Devi (The Goddess)

1960, India. 93 min, B/W, In Bengali with subtitles.

Summary

The film is set in 1860 at Chandipur, in rural Bengal, India. Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) and her husband Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) live with his elder brother (Purnendu Mukherjee), his wife (Karuna Banerjee) and wealthy father, Kalikinkar Roy (Chhabi Biswas).

Kalikinkar Roy, the patriarch, is an aging widower. He is a respected landlord and a devotee of the Hindu goddess, Kali. Umaprasad, Doyamoyee’s husband, is away to study in Calcutta. She looks after her old father-in-law. She has a soft corner for her nephew Khoka, with whom she enjoys a fond relationship.

Roy has a revelation in a dream that his daughter-in-law Doyamoyee is an incarnation of the goddess Kali. He insists she be worshiped. Then, a dying child is placed at her feet and he is miraculously cured. As the news spreads, the aged, sick and the poor come in hundreds; seeking cures and comfort. As Doyamoyee’s husband Umaprasad learns about the events, he returns home to her rescue. Umaprasad attacks the tradition and tries to reason with his father and tells him that he has gone insane. The father is unmoved. To him, the miracle cure demonstrates the truth of the his beliefs.

Umaprasad tries to take her away, but to his surprise finds that she too has become convinced of her divine status. Doyamoyee’s nephew, the child Khoka, falls ill and is placed in her care. The child dies for lack of medical treatment in her arms. Her husband tries again to persuade her but it is too late. The child’s death has shattered her. Doyamoyee, the proclaimed goddess has gone mad. As he calls her, she is seen running away into a field and vanishing into the mist.

Comments

The film generated some controversy on its release in India. It was seen as an attack on Hinduism itself by a few protesters, who tried to prevent the film’s international release. However, the film was eventually released and went on to receive a government award, the President’s Gold Medal. The teen-aged Sharmila Tagore gives an outstanding performance in the title role. She commented a few years later, “Devi was what a genius got out of me, not something I did myself”.

The film uses many details that create the atmosphere. These details however, may be lost to a viewer not familiar with Hindu customs and Indian life. Even Pauline Kael, who greatly admired the film, wrongly read “startling Freudian undertones” in film. Probably, referring to Doyamoyee massaging her father-in-law’s feet. Massaging feet, in fact is a mark of respect towards elders, usually parents and parents-in-law.

What others say

Ray's feeling for the intoxicating beauty within the disintegrating way of life of the 19th century landowning class makes this one of the rare, honest films about decadence.
Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael
Film Critic

Awards

  • President’s Gold Medal, New Delhi, 1961

Credits

 
Producer:Satyajit Ray Productions
Screenplay & Direction:Satyajit Ray, Based on the short story – ‘Devi’ by Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee
Cinematography:Subrata Mitra
Editing:Dulal Dutta
Art Direction:Bansi Chandragupta
Sound:Durgadas Mitra
Music:Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

Cast

 
Doyamoyee:Sharmila Tagore
Kalikinkar Roy:Chhabi Biswas
Umaprasad:Soumitra Chatterjee
Taraprasad:Purnendu Mukherjee
Harasundari:Karuna Banerjee
Bhudeb:Anil Chatterjee
Khoka:Arpan Chowdhury
Professor Sarkar:Kali Sarkar
Poster for the film Devi designed by Satyajit Ray
Poster for the film Devi designed by Satyajit Ray
Doyamoyee, played by Sharmila Tagore
Doyamoyee, played by Sharmila Tagore
Father-in-law's dream
Father-in-law's dream
Doyamoyee becomes goddess
Doyamoyee becomes goddess
A villager brings a dying child for Devi's blessings
A villager brings a dying child for Devi's blessings
Umaprasad and Doyamoyee
Umaprasad and Doyamoyee
Doyamoyee has lost her mind and runs away
Doyamoyee has lost her mind and runs away