Bandit Queen is a member in good standing of that film genre which reports on true-life crime by social outcasts, with Bonnie and Clyde the most familiar example. Warren Beatty's film was about crooks who took on the mantle of social avengers during a tumultuous period of American history. Bandit Queen works on two levels, as a feminist revenge melodrama and as an exploration of a stratified social-class system in a country that bills itself as the world's most populous democracy. Phoolan Devi was driven by more personal motives than Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker; her dignity was dealt irreparable harm by a system indifferent to the basic rights of women, especially those of a lower caste. Director Shekhar Kapur doesn't gloss over the violations that fed Devi's rage, nor does he back off from depicting the horror she inflicted on her victims. It's a jagged, fiercely felt film that sometimes depends too heavily on its imagery to tell a story that, for Western viewers, may require more context.
by Tom Wiener review