Bandit Queen (1994) Poster

(1994)

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Tough viewing
bob the moo24 October 2001
Phoolan Devi (played by Seema Biswas) is sold into marriage at 11 and is repeatedly abused from then onwards because she is a woman. She is partially liberated by Vikram Mallah (Nirmal Pandey), one of the bandits she is taken in by and eventually rises to lead the group, extracting vicious revenge on upper-cast men in repayment for what they had done to her.

The film is a fascinating account of the life of Phoolan Devi who was assassinated in September 2001. The film follows from rise (if you can call it that) from abused child to Bandit Queen. Scenes of abuse are tactfully portrayed with the focus on Phoolan's face rather than the act itself. This focus allows the viewer to see the pain that is inflicted by the abuse. This is still very hard to sit and watch be it the abuse by her husband at 11 or the gang rape of adulthood. It's sad that worldwide women are treated as second-class citizens, often subject to this type of terrible abuse as a matter of daily life - even sadder that many religions are interpreted to allow it.

Where the film is weak is the depiction of the two sets of violence - violence against Phoolan is shown as horrible and unforgivable as it should be, however her acts of retaliation are filmed with a more artistic camera and you get the feeling that we are meant to take it that these acts of violence are less horrible because they are revenge attacks. Many of those killed by Phoolan's gang had not done anything to her and were "innocent". The film should have a more even tone across all these actions.

The performances are roundly excellent. All characters no matter how repugnant or noble are played as totally believable - for many you see both sides of their characters. Seema Biswas is excellent as Phoolan Devi, she convinces throughout the film. The subject matter must have been very difficult to act through but she is without a flaw in the lead - the only problem being the slightly sympathetic edge towards her acts of revenge that the film gives.

The film is horrible viewing and yet inspiring that one woman could survive through such events in such a society. Phoolan lived with things that the vast majority of us will ever imagine, she rose up against amazing odds to marry above her caste and be elected to the Indian Parliament. Worth watching to help you be aware of the rest of the world and to ensure that you keep yourself kind towards others in all situations.

Long live Phoolan Devi. May she find more peace in death than she did in life.
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9/10
Does anyone realise how controversial this film was?
Yadokari7 July 2001
It may interest people to know that this film was made without any recourse to Phoolan Devi herself and, when she did finally see parts of it, was so enraged that she announced that the film was not to be shown in India or she would cover herself in petrol and set fire to herself. I do not know whether it was shown at all or not, but given her standing at the time as a rising politician, I doubt it. Since then, I saw a report that she has been ousted from office and charged with further crimes from her Dacoit days, and has gone into hiding as a result.

Her own concerns aside, this is an excellent film, made all the more so by its refreshingly brutal approach; none of the rose-tinted melodrama one might expect from a typical indian film. It should be stressed that concerns about how feminist the film's messages really are and the like are essentially irrelevant: it's a true story. Her misgivings are, it seems, not with what is depicted but with the way in which the film depicts her.
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10/10
full of strong emotion
amzl29 July 2003
I saw this movie over 5 years ago and the subject still infuriates me, as it should. Her anger and initiative were inspiring. Not that I would takeover an army and kill people, but the scene at the well and at the rebel strong hold will never leave my mind. This is a great film but be prepared for the strong subject matter.
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8/10
A shocking story, and more so because it's true
Arnav15 June 2005
I saw Bandit Queen in 2005, over a decade after it was made amidst widespread controversy in India. The language, the stark treatment and the natural acting (by a relatively unknown cast for that time) might have been even more shocking at that time for an Indian populace more familiar with fantasy cinema. The film, the cast, and Shekhar Kapoor, deserve accolades for the breakthrough effort.

The plot is not very different from a typical revenge drama made in various forms in India. In fact, there have been several fictional accounts of this particular story itself. The reason why this stands out is that it's supposed to be a first person account of someone who actually went through all this, and a lot else that doesn't find place on the screen, and survived to tell the tale. Survived long enough to see her story made into a movie at least. Phoolan Devi didn't live very long after being released from prison in 1994.

The film scores on several counts. The cinematography is brilliant. The music is apt. The cast, many of whom became more familiar names later, is very good. But the screenplay is patchy. Things move too fast and in jerks at times. It's understandable though, because there are just too many strands that need to be tied together to make it all cohesive. Or maybe I felt that because I have read Mala Sen's book, which is a more detailed and better, though obviously not as shocking as the visual, account of Phoolan Devi's travails, and which is purported to be one of the main sources for the film.

