Student Critic Rachel Baker reviews
Bulbul Can Sing
(Rima Das, India, 2018)
After years of the coming-of-age trope focussing generally on the experience of white, western teens, Bulbul Can Sing subverts the norm and explores the complexity of adolescence from another perspective. Set in Assam, India, the plot encompasses three friends, Bulbul, Bonnie and Suman, as they experience their formative years in three unique ways. While Bulbul and Bonnie encounter first love, Suman’s sexuality leaves him behind, unaware of the existence of a global community like him outside of their small Indian village. As the film progresses, the restrictive, societal norms of the region create tension between the teenagers’ journeys of self-discovery, and their parents’ contrasting expectations. This creates a tentative, simmering narrative, which gradually leads to some harrowing moments of generational conflict.
The cinematography’s depiction of Assam’s colourful and luscious landscape is a stark contrast to Bulbul and her friend’s limited experience of adolescence. This constant juxtaposition reflects the teenager’s experiences. They have seemingly endless time ahead of them and yet no opportunity to embrace it. The film’s imagery is stunning, lulling us into a sense of security that is shattered by the more shocking scenes. This underlying antithesis between visuals and content makes the film compelling from start to finish.
The script is moving, yet simple, neatly commenting on the teenagers’ relationship with the West. During an unassuming scene as the three study together, Suman asks ‘Who made this English so difficult?’. This brief comment summarises the notion that underpin each character’s plight - that the liberal experience of adolescence in many popular film is inapplicable to many cultures the world over. This ability to make deep, social commentary, through minimal dialogue is a testament to all the film’s qualities, from clever directing to skilful and honest acting.
India is renowned as a country that tourists flock to for the beauty of its countryside and the colours of its cities. However, Bulbul’s poignant narrative ensures we don’t let this cloud our understanding of the troubling values which underpin this society. Bulbul Can Sing strikes a balance between celebrating India as a country, while appreciating where things need to change. As long as quietly heart-breaking films like this are being made, we can continue to hope that the plight of Bulbul and her friends will not be the norm forever.