Vengeful goddess

March 15, 1995

Vengeful goddess

Bandit Queen
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Starring Seema Biswas and Nirmal Pandey
At Sydney's Mandolin Cinema and Melbourne's Kino Cinema
Reviewed by Karl Miller

This film is based on the prison diaries of Phoolan Devi, "the Goddess of Flowers", the most notorious bandit woman of India. It is sharply critical of the feudal conditions of contemporary India. Director Shekhar Kapur's first international movie criticises both the savage sexism and the caste structures of Indian society.

The event which made Phoolan Devi infamous was the Behmai massacre of 1980. Several months earlier she had been a member of Sriram's bandit group. The upper caste Sriram had her gang raped and paraded naked in front of the village.

Phoolan Devi, a member of the lower caste, swore to kill all the members of his clan. She gathered together her own group of bandits. Sriram was expected at a wedding at Behmai, so Phoolan Devi took her bandits along. Sriram didn't arrive, but the Goddess of Flowers kept her vow. She took out all 30 upper caste members of the village and shot them.

Bandit Queen examines the intertwined issues of sexism and class oppression by following Phoolan Devi's life. The result is a salute to the courage and resistance of a very strong fighter who declares herself, by her actions, to be on the side of the poor and the powerless.

After surrendering in 1983, Phoolan Devi was released from prison in 1994 after a lower caste government came to power in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently she plans a career a politics, as one of the most famous women in India.

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