Bandit Queen (1994): Shekhar Kapur’s Controversial Film about Female Warrior Phoolan Devi

Bandit Queen, based on the true story of the controversial female warrior Phoolan Devi, is a provocative film that divided critics due to its portraiture, bloody violence, and ultimate repudiation by Devi herself of this version of her life.

Devi (Seema Biswas), married at age 11, is abandoned by her husband when she resists his advances, which makes her an outcast. After being gang-raped by some upper-caste men, she gets her revenge by organizing a brutal massacre on the men’s village.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Devi leads a band of latter-day Robin Hoods on raids against landowners in Central India, often taking their spoils and redistributing them to poor tenant farmers.

Arrested in 1983, Devi becomes a folk hero and role model to many women who still live in rural India’s rigidly structured patriarchal society.

Directed by Shekhar Kapur

The film is handsomely produced and energetically directed by the then unknown Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. After beginning his career in the “Bollywood” system, Kapur achieved international fame by directing the two “Elizabeth” biopics (1998, 2005), featuring the great actress Cate Blanchett in two Oscar-nominated performances.

“Bandit Queen” exposes a controversial aspect of Indian culture, while offering a portrait of female empowerment.