Devis life is shown as sadly representative of many womens in India of lower castes. She is forced to marry as a child to a man she does not love, because her parents cannot afford to feed her. Her husband beats and humiliates her. Devis abduction by bandits is portrayed as a relief, rather than penance for the young woman.
After Devi is abducted in the film, her anger against men is so intense; she physically lashes out even at her lover. However, eventually she finds a sense of friendship and fellowship amongst the bandits. The film explains Devis criminality as a product of her oppression due to her caste and her gender. It turns her life into an instructive parable for the reader as to what can happen when the marginalized people of the world have no voice. “The press is fascinated by her boldness, by the way she disguises herself as a policeman, by her practice of befriending young girls and interrupting the weddings of children” (Ebert 1994).
However, although the film may be artistically powerful and be motivated by good intentions, the fact that it is about a living person raises additional ethical questions that might not be raised by Shakespeares appropriation of Macbeth and Richard III, or even Oliver Stones lose historical interpretation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in JFK. An artistic work can transform a living persons reputation and life in a manner that has a real, material impact, as in the case of Devis assassination.
Ultimately, in a free society there is a limit to how much a causal connection between art and action can be punished. The would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan was obsessed with the film Taxi Driver, a great classic of modern cinema, and wanted to impress one of the actresses in the film, Jodie Foster, with his murderous intentions. The assassin of John Lennon was obsessed with the book the Catcher in the Rye. Merely because a disturbed individual misinterprets a work of art does not justify censorship. If an artist were held morally and ethically responsible for every action that could be linked to his or her work of art, art would not exist.
This may seem harshly insensitive to someone who feels that a loved one has been harmed, due to the effects of a work of art. But a free society must tolerate the ability for individuals to produce art, even art that makes us uncomfortable. Artists, including filmmakers, must have the right to produce art that public figures may disagree with — whether that subject is a U.S. president in an Oliver Stone film or the Bandit Queen.
Egbert, Roger. Review of the Bandit Queen. The Chicago-Sun Times. July 14, 1995.
January 18, 2011.
The Bandit Queen. Directed by Shekhar Kapur. 1994..