Bengali women in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 are as poles apart as they could be. Well, there are two, to begin with- one being the good agyakaari daughter the other being a jealous sibling who turns to dark powers to have her wishes fulfilled. Both the women vie for the attention of a young man and guess who he chooses. Watching this film, one cannot help but wonder when will stereotyping of women as good and bad, bold and demure actually stop? But there are bigger problems with this film that we need to be addressed.
Featuring Tabu, Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 recently debuted on OTT after a very successful run in the theatres. The film has been posed as a sequel to Priyadarshan’s superhit 2007 Hindi film Bhool Bhulaiyaa, featuring Vidya Balan, Akshay Kumar and Shiney Ahuja. For those who do not know, this film was a remake of a 1993 Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu starring Shobana and Mohanlal. Such was the success of this Malayalam film that it was then adapted into several other languages with a fresh cast, including a Tamil remake featuring Rajinikanth (Chandramukhi).
Thematically though, the sequel of Bhool Bhulaiyaa diverges far and wide from its predecessor. While the first part was more of a psychological thriller comedy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is a horror-comedy and dabbles with elements of mysticism – jadoo-tona, tantra-mantra, the works. We don’t mind that, as long as the film doesn’t validate such disturbing practices. However, in an attempt to create a murky picture of its antagonist, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 resorts to multiple stereotypes, the brunt of which women bear in real life.
There are no spoilers here, this secret is out in the open – Tabu plays the role of twin sisters Anjulika and Manjulika in the film. They are brought to a rich Rajput family’s haveli in Rajasthan by their Bengali accountant father. While the sisters are similar in appearance, Anjulika is her father’s favourite. Feeling hurt at her dad’s behaviour, Manjulika starts practising kaala jadu. A Bengali woman, who practices jadoo-tona, haven’t we heard that before? Wasn’t there a media circus around this whole narrative that left many Bengali women feeling hurt and disrespected?
In 2020, after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput by suicide, his former girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty found herself in the eye of storm. There were allegations that she performed kala jadoo to keep him under her control. This allegation wasn’t based on any proof, just pure conjecture. But it was just the trigger that social media needed to paint a horrifying picture of Bengali women. They use black magic, they are real witches and they seduce men. This stereotyping was called out by many on social networking sites. After hounding Chakraborty for months, the media diverted its attention to another cause and social media followed its lead. But the hurt and pain it caused Bengali women, no one was held accountable for that.
And now, a highly successful Bollywood film is openly peddling this stereotype in the name of both horror and comedy. My colleague Deepshikha Chakravarti is not amused. Talking about the portrayal of Bengali women as black magic practitioners in the film, she says, “I have only one word to say, appalling! This kind of representation just keeps me away from such movies. I have great respect for Tabu as an actor par excellence, but I can’t bring myself to watch her in such a role. We need to get out of this Bengali woman and black magic trope. It is not just harmful for Bengali women but women in general.”
I couldn’t agree more. Tropes like these box women’s identities. Women who wear their desires on their sleeves are bad (Manjulika openly shows interest in Uday Thakur (played by Amar Upadhyay). Women always bring other women down, even if it is their sister, for the sake of love, evil Bengali women do black magic. Where does the buck stop? Why don’t viewers call out such sexist and problematic portrayals of women on the silver screen?
Films like Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, that market themselves as comedies, do such great damage. They feed stereotypes to the viewers under the guise of entertainment and then shake off any responsibility, because hey, they are not meant to be taken so seriously. But we have to understand that such portrayals do not leave the viewer’s mind, they crop up in conversations, they alter a person’s perception in our mind and they also impact the way we behave with the said person.
This problematic portrayal of Bengali women needs to stop as it is putting them in harms’ way, bringing hatred, abuse and trolling to their DMs among other things. The best way forward is to call out such pop-culture references. A film can be entertaining and enjoyable and problematic at the same time. Similarly, we can love a film and hate its misogynistic bits all at once.
Views expressed are the author’s own.