“Bhoomi”… The worst of this year’s rape-revenge dramas, without even pulp kicks

Posted on September 25, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

The key scene in Bhoomi, as I see it, is the one where Bhoomi (Aditi Rao Hydari) is abducted… again, a day after she was raped by Dhauli (Sharad Kelkar) and his men. They thought she’d suffer silently, but now that they know she’s talking about it, they want to kill her. On the day before her wedding! The director Omung Kumar stages the scene on a bridge. Bhoomi tries to jump. A man grabs her hair in time, so she is suspended, almost literally, by a thread. Dhauli delivers the coup de grâce. He whips out a knife, slashes through the clutch of hair, and sends Bhoomi hurtling down. Now, Dhauli whips out his gun and shoots into the waters below, to ensure the job gets done.

What does this accomplish that a simple bullet through the head, right off, wouldn’t? For one, we wouldn’t get the slo-mo shot of Bhoomi falling, her embroidered red wedding lehenga billowing in the wind. (Omung Kumar likes his visuals.) We wouldn’t get the shot of her under water, the bullets from Dhauli’s gun whizzing past her flailing form. And we wouldn’t get the echo of the earlier scene where Bhoomi’s father, Arun (Sanjay Dutt), was massaging her head, marvelling at her thick, black, lustrous hair. Ah, the tragedy! Had Bhoomi gotten herself a pixie cut, the man on the bridge wouldn’t have been able to hold her back when she wanted to jump. You know what they say: Bride goeth before a fall!

The problem with Bhoomi isn’t the loud, old-fashioned storytelling. It’s that it finds nothing interesting to tell. It’s the third inter-generational rape-and-revenge drama (not counting Kaabil, which was about a couple) this year, after Maatr and Mom, and unlike those films, it’s a father and daughter narrative. So why not establish father and daughter a little more convincingly than having him refusing to eat before she’s eaten the food he’s made with his own two hands? Omung Kumar may be the first filmmaker to see Sanjay Dutt as Ramu kaka. The relationships are generic, with a trait or two given to each character. Bhoomi speaks with a stammer. Arun drinks. She dyes his hair. He makes footwear. It’s not enough. They feel like they’re going through the motions, that they’ll return to their caravans once the director yells CUT.

The writing never convinces us that this world, these people are real. We’re supposed to infer that Bhoomi’s fiancé, Neeraj (Sidhant Gupta), loves her because… they sing two songs together. Instead of seeing and sensing a couple in love, we see a pretty pair going through choreographed motions. What could have been a powerful scene between them – her revelation to him that she’s been raped, just before the wedding – occurs off-screen. He walks out with a sad-emoticon face, and his parents whisk him away. Is he confused? Is he a wimp? Does he try to call her later? Who knows? There are no such questions with the other characters (a female lawyer, cops), who are coloured with a single shade: “insensitive.”

For a painfully long time, we are treated to Arun’s despair, Bhoomi’s despair, the despair of the people in the surrounding seats wondering why such a sturdy premise is working neither psychologically nor physically. We get a short scene where Bhoomi realises it’s no longer going to be easy to practise her profession (bridal makeup). It’s so short, it’s just the tail end of a phone call. A better writer would have gone into her mind, what it means to be cast aside – by her fiancé, by society. And if you aren’t going to do that, at least deliver the pulp kicks of a revenge thriller quickly. By the time Arun and Bhoomi decide to go after the villains, Sridevi and Raveena Tandon were already ratcheting up the corpse count.

Why were we at least remotely invested in those films? Is it because women vigilantes fascinate us more? Or is it because, despite the lurid goings-on, the directors exhibited a smidgen of decency? Consider the staging of the rape in Bhoomi, in an empty cinema hall, as a sex scene plays on screen. Bhoomi is so insipidly written that the really interesting beats – how Bhoomi is punished for her honesty; how an innocent-looking man can turn dangerous when his love is spurned; how women don’t always rally around their men – cease to matter. Even the killings are terrible. One involves cross-dressing and a birthday cake. Another involves flying dupattas. A third involves a Sunny Leone item number. No wait. That’s just the integrity of a female-centric narrative being murdered.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi