Remember young Sharmila Tagore’s kajal-lined haunting eyes from the black and white movie from 1960? “Devi” (The Goddess), by Satyajit Ray, is about a woman in a patriarchal Bengali household where she is pulled up from the servitude of men to a pedestal reserved for goddesses, overnight. A change too sudden for the benign, innocent woman who crumbles under the pressure, since she does not have ten hands or a lion to ride on. Unfortunately, she’s a little too human.
“Devi” is a Bengali black and white film based on a short story by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. It is a study on how superstitions have the potential to ruin lives by simply stabbing rationality in the back. The film will incense the individual who hasn’t prayed even once.
Set sometime in the 19th century, “Devi” is the story of a zamindar family, where old and new age values constantly try to step on each other.
The film begins with Durga Puja celebrations taking place inside the family’s huge compound, culminating with the immersion of the goddess in the river. Actor Chhabi Biswas, who plays the patriarch of the household is a deeply religious man. Having lost his wife five years ago, he is well taken care of by his younger daughter-in-law (Doyamoyee), played by Sharmila Tagore. Her husband and Biswas’ younger son, played by Soumitra Chatterjee, is a learned man and finds it hard to digest the mindset of his father.
Everything is going fine until a dream of the patriarch in the middle of the night convinces him that his younger daughter-in-law is a reincarnation of a goddess. This dream motivates him to get up, go to Doyamoyee and bow down at her feet, claiming her to be a ‘devi‘. Unable to protest and influenced by the patriarch, his elder son does the same.
Overnight, the worship of a clay goddess inside the household takes a backseat and Doyamoyee is worshipped instead. The diya stand reserved for goddesses is moved around by the priest as the powerless ‘devi’ gazes into the abyss.
Patriarchy and feudalism shamelessly ensure that a patriarch’s dream in the middle of the night changes the course of everyone’s life in the family. The stubbornness of an old man unable to see the absurdity of blind faith results in a tragedy. The tragedy lies in the fact that it was unnecessary and could have been avoided.
Biswas’ educated son is shocked to know all that has transpired upon his return and is unable to convince his father that his daughter-in-law is as human as anyone else.
The film is a tragedy, for the trio of superstition, patriarchy, and feudalism, without any mercy, wreak havoc on the lives of people in an aristocratic family. The patriarch, responsible for the mess isn’t spared either. By the end of the film, you’ll be convinced that the barbarity of superstition takes pleasure in harassing the old and the young alike.
However, the worst sufferer is the ‘devi‘, whose world of innocence, which centred around writing letters to her husband and spending time with Khoka, her brother-in-law’s son, comes to a premature end.
Devi’s pain is real and her cries are ignored. One question will certainly come to your mind after watching this masterpiece. Is Doyamoyee a living deity or a slave? And you will know the answer to the question.
Has there been any film that has had an ever-lasting impact on you? It may have changed your perspective of the world, your career choice or impacted you in any other powerful way. If yes, do publish here on Youth Ki Awaaz and take the conversation forward.