Bulbul is lying under a tree, amidst fallen flowers. One of those flowers is placed on her chest. She has a flower for heart and it blossoms shyly as we live with her, through Rima Das’ visual poignance. Bulbul can Sing is the story of three teenage friends Bulbul, Bonnie and Suman, played by Arnali Das, Banita Thakuriya and Manoranjan Das, respectively. In Bulbul can Sing, Rima Das revisits the world of Village Rockstars, a remote village in Assam that is graced by mother nature’s mesmeric beauty. The story she chooses to tell is of teenagers unlike Village Rockstars, where it was a 9 year old kid. Naturally, the world expands, the themes addressed in this film are more topical and complex, unlike a much simpler, yet touching exploration of aspiration and destitute, in Village Rockstars.
Rima Das‘ Bulbul can Sing is an assortment of abstract moments of endearment. Most of the film does not have any content per se, Rima Das chooses form over content to convey the brimming emotions in the minds of these teenagers. Playfully bathing together in the river, cleaning the villagehouse with her friends as she mocks her mother for posing restrictions on everything she does, embellishing Bulbul‘s plate with flowers and the dark Diwali night bursting into flutters of light from the crackers. These moments row you into this beautiful flying river production.
Bulbul is the daughter of a Pig farmer, who sings devotional songs at night, in the warmth of the light from the Oil lamp. He aspires to go back to being a singer on stage, like he once was. Bulbul gets conscious of the people around her and fails to sing to the best of her ability, which dearly disappoints her father. In a stunningly cinematic scene, she unwittingly sits down by the river, with wood in her hands and matches her beautiful voice to that of the tune of raindrops falling into the river and sings from the depths of her heart. We barely hear what she is singing. The camera stays far away from her as her voice soars, Rima’s camera realizes that it is an extremely personal moment for her and does not invade it. A director can make a choice like that only when he/she knows the characters intimately.
Bonnie sings, too and is the better singer of the two. She also has a boyfriend and warns him from looking at other girls. She helps her mother run the food stall, along with Bulbul and Suman. Suman is the boy who loves to spend time with Bonnie and Bulbul and is most comfortable around them and not his male friends. He is constantly bullied by his classmates for his effeminate ways. This character clearly is the most complex of the three and the demons of sexuality and shame cause him great pain. In a Heartbreaking scene he breaksdown wondering why he is penalized for it was God who created him. Also, Manoranjan Das’ performance as Suman is the most affective as he walks a tight rope, never overdoing the effeminate characteristics and in a scene seeped in sorrow and loneliness, he stands waiting for Bulbul who has been expelled from school and Bonnie who drowns herself in the river, under the pressure of guilt that is flooded on her for loving a boy from school and as they don’t turn up, he sheds a tear and walks back on the bridge and Rima holds the shot of the deserted bridge, even after Suman has left the frame. The ache in his heart sears through the screen and hits us in the gut.
The film touches upon several aspects of the teenagers’ world. The first burst of love is captured everso tenderly and the film does not stop there, it goes further to explore the repercussions of it. In a gut-wrenching scene, a bunch of men find Bulbul and Bobbie with their lovers and start thrashing them and making their videos. Rima Das’ camera keeps rolling as they trash, abuse and insult these teenagers and hit the girls with sticks. The lack of cut and music makes it extremely distressing to watch these kids be humiliated. Once the scene cuts, we are in Bulbul’s house, the camera is fixed and we see her father and mother sitting outside her room, on either sides of the frame. Both sides are lit with Oil lamps, which only lights some portions of the house, leaving the rest in darkness. This cut here, encapsulates the most profound point Rima Das makes in this film. A village where electricity does not reach but Moral policing does.
When the film is not indulging in searing social commentary, it is painting ethereal frames which create a world so beautiful that one ceases to believe they are watching a story set in our World. Adding to the sensory overload given by the stunning visuals, are the musical silences that fill one’s heart with the most melodious tunes. The flowing water, leaves fluttering in the wind, the chirping of the birds, chiming of a bell tied around a cow’s neck add to the immersive cinematic experience. One sound that stayed with me, was that of the fire dancing on the pyre of a little girl. The sound of the dancing fire on Bonnie’s pyre, burns your heart.
Bulbul and Bonnie’s mother, who is mourning her daughter’s death are framed against a stunning evening sky. A rainbow appears in the sky, by the end of the film. The coming-together of mystical beauty of Das’ storytelling and the piercing pain of the characters create a cinematic rainbow that thrives on the juxtaposition of Beauty and Pain in one frame. Two people full of heartache set against a tapestry of great beauty result in a rainbow of emotions.