There are some factual ambiguities too. According to Phoolan Devi, she wasn't present when the Behmai massacre took place, and despite claiming to be the dictated account of Phoolan herself, she is shown to participate, and in fact initiate, the massacre. Then the final scene where Phoolan surrenders shows her touching the feet of the Chief Minister, while in reality she had surrendered to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Symbolic value only, but shows that Phoolan didn't want to show servitude to a living, ordinary person. It would have been nice to show the Chief Minister to have some resemblance to Arjun Singh, who many remember was the CM of Madhya Pradesh then.

But these are small chinks in this eminently well-made movie, a rare gem to come out from the mainstream Indian film industry, made by a man who before this was known best for the ultimate masala movie of the late 80s - Mr India.
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Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen
Benedict_Cumberbatch16 April 2010
"Bandit Queen" is a controversial and groundbreaking Indian film (co-produced by Great Britain's "Channel Four") telling the real-life story of Phoolan Devi (Seema Biswas, excellent), a low-caste woman given to a husband at age 11 who runs away from him, is constantly violated by upper-caste males, until pairing with a handsome outlaw, Vikram Mallah (Nirmal Pandey), who shows her some respect and invites her to join his gang. Devi became a mythical national figure in her own lifetime (she had just been released from an 11-year prison term when the movie came out, and was murdered in 2001), hailed as "The Bandit Queen" or "Queen of the Ravines". Although at first Devi took legal action to ban the movie's exhibition in India (and it was actually banned for some time - after all, this is no Bollywood fantasy), she eventually changed her mind (plus, Channel Four paid her $60,000...).

A lot has been said about the accuracy of everything portrayed on screen ("My life was much harder", Devi would have said after the first time she saw the movie). Just like he would do in 1998's successful "Elizabeth", Shekhar Kapur knows how to turn a larger than life, actual trajectory in a huge spectacle - but still keeping the essence of its core. Truth be told, this is one of those extraordinary sagas that if even half of what's portrayed on screen is real, it's already quite a journey. Kapur might have been a high-caste, city-bred man trying to portray the life of a brave and rebellious low-caste woman fighting for her survival - in a way that no other woman in her time had done, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know or doesn't have the right to try to depict this reality he doesn't directly belong to. How honest Kapur's original intentions were we can't know for sure, but that doesn't undermine his accomplishment here; this is a story that had to be told to a larger international audience. If a movie manages to work both as an adventurous spectacle and a tale of resurgence after national injustice and misfortunes, then it deserves to be seen. 8.5/10.
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violent, powerful and repugnant
Michael Powe24 May 1999
This is a remarkable movie. "The Bandit Queen" is a powerful and repugnant portrayal of a modern real-life Indian outlaw, Phoolan Devi ("Goddess of Flowers"). The movie opens at the point at which the 11 year-old Phoolan is sold as a bride to a middle-aged man. The marital rape and abuse that follows drives her away and eventually, as an outcast, into a life of brigandage.

What I found most striking in this movie is that it does not portray the heroine merely as a "wronged woman" but as a woman with deep psychological problems -- to me she frequently appeared to be downright psychotic. There are several scenes of unbridled, I might say X-rated, violence in which Phoolan is seen to gradually wind up from anger to viciousness. In one of these scenes she beats her former husband with a rifle butt. It was -- and I think it was meant to be -- sickening.

