Aided and prodded by Binodini’s salacious words, Indranil becomes suspicious of the relationship between Bulbbul and Satya and decides to send his brother away. In the scene where Indranil brings this up with Satya, he again chides Bulbbul for not keeping her feet covered—her desires hidden. Satya then leaves for London leaving Bulbbul with a broken heart. She longingly gazes out from the window, which seems to look like the bars of an iron cage. She feels trapped in this prison. Indranil, however, is still not satisfied and aims to further clip her wings. His suspicion of Bulbbul manifests in his horrific attack of her wings—her feet. The film uses Raja Ravi Varma’s Jatayu Vadham to depict this harrowing act. In the painting, Raavan, who has abducted Sita, cuts one of the wings of Jatayu. Mirroring the act in the painting, Indranil cuts the wings of Bulbbul by hitting her feet. He is attacking the means of her mobility and freedom leaving her bedridden with her legs bandaged and fractured. His twin brother Mahendra, who was always troubling Bulbbul, also takes advantage of her condition and sexually assaults her in a state when she cannot move at all. She is left almost dead with her feet impaired and washed in her blood.
Then comes Sudip (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), a compassionate doctor, who helps in the healing of her feet. Like his name, he is the enlightened one. He is not a savior per se but tries to help Bulbbul get her wings back. He keeps checking on her recovery and becomes a friend and a confidante. This aspect is also reminiscent of Pari where it was again Parambrata Chattopadhyay as Arnab who helps Rukhsana in the healing of her feet. In that film, Arnab sees the bloodied feet of Rukhsana who turns up at his house in Kolkata walking all the way from her village and offers to apply Boroline on them. Rukhsana is intimidated by any touch and puts her feet away from him. Seeing her hesitation, Arnab gives the tube to her and tells her to put it on her own. Later, this scene is repeated when Rukhsana cannot find a nail cutter, and she uses the knife to cut her nails, bruising her feet in the process. Arnab, again, observes her feet and gives her Boroline to apply it on her feet. This time, she puts her feet away initially, then brings them forward, and signals to him that he can apply the ointment on her. These little touches demonstrate the dynamics of consent and depict that Arnab is well aware of the boundaries of women. Likewise, Sudip is quite self-aware and knows his limits. At one point, he says to Bulbbul, “Pahunch ke bahut bahar ho. Isiliye lakeerein kheechta rehta hun.” You are out of my league. I keep drawing boundaries to keep myself away from you.
Thereafter, Satya returns to Bulbbul’s life. A shot of Bulbbul’s covered feet is the one that welcomes him. After a few days, Satya is taken aback by the proximity between Bulbbul and Sudip. “Parda bhi nahi kiya aapne,” he remarks disapprovingly. You have not even worn a veil. He tries to take over the household work from Bulbbul showing that he wears the pants in the house. He wants to put her back in the cage. Bulbbul, meanwhile, seems to have moved on. From the bride with the alta-lined feet, she has become the chudail with ulte pair (twisted feet). Unaware of the reality, Satya chases the chudail leading to her death. The men tried to cage her but Bulbbul found freedom. When Indranil returns in the end, he looks towards the sky, sensing that Bulbbul is flying somewhere above him.
Bulbbul is powered by its two leading women. There is the charming Tripti Dimri who portrays the innocence and the swagger of Bulbbul beautifully. There is a lovely scene when she and Sudip share a smoke and she talks to him through her smile. Her eyes convey the sadness of heartache. There is also the marvelous Pauli Dam as Binodini who initially comes across as shrewd and meddling but gradually one feels sympathy for her as she, too, had gone through a lot of suffering in her life. One of the finest scenes in the film is when she dresses up Bulbbul after she is assaulted and narrates her story revealing the carrots she was given when she was asked to marry Mahendra. “Badi haveliyon me bade raaz hote hain,” she concludes and asks Bulbbul to remain silent.
Bulbbul features an old Baul song Kalankini Radha, originally written by Radharaman Dutta. The song is about Raas Leela where Radha is warned by her friends that the naughty Kanha is waiting for her. A few lines of the song are spoken by Binodini when she sees Bulbbul’s attraction towards Satya. Earlier, Satya had also spoken the same lines from Kalankini Radha to Bulbbul while writing their story. Bulbbul is a bit of both Sita and Radha.
There is also a lot of foreshadowing in Bulbbul that gives out hints of things to come later. During her wedding ceremony, Bulbbul sees Satya from behind the betel leaves as if she is marrying him. Though she gets married to Indranil, the scene portended the future where Bulbbul starts liking Satya. Later, a young Satya narrates the story of a chudail, living in the trees, who was waiting to gobble up the princess. This is also the story of Bulbbul. When they grow up, Satya and Bulbbul work on a story together. Satya is piqued that Bulbbul brings a spooky element in their story, which again signals the events of the future. After Satya returns from abroad, he asks Bulbbul as to which woman is capable of a brutal murder. A voice in the background is heard calling, “Badi Bahu,” as if replying to Satya’s question.
Bulbbul’s feelings for her brother-in-law have roots in Satyajit Ray’s gorgeous Charulata where a lonely housewife Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) falls in love with her brother-in-law Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee). Like Bulbbul, Charu displays a visible fondness for Amal. However, the objects of the two women’s affection in the two films seem to be oblivious to those feelings. Amal does not realize that Charu is in love with him until much later while the signs had been there all along. Likewise, when Satya is asked to move to London, he is unaffected while Bulbbul is nonplussed by the thought of his departure. Like Amal and Charu share an interest in writing and poetry, Satya and Bulbbul write a story together. Captivity and confinement is also a theme in both films. In the opening scene of Charulata, Charu follows the proceedings outside her house, like a bird hopping from one window to another. Many sequences in Charulata have been shot from behind the bars and pillars underscoring that Charu is trapped in a cage. The film was also based on Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Nastanirh—The Broken Nest. The visual language of Bulbbul also reflects this entrapment. Bulbbul is the story of a trapped bird. At some stage, Bulbbul is also shown peeking out from the window resembling that she is trapped in a prison.
I was also thinking of Ray’s Pather Panchali while watching the kaash flowers in Bulbbul. In Pather Panchali, Apu and Durga run across a field to watch a train passing through the village. It is memorable also because the field is full of kaash flowers that add to the scene’s beauty. I was reminded of the same when a withering Bulbbul wakes up with a scream surrounded by kaash flowers in her rooms, signifying that the chudail has taken over her body. In the last few moments of the film, Indranil returns to the mansion and the house is brimming with the exuberance of kaash flowers indicating Bulbbul’s presence. These flowers are associated with Durga Puja underscoring the linkages that the witch is also the goddess.
Bulbbul and Satya wanted to write a story together. When the time comes, Satya departs as his part is done and asks Bulbbul to finish the rest. An inconsolable Bulbbul is scared of a future without Satya, unsure if their story—real and reel—will ever be completed. Like her namesake bulbul from Haider, whose dreams were poisoned by a baaz, Bulbbul is left wingless by the men in her life. She realizes that unlike the fairy tales, there is no prince charming who will rescue her and give her story a beautiful ending. She has to write her own story because the protagonists of stories are only puppets of the pen; the real power is held by the one writing its prose.