Bandit Queen (1994)

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Bandit Queen
Director: Shekar Kapur

Cast: Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey, Aditya Srivastava

An epic revenge drama based on the true story of Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen, this film highlights the dire circumstances of many young girls in India, who are forced into often abusive arranged marriages with older men. It also touches on the problematic issue of caste, where power is usually in the hands of the upper castes, with little or no recourse to legal protection for the lowest castes.

The film starts with Phoolan as an 11 year old lower caste girl sold into an arranged marriage with a much older man. She flees when his abuse of her becomes intolerable and eventually joins a gang of outlaw bandits. Director, Shekar Kapur (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: the Golden Age) assaults the senses both visually and emotionally as he documents Phoolan’s life of serial humiliation and physical abuse at the hands of almost every man around her. This is alternated by periods of ferocious rebellion by the female protagonist as she tries to fight back against a society which would see her denied of all human rights and dignity.

Controversially banned in India, because of graphic scenes of sexual violence, Bandit Queen is not the usual Bollywood fare and gives outsiders a visceral insight into a world far removed from their own comfort zones.

In a classic case of fact being far stranger than fiction, the real life Phoolan Devi was elected to the Indian Parliament in 1996 and assassinated by gunmen in 2001.

Read more about Phoolan Devi’s incredible life:

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