"The Bandit Queen" was very controversial in India. It was widely thought to be Oscar material, though apparently did not make the list due to political infighting within the Indian movie-making community. It's well worth the viewing. But I only recommend it for people with strong stomachs. It's a true story (the real-life Phoolan Devi went on to marry above her caste and became the first Untouchable to serve in the Indian Parliament) but it's a story without a happy ending.
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9/10
No Bollywood here!
mifunesamurai7 February 2003
The true story of Phoolan Devi who became a national hero in India because she fought for her rights as a woman but in a violent manner. I was surprised to see a powerful film with strong images come out of India instead of the Bollywood art trash classics they churn out.
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8/10
Good Movie
fantastic_fop2 July 2003
I think that the movie was really good. Subject, acting and Nusrat Fateh ALi Khan's music were marvellous. Although the director has succeeded in showing the status of women in rural areas and how they suffer at the hands of male-dominated culture, he has neglected Phoolan's character a bit and has focussed more on the violence faced by her.
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10/10
Excellent
franco-289 December 1999
This is an excellent movie. Phoolan had no role model's to base her actions on, yet was able to bring about very necessary change to a land that was living in darkness when it comes to female treatment. I like the fact that it was a real story rather than made up, it added to the horror of the story, & the triumph.
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7/10
Great subject, average as a movie
Jugu Abraham7 September 2001
The film's subject is poignant and very real. It happened. One can debate some artistic liberties taken by director and scriptwriter. The subject is what makes the film tick--nothing else. I saw the film for the first time after the real Phoolan, was gunned down in New Delhi and had served several years as an elected Member of Parliament in India. By the way, she was not the first untouchable elected to Parliament, as some reviewers stated. The so-called "untouchables" have been elected to the Indian Parliament for decades in reserved constituencies.

While Shekhar Kapur as a director is a hero to many India, because he made commercially accepted international films---"Bandit Queen" and "Elizabeth" (and a tolerable kiddie movie called "Mister India", which was accepted by the average Indian audiences)---and even got Oscar nominations for Elizabeth, I do not place him as a top notch film director from India. He fails in every department as a director except perhaps that he succeeds in getting some above-average performances from his actors. Subtlety, finesse, charm are not easy to find in his films--melodrama brims in them.

His idea of using Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's vocal rendering of the song in the early parts of the film, was perhaps his single major achievement on the undistinguished sound track of "Bandit Queen". And then perhaps the creaking doors during the gang rape sequence. Otherwise the film looked like a spaghetti western with sex and violence minus the great music one associates with them.

If you are looking for a good living Indian film director who makes realistic cinema of international quality--it is not Shekhar Kapur's movies you should see; it is the later works of three Indian film-makers Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mrinal Sen, and Girish Karnad and of course Muzaffar Ali's "Umrao Jaan". It is unfortunate that none of those directors had the financial support that Kapur had to give them and their films an international viewership. For instance, Sen's "Oka oorie katha" made in Telugu, or Satyajit Ray's "Sadgati" based on Munshi Prem Chand's "Kafan" are more complete as films to an intelligent viewer dealing on the state of the untouchables in India. Sen did not have to resort to graphic sex and violence but merely suggested them. Of course, Sen's nugget did not make headlines, while Kapur's effort hogged them.

To Kapur's credit, he is articulate and used his limited talent and modest resources in the Mumbai film industry to take his products beyond home audiences. For that effort, I salute Kapur. But "Bandit Queen" will remain a great subject awaiting an accomplished director to deal with it.
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4/10
Premature Film based on Premature Book
peculiar23 April 2005
As powerful as the true story of Phoolan is, this book this film is based on came out before she herself was released from Prison and had the chance to tell it.

It is allegedly based on her diaries but she is illiterate. How does that work?

That said, some areas of he film are accurate and the acting isn't bad, with some sensitivity being shown.

Really though this story needs to be old in a TV series. Far to much happens to cram into a couple of hours.

Read her autobiography. Highly recommended. It is a fantastic story.
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10/10
The hard hitting tale of a murderer messiah
metallicmoor13 April 2009
Irrespective of the accuracy of facts, Bandit Queen is a true story, its true because the themes it deals with hold as much truth today as they did way back in 1994. This movie is violent, powerful and thought provoking.The protagonist is a woman of flesh and blood, whose adversity brought out the best(or worst) out of her. Keeping the subjectivity aside, there is no doubt that Phoolan's character from a young girl of 8, who is married off by her father to clear a debt(pun intended), to a gang leader who goes on to become a leader of the lower caste, has evolved into a champion in her own right. Her portrayal is so powerful that the viewer is even willing to forgive her for a massacre.

I can understand if the western audience is not able to appreciate this masterpiece, Bandit Queen needs to be 'studied' in the Indian context, and not just checked out in stereotypes. I may not be able to sell it on its universal appeal but its certainly a must watch for the Indian audience, its a shame that the movie had a delayed, overtly censored release in India.

