Quick Thoughts: Bandit Queen (1994)
The story of Phoolan Devi.
Less a historical bio-pic, more a vessel of rage, Bandit Queen brings the story of Phoolan Devi, a low-caste woman-turned-bandit who lead a vengeful battle against an upper-caste family, to screen. Because of her fight against oppression, violence and injustice, Devi came to be an almost mythological figure in India around the 80s and 90s, and she even served in parliament in the late 90s, before later being assassinated in the early 2000s.
This film pre-dates her death and election to parliament, and casts her as a staunch hero figure without giving much complication to her character. For this, Devi comes to be a symbol, less a character, which can leave you somewhat detached from her. However, this narrative nonetheless captures a voice of pure anger without many holds barred.
There are a few weights on this narrative. One concerns elements of plotting which see the story jump rather jarringly from one setting or event to another. It seems that this was done because the details of Devi’s ventures are not fully available. So, instead of making up scenes that explain how certain things happen (such as escapes or emotional character decisions), this narrative seems to leave a few blank or ambiguous spots. Whilst this is certainly overlookable, there are elements of action that are not very convincing. Moreover, whilst Devi becoming a symbol works for the effect of the narrative, the mentioned detachment that this constructs doesn’t just lessen the affect of this story, but it has you question the degree of romanticisation that has gone into it. After all, this narrative mentions the role of the press in the selling of Devi’s name to the public, but it doesn’t address the divide that may exist between the real Phoolaan and the Bandit Queen.
With that said, even if this narrative is highly romanticised, it does incredibly well at capturing the rage of the downtrodden and the rise of a vengeful hero. And this is done with shocking depictions of rape and abuse combined with brilliant camera work – especially in regards to framing people against the land and the sky. All of this comes together to produce a highly unconventional ‘Bollywood movie’ (it may be more correct to frame this as a Parallel Cinema film), one well worth the watch.
But, to end, have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts?
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