Unrated, this is an adult film that is not suitable for children because it explicity presents torture, rape and sex scenes, and series of degradations heaped on the main character Phoolan Devi that includes parading her totally, frontally nude at a public square. The film takes us through Devi's life from the age of 11 (when she is virtually sold into marriage by her father), through her teenage and young womanhood. The incredibly broad range and convincing acting skills of the sensual Seema Biswas who portrays Devi is amazing.
Set in a remote corner of India, the film is a catalogue of mental and physical abuse, including pedophilia and gang rape, heaped on the heroine. Although director Shekhar Kapur doesn't graphically depict the frequent assaults Devi endures, he does not flinch from presenting the sordid material either. Based on Devi's diaries, this powerful, grueling Indian film is not only a tribute to Devi's spirit, but also is a searing indictment of a culture corrupted by caste system in which the chauvinism of its men commonly involves degradating and abusing low caste women.
In her husband's home, Devi becomes little more than a pre-teen slave. She hasn't the strength to carry the heavy water jugs or the skills to herd the goats. Though he has decided that she's not quite "ripe," the bridegroom becomes aroused while beating her. "You're my wife! You must do this!" he says, before forcing himself upon the screaming child. Devi manages to escape and return to her family. But the upper-caste Thakurs in her village condemn her as a runaway wife and fallen woman. Soon the teenage Devi must put up with sexual taunts of the high-born youth who ogle her as she works in the fields.
After fighting off the sexual advances of a youthful tormentor who lies that she had seduced him, Devi is banished from the village. But when she attempts to return, she is arrested, raped and beaten by the corrupt and abusive police. Davi's abuse and degradation continue until she escapes to a wasteland, is taken in by bandits and then becomes the lover of a tough but tenderhearted (and gorgeous) bandit Vikram Mallah who saves her from yet another rapist. Vikram, a gang leader pro tem, teaches Devi to kill and rob, and invites her to join his gang. The two steal from the rich upper caste Thakurs and share their loot with the poor.
More tragedy awaits Devi, but the heroine survives and perseveres. Not unlike the notorious outlaws of the American West, Devi becomes a legend among the common folk and a political force to be reckoned with. [These days, the real-life Devi reportly plans to run for public office. Apparently, her lower-caste followers and supporters are unconcerned with her bloody history.]
The actor Biswas brings enormous ferocity and tenacity to the title role of THE BANDIT QUEEN. This provides a test of endurance for both the heroine and also the audience. The film is unforgettable.