Bulbul Can Sing (Rima Das 2018) India

Reviewed by Carlie Klein. Viewed at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Of all the films I saw at the AFI Fest, this one has something that significantly stuck out to me. It’s a realist fiction, documentary like film based off of the writer, director, cinematographer and editor, Rima Das life growing up in her very own village in Assam, India. The story focuses on 3 best friends going through their, ‘coming of age’ time in life dealing with families expectations, the first real feelings of love and attraction, to strict religious beliefs and laws. This film gives a heart touching insight of what is expected of a young lady in Assam, yet a spiritual understanding of being human and feeling it as a whole. I saw Bulbul Can Sing at the Chinese theater in Los Angeles where at the end of the screening Rima Das herself graced the very admiring audience with her presence for  a Q&A.

Bulbul, and her best girl friend Bonnie both have love interests and go through the motions together of experiencing these new feelings and sharing with each other and other best friend, Sumu. Sumu on the other hand is dealing with his identity of overwhelmingly relating to females rather than males. He is constantly ridiculed and harassed to the point that even the men in the village call him by the crude nickname given to him by the boys at school, “Ladies.” At school, the music teacher so ruthlessly points out the lack of strength in Bulbuls voice, and she is constantly confronted with it by her musical father especially. He has a selfish dream for her to be the next great voice from her village. This film presents the harsh contradictions of love and marriage in a society with unforgiving rules and laws, so after Bulbul and Bonnie were found kissing their significant others, they had hell to pay, shame to endure, and despair to forever live with.

Das filmed this with a handheld camera, making it personal and realistic, as if this was documented in her home town. She beautifully honed in on her craft by capturing the precious details she drew from her past experience of growing up. Particular plants, trees, and places were all given screen time, to highlight their sentiment and importance to the filmmaker. The rope swing they made together in the opening scene was the key motif that perfectly wrapped the film after the tragic loss of Bulbuls best friend Bonnie. The tragic occurrences in BulBuls’ life shaped her into adulthood, and gave way for new growth; this is apparent from her willingness to sing after her childhood innocence was stripped away.

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