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Bandit Queen
cast: Seema Biswas, Aseem Bajaj, Aditya Srivastava, Deepak Soni, and Nirmal Pandey

director: Shekhar Kapur

115 minutes (18) 1995
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A, Stewart
Movies based on true events are a veritable nightmare for the cast and crew charged with bringing them to the big screen. The subjects bitch (if they are still alive) about depiction of self and there is always a queue of people waiting with gleeful grins to point out the inaccuracies of the piece. In Bandit Queen - originally released in 1995 - both of the above points have been raised, and on numerous occasions.

However, this should not take away from what is a beautifully shot piece of world cinema. With dialogue in Hindu (complimented by English subtitles of course), Bandit Queen is a biopic of the Indian hero - or criminal depending on your perspective - Phoolan Devi. In a few short sentences, Devi was loved and hated in equal measures in India for her willingness to fight for her rights as a woman. The hate generally came from her literal application of the fight, with violence as much an ingredient in her struggle as peace was in Ghandi's, a character with who comparisons to Devi have been tenuously drawn.

This is an Indian production but Bollywood's dance and song mitts are miles from this piece, which was controversially banned upon release in India for the sex and violence within, not the story (allegedly). Phoolan Devi, herself, was said not to be too enamoured by this movie - promising to burn herself alive if it was ever shown in India. (Seven years ago this month, Devi was gunned down at her home in New Dehli. She would have been 45 on the 10th of August.) The film itself tells Devi's story and her rise from a low-caste feudalistic life to political gangster. Her story is awash in trial, tribulation and no shortage of shocking events. Thankfully, director Shekhar Kapur pulls no punches in highlighting much of the torment of Devi's early life in engineering this fascinating biopic about an altogether under-discussed activist. Love or loathe Devi, she was indeed an interesting character and whilst she may have had some qualms about the depiction of her in this movie, it is nonetheless a brilliant watch for anyone looking to get a feel for the world outside their own borders, and to understand the recent history of such a place.

The emotion in Bandit Queen is raw and palpable; the primogeniture that pervades rural India, a male dominated world, is laid bare here and the class system is altogether too reminiscent of the empires of years gone by. Kapur (also director of Elizabeth) should be commended for bringing to life a real part of India's history here. There may be alleged inaccuracies, contention by the subjects therein and some poetic license at use, but the simple fact of the matter is that if this film encourages one, two or three people to delve into their past or to question their subjugation then it is a worthwhile addition to the Indian cinematic canon.

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