Bandit Queen

Bandit Queen


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

This is the true tale of a singular woman. In the early 80s, Phoolan Devi, a woman who led a gang of bandits in northern India was so well-known, and so courted by the media that she was more famous than a movie star. Eventually she gave herself up and was imprisoned but on her release she became a successful politician until her assassination in 2001. Both Devi herself and the Indian government tried to censor this film on its release and it is not hard to see why. This is a film that does not pull its punches, it paints a horrific picture of the degradation faced by the lower castes in India and by women in particular, and the utter disregard in which they are held by the upper castes.

Sold into marriage at the age of 11 to a man three times her age Devi has to endure rape until she chooses to run away but this makes her vulnerable in rural India. A woman is her father’s property and then her brother’s until she marries and then she becomes her husband’s plaything. However once she does not have this male protection she is fair game for any high caste man who wants her… so Devi placed herself in terrible danger which only changed when she joined Vikhram’s (Nirmal Pandey) bandits and slowly fell in love with him.

Copy picture

The intolerable cruelty and degradation Devi faced forged her into a bandit with no regard for the hated upper castes and the caste system itself, which were responsible for much of her misery. Knowing only brutality and rape as a child, Devi responds to her sexual feelings for Vikhram as if she is the dominator. A terrific piece of acting by Seema Biswas.

The way this movie is filmed is masterly. A gang rape later in the film is even more horrific because of the restraint with which it is filmed. You see the first man obviously engaging in rape but thereafter you just see the man’s legs and feet, or a man coming through the door, but the cumulative effect is shocking.

Seema Biswas dominates the screen as the much-wronged, vengeful Devi, moving from tough to tender, from bandit to child with an easy naturalness. But the standard of acting generally is very high even though many of the people on screen are amateurs, including the young Phoolan Devi who apparently walked in off the street.

This film does perhaps feel as if it is a bit of a polemic and it is not for the squeamish. You must prepare yourself to be intellectually and morally challenged but whatever your feelings about the film and its heroine you cannot fail to be moved. If you did not know the story was based on truth you would think it was stretching credulity to its limits.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2008
Share this with others on...
Bandit Queen packshot
True story of a woman who led a gang of outlaws in northern India.
Amazon link

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Writer: Ranjit Kapoor, Mala Sen, Mala Sen

Starring: Seema Biswas, Aditya Srivastava, Agesh Markam, Ajai Rohilla, Anirudh Agarwal, Anil Sahu, Anupam Shyam, Aseem Bajaj, Ashok Bulani, Ashok Sharma, Avinash Nemade

Year: 1994

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: India, UK


Search database:

If you like this, try: