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BANDIT QUEEN (FILM WITHDRAWN)

India, 1994 (MIFF 1994)

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Torn from the headlines of today's tabloids, nothing you may have seen before from the Indian cinema will prepare you for the shock of Bandit Queen.

India's most famous and most feared outlaw surrendered to the police in 1983. This outlaw stood accused of numerous counts of murder and kidnapping, including the killing of thirty men in one raid, the infamous Behmai Massacre - a massacre that brought down an entire government. This outlaw was a woman, the Goddess of Flowers, India's Bandit Queen, considered by many to be an avenging angel, scourge of the high castes and the rich, protector of the low castes and the poor.

This fascinating drama is based on the prison diaries of Phoolan Devi herself - she has just been released this year by special order of the Supreme Court of India - and traces her journey from young village girl to notorious killer, with a savage realism that is truly radical for a country whose own censorship laws will make it difficult for this film to find a screen.

Seema Biswas gives an unsparing performance as Devi, a woman who is shaped by bitterness and her close-combat view of the world - a world where she is seen as the inferior sex, and low caste women and childbrides are even greater targets for abuse and brutality.

Though the film is graphic, it is never exploitative, and its powerful, dramatic force flows out of its investigation of female empowerment as well as down the barrel of a gun.

Just completed in time for the Cannes Film Festival last month, where it was the controversial entry, Bandit Queen is a real discovery, and with it Indian cinema will never be seen in quite the same way again.

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