January 28, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST (1300 GMT)
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The controversial story of a reformed Indian outlaw is finally making its way to the screens of movie houses in India.
"Bandit Queen" is a film of revenge -- and ultimate triumph.
It has all the elements of a pot-boiler, and on the first day of its release Friday on the commercial circuit in India, audiences packed movie-houses to watch the "Bandit Queen."
"House Full" signs were a common sight in front of theaters showing the movie.
The story of "Bandit Queen," an offering of Bombay's film industry, might sound far-fetched, but it isn't fiction.
The Hindi-language movie is based on the life of Phoolan Devi. The gun-toting folk hero roamed the treacherous terrain of Central India's Chambal Valley -- once the heartland of bandits -- seeking to exact revenge on those who she said had raped her and abetted the exploitation of lower caste villagers.
In the process, she became leader of a group of outlaws -- hence the film's title.
Phoolan, who hails from a lower caste, spent over a decade in jail, awaiting trial for allegedly murdering 22 men she said had raped her, most of them rich landlords from the upper castes.
Her case never went to trial. Devi was freed in 1994 after the state pardoned her on humanitarian grounds.
The movie was screened abroad before it was released in India because the Indian censor board had banned it, saying it had to be severely cut before it could be approved for a mass audience.
The film's director Shekhar Kapur and the censor board recently came to a compromise; some parts of the movie were still snipped but not as many as had originally been recommended.
Also axed were certain scenes Devi herself was offended by, including a rape sequence.
Despite the cuts, the final version got a thumbs-up from viewers. "I thought the woman who played Phoolan did a great job," a member of the audience said.
The film was distributed around the world, and was even released in the United States. The movie premiered in the United States last August. It was also shown at the Toronto film festival.
Now it can finally be seen in the country where Phoolan Devi has long been a household name.
As for the real Phoolan, she is hailed as a folk hero and is now said to be considering a career in politics.
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