Bandit Queen | Chicago Reader

Bandit Queen

An epic 1994 action saga about Phoolan Devi, the lower-caste Indian woman who became a bandit celebrated as a heroine and goddess by her people. At its best, this recalls radical third-world “westerns” like Glauber Rocha's Antonio das mortes as well as Kenji Mizoguchi's films about men's inhumanity to women. Yet despite its ambition, bracing anger, and visual panache, it remains many notches below such reference points because of its sensationalistic and fairly indiscriminate piling on of horrors and violence, which ultimately becomes pornographic. The issue isn't what actually happened to Phoolan Devi, though she subsequently had legal disputes with the filmmakers. (According to this account, based on her diaries, she was forced into marriage at age 11, sold, repeatedly raped and beaten by police, ostracized, gang raped, publicly humiliated, and finally arrested and imprisoned.) The issue is the film's tendency to desensitize us with a surfeit of details. Nevertheless, this is an eye-filling and often stirring movie. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, from a script by Mala Sen; with Seema Biswas. In Hindi with subtitles. 121 min.

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