Bandit Queen is the story of a woman who fought against two odds in India, being a woman and that too a lower caste, her rebellious nature and inability to just give in caused her the most horrible experiences in life, which only went on to strengthen her into a self proclaimed goddess. She responded to violence with violence and dint become the submissive woman society wanted her to be. Call it divine justice or judiciary failure, had she killed a single person she would have been hanged, she killed 24 and got revered, respected and glorified.

P.S # Whoever found her character "psychotic", needs to be sodomized at 8, gangraped by 10 men at a go and paraded naked. Then they should be asked- How normal do they feel?
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10/10
Classic Bollywood Flick
Director Shekhar Kapur has created a gem in Bandit Queen.

Starring Seema Biswas who has also been in another classic bollywood flick, Company 2002.

Also starring Nirmal Pandey.

Also starring Rajesh Vivek.

Also starring Raghuvir Yadav who has also been in another classic bollywood flick, Salaam Bombay! 1988.

I enjoyed the violence.

If you enjoyed this as much as I did then check out other classic Bollywood flicks, The Attacks of 26/11 2013, Rakhta Charitra 2010, Rakhta Charitra 2 2010, Nh10 2015, Madras Café 2013, Black Friday 2004, D-Day 2013, Gangs of Wasseypur Parts 1 & 2 2012 and Shootout at Lokhandwala 2007.

Also check out a classic Lollywood flick, Waar 2013.
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Nirmal Pandey
Sanam14 October 1998
Nirmal Pandey was one thing in this movie that was absolutely beautiful, not only in looks but in acting as well. He has the kind of acting talents that is difficult to find. It's a pity that we don't get to see him more often.
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Bandits
sol-12 August 2017
Based on the true story of a woman who rose from poverty and child abuse to become a respected outlaw and folk hero, 'Bandit Queen' tells a fascinating slice of an Indian history, even if Phoolan Devi herself (whose life is depicted) has disputed the film's accuracy. Set during the 1970s and 1980s, the antiquated values of villages where Devi grew up are striking, with child marriages a norm and women viewed as second class citizens, and the film has much power as a tale of overcoming circumstance. The film is, however, also incredibly slow- moving and while there are some well-handled abuse and torture scenes early on, it is only in the second half of the film that the story really becomes juicy with Devi deciding to fight back and become her own warrior. There is a particularly effective sequence in the final half hour in which the reactions of a baby girl convey all during a massacre. As mentioned though, there is something to be said for the restraint of the film's earlier abuse scenes, none of which are graphic. The swinging of a door open and closed is all that the filmmakers need here to convey the horrors of gang rape and the way the camera stays very much at a distance avoids a scene in which she is stripped turning exploitative. In short, this is a well-made film; sure, a little too slow-moving for its own good, but one hard to erase from the mind afterwards.
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7/10
Excellent, appreciable, and by no means entertaining
Peter Young18 April 2017
Bandit Queen is a difficult film to go through. In the famous world of Bollywood's song and dance, this biographical feature is certainly a breath of fresh air in terms of storytelling and honest filmmaking. Shakhar Kapur handles the subject with great sensitivity and visible empathy towards the main character of Phoolan Devi, whose life story is impossible to even listen to. What this woman had to endure is beyond imagination and is harrowing to watch, but her survival is an inspiring triumph. Bandit Queen is disturbingly realistic, and I can totally understand those who don't like it, because we do not watch films to see reality, but rather to escape it. The movie is by no means entertaining, the story is bitter and excruciating, but there are many lessons one can learn from watching it and, at the very least, realise how privileged most of us are. The film is excellently acted, with Seema Biswas proving her mettle as an actor of extraordinary talent and compassion. Her portrayal is a world-class act on a level of its own, and she totally immerses herself in this most difficult role and life story. May no person ever have to go through what this woman went through to justify the making of a notable biopic of this sort. Kudos to Kapur for an impressive effort. Watch it if you can, expect zero entertainment and just treat it the way you treat documentaries. You might be impressed, if not rewarded.
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6/10
Diary to scene
Cinish Narayanan9 October 2012
Having seen a number of Bandit movies, this one offered the true story of 'Phoolan Devi' but there was not a lot of new content. The movie does not work too well actually. Phoolan kills 24 innocent thakurs out of hatred for two thakurs and finally has to surrender due to heavy police attention. When Phoolan surrenders, the crowd cheers but why? The movie does not show Phoolan doing a lot for the people. Phoolan belongs to Mallah community and that is perhaps the reason for the support as I presume the Mallah community is quite big. The movie also shows Phoolan' s hatred for her husband but does not convince us why there should be such deep hatred. There are minimal scenes of Phoolan's bandit action too. The movie might have restricted itself to the notes from Phoolan's jail diary which in itself might have been incomplete. Well, that is something that the movie maker needs to handle and complete.I think I liked 'Paan Singh Tomaar' better which was a more complete portrayal.
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The Saint of Flowers Becomes The Queen Of Bandits
Chrysanthepop22 February 2012
'Bandit Queen' was one of Shekhar Kapur's final films before he ventured into Hollywood. Due to its subject matter and very graphic portrayal of rape and humiliation it was considered to be one of the most controversial Indian films and was even banned in the country. The film tells the story of Phoolan Devi in her earlier years (before she became a politician). Even though the film is said to be based on accounts written by Devi, the Bandit Queen herself was disappointed by the film and stated that it was riddled with inaccuracies.

