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Bandit Queen (DVD)

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Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1995 / Director: Shekhar Kapur / Actors: Seema Biswas, Aditya Srivastava ... / DVD released 07 December, 2004 at Koch Lorber Films / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, NTSC

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    3 Reviews
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      20.02.2010 12:50
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      Excellent film, but the violence will be too much for some

      Phoolan Devi was married at a ridiculously young age to a much older man. Too young to know what was going on, she was raped by him and mistreated by his family - not helped by her own sharp tongue. She escaped, returning home, only to be thrown out of her father's village because she was too much of a sexual distraction for the local men - although she did nothing to attract their attention in the first place. She is briefly taken in by her cousin, but then becomes involved with a group of bandits. She falls for one of them, and then have a brief love affair, but her happiness is not to last. After a horrific rape and beating, and the loss of her lover, she forms a new group of bandits and vows to get her revenge. However, her fame is now spreading country-wise and she has many enemies. Can she evade capture? Or is she doomed to die at the hands of her enemies or spend her life in prison?

      Phoolan Devi is played by Seema Biswas, in what appears to be her first film role. Certainly, it was this role that made her famous and with very good reason. She is amazing in the role. Phoolan is not the most likable of characters - she is stubborn, foul-mouthed and won't give in to bullying, although she seems to attract an awful lot of it. Nevertheless, it is hard not to feel great pity for what happens to her, simply because of her position in society. She is brutalised on more than one occasion and the way it is filmed is so realistic, it is painful to watch. Seema Biswas is utterly convincing. She doesn't even attempt to glamourize the role - there are no pretty hairstyles, nice clothes and make-up here, and much of the time she looks dirty and scruffy. Nevertheless, Phoolan's determination to fight for what she believed was right is very catching; I was gripped to the screen from start to finish.

      This really is a one-woman film. There are a few other characters, but only one that is really worth mentioning - that is Vikram Mallah, played by Nirmal Pandey. He really provides the only eye-candy to the film - he is very good-looking in a scruffy way, but really the reason he stands out is he is just about the only man who treats Phoolan with kindness. He rescues her from rape and even shoots his gang leader to stop him from doing any further harm to her. Their relationship is fiery, but they obviously respect each other - the two actors work very well together and there is a real feeling of chemistry between them. Nirmal Pandey doesn't have all that much on-screen time compared to Seema, but he gives a strong performance and really left an impression on me.

      The story is a truly amazing one. I would have found it deeply realistic anyway, despite the jaw-dropping horror of it all, but what is even more amazing is that it is at least based on a true story. Phoolan Devi really did exist and became a bandit queen. She apparently didn't approve of the film, so it isn't clear quite how much of it is completely true; nevertheless, it has been suggested that it is because she didn't like the way she was portrayed, rather than she was unhappy with the story that was told. How much is true/made up aside, this is still a superb story for a film and is most certainly one that ought to be much better known in the West. The film is, of course, not in English (apart from a few lines), it is in Hindi, but the subtitles are excellent and, much of the time, they are not necessary anyway, because the action tells the story.

      For anyone wondering if the cast (which is an enormous one) stop in the middle of their fighting to have a Bollywood-style song and dance session - you can set your mind at rest, there is none of that here. There is virtually no humour or light-heartedness throughout the entire film. There is, however, a great deal of violence. In fact, the violence rarely stops, and at times, it can be very hard to watch. Phoolan is raped at least three times and although it is not at all graphic, the pain on her face and the screams she emits are heart-rending. She does, however, get some revenge - she goes back to look for her husband and beats him to a pulp. She is also responsible for the deaths of countless other men, some of them innocent - which did feel very unnecessary. The UK classification of 18 is most definitely right here.

      I am interested in India and its culture, and know a little about the basics, but no more - I've certainly never been there. It isn't necessary to have a deep understanding of how things work in India in order to watch the film, but it was educational in many ways. One of the issues highlighted was the caste system and how women of a low caste were (are?) particularly badly treated. The scary thing is that Phoolan Devi didn't exist in the nineteenth century - her story happened in the 1980s. I found this amazing and can only hope that her situation has helped to educate Indians - although I believe that the caste system is still very much in evidence in the more rural areas, where women are not valued. As Phoolan's own father said: "A daughter is always a burden".

      The setting, which I believe is Uttar Pradesh, is incredibly desolate and matches the story beautifully. Director Shekhar Kapur certainly made the most of what he could find - lots of grey rock and cliff faces, ideal for hiding a group of bandits. It does add to the horror of the story, as does the background music - but it certainly isn't for anyone who just wants a light-hearted story to escape with for a couple of hours.

      There are just a couple of extras, but nothing of any great worth - just an audio commentary with the director and the original theatrical trailer. I would have really appreciated a behind the scenes documentary, but it wasn't to be.

      I watched this on Valentine's Day - not deliberately - and it was certainly one of the most anti-Valentine's Day films that I could have watched. The great sadness is that Phoolan Devi is forced to respond in the only way that she knows - by fighting and treating people without humanity. There is obviously a reason for this - she is given no other choice, but it is very sad and disheartening to see. Nevertheless, this is a really great film and one that certainly deserves a larger audience, in the West at least. Just don't go into it expecting to be cheered up - you almost certainly won't be, although hopefully you will count your own blessings. Highly recommended.

