of ‘Bulbbul’ embraces the film’s approach of visually presenting the narrative with such confidence. Tripti Dimri is unbelievably brilliant as Bulbbul. There is so much complexity in every shot, as she skillfully uses her expressions, her body language, her dialogue delivery to present the everchanging auras of Bulbbul. As the title character, she has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but she rarely falters. More importantly, she rescues some of the weaker scenes.
The other actors face a different challenge since their journeys are presented mostly through their actions and reactions. Paoli Dam and Avinash Tiwary prove how phenomenal they are on screen, never missing a beat. Both Satya and Binodini eventually confront their own misogyny without any grand speeches or dramatic pleas. The process is quiet, but the performances make it loud and clear.
Then we have Rahul Bose as the villains Mahendra and Indranil, whose performance can only be described as menacing. And finally, the hero – Dr. Sudip, played by the charming, rock solid, Parambrata Chattopadhyay. He is the moral compass of the film that reminds us of the shortfalls of Satya’s love for Bulbbul.
The story of ‘Bulbbul’ tells you is fairly straightforward, with predictable twists and turns. But the real heart of the story lies in what the film shows you. A visual journey like this is made for the OTT platform, because it deserves to be savoured. ‘Bulbbul’ is the kind of film you stroll through, pausing and rewinding just to admire every little detail that would pass you by on a big screen.