Like most of Kapur's movies, the execution is first rate. The raw dry landscape is captured stunningly. It looks beautiful but at the same time very real. The art direction also brings out an authentic earthy quality of the village and its dwellers. The narrative structure and cinematography are solid and the pace is well.

The rape scenes are disturbing, especially the gang-rape and the scene that follows where humiliated Phoolan Devi is stripped off her clothing and exploited in the village by her assailants. The sequence provides shock value but not in a gratuitous way.

'Bandit Queen' has some remarkable performances. Nirmal Pandey, Saurabh Shukla and Manoj Bajpai are excellent. Govind Namdeo is chilling and hateful in one of his sleaziest roles to date. However, this is Seema Biswas's film. The actress performs all guns blazing in this career defining role. She wonderfully moulds feistiness, vulnerability, anguish, despair and strength in her character. It has me wondering why she hasn't received more of such meaty roles.

I can't comment on how much of it is based on what really happened but 'Bandit Queen' is an exceptionally well made film that tells a harrowing story of a crucial figure.
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1/10
Everything but "true"!!!
Shashank Shekhar18 September 2007
This movie is everything but the true story of Phoolan Devi. Director Shekhar Kapoor's claims are countered by the fact that he made the entire movie without even once meeting Phoolan Devi, on whose life this movie is supposed to be based! The excuse being that meeting the woman would have interfered with director's conception of the story! The film wastes the opportunity of sensitizing the society of the plight of low-caste women in the Indian society and ends up as a stereotype portraying Phoolan Devi as an angry woman whose sole motivation is revenge. No wonder, this Shekhar Kapoor's film was successful in the west as it catered to their non-bollywood tastes!
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Always Overbearing, but frequently Interesting and Unique
d_fienberg30 December 2000
Although I've only seen two films he's directed, I feel fairly confident in saying that Shekhar Kapur is a "big hammer" kind of craftsman. There are some directors who know that if they use a little hammer, the nail will come in just as straight, but there won't be as much noise. Jim Jarmusch is a good example of a "little hammer" kind of craftsman. He draws very little attention to himself, moves very slowly, and gets to a quality ending, almost without fail. Kapur, as a big hammer filmmaker, does his darnedest to make sure that everything that's onscreen is clear. He leaves virtually nothing to the intelligent viewer's imagination, nothing to figure out. When he finds a good symbol, he uses it over and over, almost until it loses are meaning. When he has themes that can be literalized, he makes sure he does it, rather than letting viewers read into the text. It's all there in its heavy-handed glory. As a little hammer fan, I've found both Elizabeth and Bandit Queen, to be slightly less than fully satisfying. However, just as I could appreciate Elizabeth for the wonderful performances, I found much to enjoy in Bandit Queen.

