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Bandit Queen

A low-caste woman who fought back, Phoolan Devi became a social outcast from her village in Uttar Pradesh when she refused to submit to rape, then became a folk heroine when she led a group of bandits in a series of bloody raids against the higher-caste Thakurs, climaxing in the notorious Behmai massacre. These events are part of recent Indian history, and it was in 1983 that Devi finally surrendered to the authorities on her own terms. Harrowingly graphic in its treatment of violence, the film fell foul of the Indian censors and of Devi herself, but Western audiences are likely to be impressed by how director Shekhar Kapur (whose subsequent credits include Elizabeth) neither sensationalises nor sermonises. The focus is squarely on Phoolan (played with blistering intensity by Seema Biswas), but Kapur doesn’t glorify the woman or her increasingly traumatic acts of vengeance. Instead, there’s a searing anger running through the film, directed at the oppression of women and at a caste system designed to keep everyone in their place.

U.K./India, 1994.
Colour.
English subtitles.
Dolby stereo.
121 mins.

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