Bulbul Can Sing movie cast: Arnali Das, Manoranjan Das, Banita Thakuriya, Pakija Begum
Bulbul Can Sing movie director: Rima Das
Bulbul Can Sing movie rating: Three and a half stars
Young Bulbul is like the bird she’s named after: chirpy, curious, lively, exploring the many shades of life with her best friends, Bonny and Suman. They–the two girls and boy–are inseparable both in school and after, sharing silly jokes, secrets, sulks, snubs and silences, just like any other teenage gang anywhere in the world. Watching them share physical space, sprawled on a bed or on the ground, limbs carelessly bushing against each other, bound by deep affection not desire, is to see something rare in Indian cinema.
The fact that this trio and their friends and families live in a tiny Assam village, make them a very particular set indeed. Instead of the sterilized malls and multiplexes of their urban counterparts, their playground is their surroundings: fields full of water where you can cast your fishing net, or trail your fingers, trees you can climb, and trunks you can scratch your names in, flowers you can pick from the grass and braid in your hair.
One of the most striking things about Rima Das’ films is just how vividly nature becomes a participant in ‘plots’ fashioned, organically, by human wants, needs and frailties: Bulbul (Arnali) is discovering the headiness of a first crush, as is Bonny (Thakuriya): the two ‘boy-friends’ are in the same class. And Suman, who is soft and tender, is left adjusting to this new equation.
The strongest, most effective thread in Das’ third feature, which follows the terrific Village Rockstars, is the one which examines the difficulties of being a boy in a world where male-ness is equated with hardness. Little boys tease Suman, call him ‘Ladies’, as do grown men who should know better. In a scene which breaks your heart, Suman says: ‘how is it my fault? God made me like this. Am I the only one like this?’
The hypocrisy with which we deal with teenage sexuality is laid bare with savage economy. From Bulbul’s father who wants her to become a singer, to Bonny’s mother who disapproves of her daughter’s ways, to the school-teacher who has on eye on the budding beauty of Bulbul, to a gossipy group of women: such a strong wave of sanction emanates from these adults, that it washes up against the foursome, who are just doing what comes naturally to those with bursting hormones.
There’s a shocking death, and suddenly the sun-dappled film becomes dark. Das takes us up a horrific peak, shows us the ugliness of humans who are cruel and quick to judge, and then softens the blow. And leaves us in a place where grieving will, inevitably, lead to hope and restoration.
I fell in love with Village Rockstars and its youthful characters who didn’t ‘act’ as much as just danced, pranced, splashed across the landscape. Bulbul Can Sing, which won the Best Assamese film at the 2019 National Awards, and which can be seen both as a companion piece and as its own film, is more ‘performed’. But the naturalness of the actors wins you over. Equally winning is what it leaves you with: growing up is not all fun and games, but there can be rainbows if we go looking.
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