Bandit Queen tells the true story of Phoolan Devi who, with the help of the media, gained a Robin Hood-esque notoriety in a small province of India in the 1980s. The film begins with Devi being married to a much older man at 11, not for money or for love, but because the man needs laborers at his house. The husband rapes her, the first of a series of rapes in the film. She runs home but, having aged a few years, she runs into trouble with the upper caste, the Thakurs when she turns down the advances of a rich man's son. She's sent away to cousins, where she first encounters a troop of bandits, led be Vikram, who kinda takes a shine to her for her spirit. But again she is sent home (the movie's plot is almost entirely composed of back and forths), only to be again kidnapped, this time by the bandits and this time for bounty. When Vikram kills the head bandit for raping her, Phoolan Devi gains full stature as a member of the Bandits until their Thakur head is released and all heck breaks loose. It's all very upsetting. The second half of the film is a vengeance drama, as Phoolan leads a mini-revolution against the Thakurs until she gains the attention of India's national government and she's arrested. But not before she becomes a hero, setting a completely new standard for female empowerment in the country.

Should I be bugged by the genre of supposedly feminist films where the female protagonist goes it on her own, but really needs a man to untap her power? And that once that man untaps the power, he inevitably gets to both benefit from her power and her sexuality? Or should that not bother me? When Vikram and Phoolan raid a transport car, for example, Vikram first tells the passengers that they've been raided by Phoolan Devi's gang. Then he tells them that they've been robbed by the beautiful bandit. First he names her and then he takes away the name to objectify her. Later, when a Thakur boss flirts with her, Vikram tells her to shoot anybody who touches her. Is he telling her to protect herself, or is he protecting his investment? These are just a few of the sexual incongruities of the film. Kapur's need to produce drama and romance undermines the female empowerment at the heart of his tale.

And as I've mentioned, Kapur is not a subtle director. This film features a half dozen scenes of marriages. All of the marriages are related in some way to bloodshed. Obvious enough for you? Ditto with the number of baths characters take. Basically whenever a character is about to embark on a new direction in life, they bathe. Almost as if bathing equals rebirth. Could be. I'd compare these images with the haircuts which bookend Elizabeth. Kapur seems desperate to make sure that you get what he's doing, so he takes all of the guesswork out of it.

Still, the story is enriched by the triangulation of the story lines. Just as Phoolan Devi will always be an outcast because she's a woman, she will always be an outcast because she's of a lower caste. The minor problem is that she can't get anybody to be outraged with her about the gender thing, but getting people offended by the class disparity is a breeze. There's a proration of disabilities here that is probably very telling. Kapur is also very effective at handling the Bandit Queen as a decidedly rural phenomenon. He does an excellent job of showing how decentralized the Indian government is, both geographically and culturally. While everybody in the small towns views her as an idol, the English speaking government officials are mostly amused both by how long it took them to find out about her and by the level of her popularity.

The performances are interesting, as is the technical beauty of the film. However, while we're shown repeated scenes of Devi's torture, we really see very little of the Bandit Queen in action. There's very little that's heroic in Kapur's depiction of her, unless we're just supposed to accept that because she's a woman who kicks a little butt she's worth adulation. I'm not sure that that is enough. Basically, the film validates the notion that she was a media invention. We basically see her get beaten, raped, and abused and then when we see her kill a couple people in rage that's supposed to not only justify but validate her. I'm unconvinced.

I'm sure that Bandit Queen serves an important purpose, especially for Western viewers. Additionally, I'm equally certain that many of the stylistic problems I have with Kapur are cultural, the man directing out of the culture from which he comes. Still, this movie doesn't work as well for me as it should. I'd give it a 6/10.
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Biased, insensitive and hyped
sweta15 May 1999
This movie IS a great movie, because it is well crafted, taut and keeps you glued all the way through to your seat....HORRIFIED. However, it is a very one-sided story. It shows Phoolan to be a wonderful, chaste woman who was always victimized and is in that way a typical bollywood portrayal of a wronged woman who rises from the ashes of her humiliation to wreck vengeance on those that wronged her

Besides, I am not entirely convinced about making a movie about a real, living person who has been through hell and is forced to relive it just because a movie director thinks it is a story worth telling.