      The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.

      Classification: 18

      Running time: 119 minutes

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        14.11.2009 10:07
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        A story you'll hate but a film you'll possibly love!

        Bandit Queen stars Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey, Manoj Bajpai, Govind Namdeo and Saurabh Shukla and was directed by Shekhar Kapur.


        PLOT SYNOPSIS

        Phoolan Devi was 11 years old when her poverty stricken father married her off to a man at least 18 years her senior who abused her physically and sexually until she ran away back to her family. This was not the end of her torment as sons of the local landowners mocked and abused her too till she was expelled from the village so she ended up living briefly with her cousin. She had to leave her cousin's home and after a brief spell back home suffering more abuse, this time at the hands of the police; she ends up joining a gang of bandits with Vikram Mallah as second in command. Vikram develops strong feelings towards Phoolan and kills the leader of the bandits when he's raping her. Vikram and Phoolan become the leaders of the gang until ShriRam is released from prison and takes back his place as leader of the gang, managing to kill Vikram shortly afterwards. Phoolan is kidnapped and brutally raped and beaten for a period of time before being publicly humiliated in front of the whole village. Phoolan manages to rise above this latest brutality against her, forms her own gang and exacts her bloody revenge on the villagers. This sets in motion a hunting down of bandits whilst she goes on the run and becomes more and more notorious and renowed as Bandit Queen.


        MY ANALYSIS

        This is not a "nice" film. You will not get a "feel good" glow from watching it. You will feel repulsed by a lot of behaviour displayed by the men in the film, from the rape and abuse of an 11 year old girl by her 30 something husband, to the forced sexual violation by a line of men and scenes of extreme humiliation in front of a whole village and scenes of violence when our "heroine" exacts her brutal revenge with her gang of bandits on those she felt wronged her. I was shocked into silence when watching this on DVD and my husband who had previously seen this film told me of some of the things that took place in India when the film was first made and released in 1994. The film is FULL of extremely foul language and I MEAN extremely foul - I found myself cringeing often at the swearing and from the first scenes in the film when we see Phoolan bathing in the river when she's told her husband to be has arrived; we hear the most shocking expletives which would make the average grown up cringe! I have to say this is THE most shocking Hindi film I've seen in my life and I have seen literally 1000s since childhood and what makes it so much worse is that it's based on a true story!

        Bandit Queen is as I said a true story. Phoolan Devi was born in 1963 in Uttar Pradesh in India and died aged 37 in 2001. After she came home to her parents having left her abusive husband the villagers would not accept her as women were not supposed to leave their husbands whatever the circumstances. Phoolan's family were of a low caste and the rest of the villagers had the same backward mentality as her own family so she went off to stay with her cousin. Her cousin's wife did not approve of her staying with them so she was sent home again where she was arrested on false charges of theft and raped by the police before being released into the local landowners' custody for 25,000 rupees bail. This was when she was about 15 or 16 years old. It seemed that everyone and anyone was more than happy to sexually violate this poor child and it's no wonder she became a foul-mouthed man-hating gun-toting bandit; not that there's really any excuse for killing people in cold blood but from her point of view I guess it was the only revenge she could take for what had been done to her over and over again over an extended period of years.

        From what I understand Phoolan Devi gave permission for her story to be used for the making of the film but then when it was due to be released she was not happy with some of the scenes which portrayed her in a bad light. There is a scene where a line of villagers are made to stand in the village square to be killed for what was done to her but these were not the actual people who carried out the violations against Phoolan Devi - those men apparently were all away at a wedding. I understand this scene was toned down and didn't actually show what she had originally claimed her participation was.

        This film is raw and difficult to watch, you want to sympathise with the character Phoolan Devi for what she has been through and understand that in a society like India was back then (or maybe even still is, I don't know) how this could have happened to one female and when you can't even trust the police not to rape female prisoners, what hope was there for this individual to believe that she would ever get justice apart from taking her own revenge and taking the law into her own hands. What she is portrayed to have gone through would have driven a lesser person to suicide possibly or to complete insanity but she became what she had to become to survive and feel like she got one up on the wealthy landowners who tormented her. You'd have to watch the film to find out if she does anything to the disgusting pig of a husband who first set this chain of events off with his treatment of a young girl who couldn't physically defend herself.

        There are a few touching scenes in the film, notably when Phoolan visits her family some time after her divorce and her "relationship" with Vikram, the only male in the film (aside from her cousin) who treats her with any degree of respect and helps her to know what love can be, if only for a very brief time.

        A certain statement made in the film (more especially for me as a woman of Indian origin) was particularly telling of the mentality of "low caste" families was made by Phoolan's father: "A daughter is always a burden...". Born and raised in the West I can't even begin to feel how awful it would be to hear one of my parents make a statement like that, let alone have to live with the consequences of being "sold" to someone so my family could eat. Now I don't care about any caste systems or nonsense like that but sadly in India, the lower the caste the less importance in society you seem to have. If we can take anything GOOD that came out of Phoolan Devi's life, it's that she tried to change Indian society's attitude towards allowing children (i.e. young girls) to be forced into marriage.