All in all, a typical MASALA movie.
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5/10
Pass
George Parker19 December 2004
"Bandit Queen" tells the story of Phoolan Devi (circa 1970ish), a lower caste woman from the boonies of northern India who was abused and mistreated by a male dominated misogynistic culture, rebelled, turned outlaw, and became a folk hero of sorts in her own time. Not much of a movie, this two hour melodramatic biopic and adventure flick offers precious little historical context but rather dwells on the brutality. Given what in the grand scheme of cinema is very poor production value and the fact it was made prior to Phoolan Devi's last years and ultimate murder, "Bandit Queen" is a good film to pass over. Recommended only for the curious or those with a specific interest in Devi. (C)
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A new history..worth discovering!
gulshan-128 August 2003
Dark,ferocious and creepy. This controversial piece of Indian folk still freaks me out! Well directed by the talented Shekhar Kapur to give us a break from the nonsensical bollywood flicks. Seema Biswas gives a very electrifying performance who remarkably portrayed the true femme-fatale of those days although, I am still curious on the essence which depicted all the anguish and the immorality which lead the struggle to the queens personal justice. However,whether the contents are based on facts or fiction, the film manages to deliver a strong meaning to feminism power. This is a must-see film. Powerful score by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan also adds to the ingredient. "Bravo!"
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I Met the Bollywood Badboys while reporting on Pitt & Aniston in the US...
Mahatma Fabrizi13 November 2005
'Bandit Queen' is an art-house update of the old 70s exploitation movies, in which the chief focus is on female discomfiture is justified by a pseudo-feminist revenge-plot. Taking us far away past the multi-coloured, song-and-dance Hindi spectaculars that are currently all the global rage -- Beyond the Sea (Kevin Spacey), for example, or MGM's Chicago (Richard Gere).

Mogul Shekhar Kapur shows us an India riven by violence, bloodshed. and indecision, where women are treated as love toys by Bollywood badboys. Before she even hits puberty, Phoolan Devi is married off to a 'Bad-Boy' (dowry: rusty water heater and an old set of hubcaps) and raped when she expresses dissatisfaction. When, some years later, she is nearly raped again by the Badboy's son, it is she who is expelled from the community; she takes up with bandits and begins her first true love affair with the atypically sensitive Vikram, de facto leader while badboy Gujjar is in the hospital with a pair of pruning shears lodged in his windpipe. When the latter is released, now turned police informer, he resents the pretensions of this lower-caste woman, has her gang-raped by Bollyboys, publicly stripped and humiliated. Having plumbed the lowest depths there are, Devi takes the blood-splattered road of vengeance, turning torture and massacre into a media-fuelled spectacle.

When the director of 'Queen' later went on to make a film about Tudor-era royal conspiracies ('Elizabeth'), many were surprised because of the gaping differences in subject matter, but Kapur imposes his own fetish on the two movies: both feature outsider-women attempting to assert power in rigid male-dominated hierarchies; both emphasise the importance of imperial rule, ritual and public spectacle in these societies, and the necessary reuninciation of sexuality and 'normal' femininity of strong women. This is therefore a must-see film for any Women in Prison buff or family-film nut, and I would also recommend "Beetlejuice" or "My Wife is a Vampire".

But, whereas 'Elizabeth' was an artistic triumph, 'Queen' seems to be a contrived failure.

This, however, is mostly due to its reliance on a single source, the prison diaries of Devi, whereas the latter film created a web of conflicting viewpoints and omnipresent sense of surveillance. It is of course right to expose the atrocities embedded in the Indian caste system, and the slavery of women; it is right that a woman denied a voice in her own country (where the film was banned) should be heard. But the catalogue of unspeakable crimes inflicted on Devi has the effect of caricaturing the villains around her, turning her very real plight almost into a seeming cartoon of repetitive violence. There is no nuance of social analysis here; instead it serves up terrible reminders of other cinematic travesties: "The Tony Danza Show"; "Heathers"; intimations on "Thelma and Louise," "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," and, of course, "My Best Friend's Wedding." - depoliticising Devi's very real social transgression, reducing her to a mere melodramatic heroine, the 'woman wronged'. Having stayed so closely with its heroine and her experiences of abuse, when the film has to distance itself from her violence (which it must to avoid endorsing eye-for-an-eye brutality), it feels like a betrayal. By lingering on her suffering rather than her revenge, the latter is as abrupt, arbitrary and dreamlike as 'Honey, I Decreased the Kids in Size' (1986), the vile murders shot with the same kind of exquisite taste and fussy staging, the political wholly subsumed to the deranged personal. I always staunchly dissapprove when badboys direct these kind of pseudo-politico-sex pictures - more interested in her sassy jugs than her powerful opinions, 'Queen' can only continues the dehumanisation of its so-called heroine, with her pert pineapples ripe in sun, and bouncing freely. . .

6 / 10

TRIVIA PURSUIT: Needless to say, the real-life Devi, upon initial screening of this imperfect gem, drenched herself in kerosene and went up in a blaze of flesh & burning smoke...
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5/10
Oddly uninteresting, mostly grotesque and largely droll tale of someone in a part of the world wherein being born female mostly equates to be born dead.
johnnyboyz23 January 2013
The process of realising just how lacking in any sort of grace or overall substance Shekhar Kapur's 1994 film Bandit Queen actually has comes at us as quite a surprise; the film, a grubby little piece dressed up (what with its being in a foreign language, arriving with British funding as well as the cinematic pretenses it purveys throughout) is actually little more than a troublesome rape-'n'-revenge movie duly arriving with a less than subtle feminist tract, is often a trite and dull affair. The film is a mostly empty experience depicting the life of a specific woman whose experiences were anything but devoid of nastiness; a misjudged project often resembling what something like Badlands may have looked like had it been made by Lucio Fulci; an odd spin on the narrative you might find in something like Day of the Woman, a film depicting the odd splash of sexualised violence before the striking back against the state and such begin. The film doesn't know whether it's glorifying bloody revenge; demonising a monstrous ruling state, bloody revenge or glorifying the politics of those in charge. Amidst all the troublesome content, Kapur's decision to round things off with an attempt to create some sort of Gandhi-esque figure out of its lead is just deeply problematic in itself.

The film covers a young woman from the ages of eleven to around twenty five. Her name is Phoolan Devi (Biswas), a true to life figure of politics and woman's rights whose plight of abuse and marginalism are here depicted in a nation one is perhaps partial to expecting to be more rife within that of a predominantly Islamic state rather than India. One of the more terrifying things about the film is the fact it unfolds at a time when the 1970s was crossing over into the 1980s, when the attitudes and mentalities depicted therein strike us as more along the lines of what might've occurred in relation to all this stuff as the 1870s crossed over into the 1880s. On top of these ground floor ideas, the film additionally possesses the dusty, swooping sub-continental vistas in its armory: we hope all combining to set up an engaging, taut piece that looks good and comes with a healthy chunk of cinematic substance.

Alas, this is not the case. When we start with Devi's life, we begin with young Phoolan in a small stretch of water as an infant, the film offering very little in the form of respite in its documenting of this girl being put through the wringer as it is here in this very first scene a gentleman arrives in search of a bride to be. The girl is called out of the water, clean and cleansed and ready to begin a new life afresh; a sort of metaphorical rebirthing as she wonders out of the fluid ridden pool with an immediate view to leave behind everything in life up to this point, and begin a new one rife which will come to be epitomised by marginalisation and sexism. The film goes on to cover her falling in with a group of bandits when the angered rejection of this man's advances out of sexualised motivated purposes, and the consequent rejection from her home village when she escapes back to it, sees her join up with an amoral group of thugs whose way of life is what it is; Kapur here neatly highlighting the irony lying with the fact her village banishment was down to accusations of indulging in such behavior that eventually leads on to such behavior.

The presence of Vikram (Siraswal) is the film's next point of interest, an unrealistic poster boy amidst the other bandits and apparent leader of this ragtag gang whom comes to form a makeshift partner for the lead. Vikram's presence is equally problematic, a male character in the film where there need not be one; a male character who steps in and acts as a physical manifestation of where Phoolan herself should be breaking through transgressive barriers. Annoyingly, his role is to save her from the periodic attempts of rape brought about by that of the other bandits before dictating to her the rules of survival. This verbal confirmation, of what should have been established visually, pertaining to being what the lead herself should have already learnt, is a disappointing inclusion; this relying on an otherwise unnecessary male presence to inform the woman on how to get by, when the pretenses are that Bandit Queen is a piece documenting the harsh realisations a woman goes through when cut loose by a society that rejects her, equally so.

The film falls short: a one part-exploitation flick; one part eyebrows down, brow furrowed and hands clenched together beneath one's chin as if studying a chess position piece begging for some sort of contemplation. It wasn't scuzzy enough to be the former and not interesting enough to be the latter, while there is little therein for it to argue itself to be a political text on gender equality in the nation of India. With the sorts of more recent films coming out of this part of the world (namely Iran), one can skip this particular piece and jump to said texts without missing too much.
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