        I can't finish this section without adding what a fabulous job Seema Biswas did of portraying the main character in the film from the first moment she appears on the screen, you really believe that SHE IS Phoolan Devi. Nirmal Pandey as Vikram was very believable in his role too and the chemistry between the two of them was really touching.


        DVD EXTRAS

        With the DVD was a handy little booklet telling the story of Phoolan Devi's life, not the story in the film which has obviously been somewhat dramatised for "entertainment value" as opposed to having it in a documentary style and how the director of the film dealt with the making of the film.

        There is also a full director's commentary version of the film in which I found listening to the voice of Shekhar Kapur quite soothing, which is amazing considering what he's talking about. One of the most shocking things Kapur says quite early on in the commentary is that the actress who played the child Phoolan didn't want to do the marriage scene at the beginning of the film and when he asked her why she said it was because she was already married!!! Imagine that, even all those years later, a 12 year old actress was supposedly already married.

        The DVD has English subtitles available and the trailer for the film. The DVD of the film was released in 2004, nearly 10 years after the film was released.


        OTHER INFO

        This 1995 released film was directed by Shekhar Kapur; a director known for not being scared to tackle difficult subjects. The film runs for just under 2 hours and is certified as 18. Definitely NOT suitable for younger viewers as they would find it too disturbing and there are scenes of full frontal nudity (female) which is something I had NEVER previously nor since come across in a Bollywood film. Unlike other Bollywood films there are no song and dance routines. I couldn't not add that the cinematography was by Ashok Mehta and the background music for the film was by the fabulously talented Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Bandit Queen won Shekha Kapur the "Best Director" at the Filmfare Awards in 1997 and "Best Film - Critics" in 1995 as well as Seema Biswas winning "Best Actress" at the 1996 National Film Awards (India).


        OVERALL

        I hated the premise of this film but as a piece of film-making I would have to overall rate this as a strong 4 out of 5 for its gritty realism and fabulous cinematography from start to finish. It loses 1 point just for possibly having too much sexual violence throughout the film - which possibly was overdone for effect. One thing I felt quite strongly about knowing that this notorious woman died in 2001; it might have been better had this film been made after her death as this film only portrays her life up only up until a time before the film was released.

        Let me end with a quote from http://www.filmigeek.net/2006/12/bandit_queen_19.html - "Ultimately, Bandit Queen is one of the best movies I've ever seen that I hated watching" which sums up pretty much what I felt about Bandit Queen.

        If you are interested in knowing more about the life of Phoolan Devi, there is a wikipedia page on her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoolan_Devi


        AFTERTHOUGHT

        When I saw this film for the first time, it was either shortly before or after I watched Slumdog Millionaire - I could not understand why such a fuss was made of SM when this film seemed to be far more worthy of international awards.

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          16.08.2001 17:31
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          'Bandit Queen' is directed by Shekhar Kapur and is based on the true circumstances of Phoolan Devi. Phoolan Devi was a low-caste woman in India who went through a lot in her life. I must stress that although this film is based on Phoolans own experience, she had given contradictory quotes so it is what the director made of her story. The soundtrack is provided by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but it's definately not the typical Bollywood with ten songs and fifty outfit changes by the actors. The soundtrack adds to the atmosphee in the film and is excellent. 'Bandit Queen' did cause a huge uproar when it first came out. This is probably due to the fact that it bluntly deals with issues that we tend to close our eyes to in India. The India that's portrayed in theis film is not the country that I love and know. I'm ashamed to admit but things that happen in this film probably do happen in the remote villages. The film deals with the caste system and how the lower castes are mistreated, how women are degraded and humiliated, corrupt police officers and of course Phoolan's inner strength. Seema Biswas plays Phoolan, I can't see any other Bollywood actress being able to play such a hardhitting role. There's points in the film where I feel like crawling in a hole and hiding. She acts in such graphic and harrowing scenes which tend to stick in your head. If half of this film is accurate then I have the utmost sympathy for Phoolan Devi. It's amazing how she managed to carry on after going through so much. There's one scene where Biswas is degraded in front of a whole village by being made to get water from a well when completely naked. She's extremely brave to do it, I'd never be able to think about it. She deserves an award for her efforts. Nirmal Pandey plays Vikram Mallah and plays his role well too. Manoj Bajpai is also a brilliant actor and plays Man Singh. <
          br><br> I don't think I'll ever watch this film again. It is so realistic and intense, I felt so wound up after seeing it. If you are sensitive then I'd avoid watching this, it has a lot of horrible rape scenes and is very violent too. There's no doubt that Shekhar Kapur is a talented director, he proves it with this film. However releasing such a film in India isn't a good idea, in my opinion as it will lead to problems. I don't mean to sound derogatory or patronising but many of the people who go to watch the films aren't very educated and may pick up violent aspects of the film. What do you think?

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