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  Devi Divine Emotion
Year: 1960
Director: Satyajit Ray
Stars: Chhabi Biswas, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Purnendu Mukherjee, Karuna Banerjee, Arpan Chowdhury, Anil Chatterjee, Kali Sarkar
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Seventeen-year-old Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) has married into a wealthy family, and all seems to be working out fine, as she stays with her husband's father (Chhabi Biswas) and brother, along with her sister-in-law and young nephew, who adores her. The time has come for her spouse Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) to leave the mansion house for college, so he may learn English and get a good job, but Doya cannot understand why he has to go when he already has money. Nevertheless, Uma wants to better himself, unaware that by leaving he is abandoning his wife to the whims of his father...

Perhaps India's most respected director Satyajit Ray, had made international waves with his celebrated Apu Trilogy, and many were wondering how he would follow it up. Devi was the answer to that, taking one of the actresses from his final Apu film, then-fourteen-year-old Sharmila Tagore, and putting her in the tough role of an unfortunate mistaken for the incarnation of a deity (Devi means "The Goddess"). Where his trilogy had universal appeal, there were quite a few outside of India who wondered how such a story so personal to Bengal would travel, and they decided that it probably wouldn't.

This was unfair, as those critics seemed to gloss over the fact that religious superstition is present in every society, making Devi easier to relate to than they would have allowed. What happens is that Doya, a kind and warm character, has these admirable qualities transformed into personal liabilities after her father-in-law has a vivid dream one night once his son has left for college. In this dream he sees Doya as the goddess Kali, and as his beliefs, not to mention those of his countrymen, make room for reincarnation, it seems obvious to him that his daughter-in-law has to be that goddess here on Earth.

Tagore has a deeply soulful look about her, and Ray allows for some ambiguity by making us see why the locals could think she was a divine presence, filming closeups of her sensitive eyes and troubled features to let us understand her appeal. Before long people are bringing sick children to be cured by her, and it appears as if the otherworldly powers attributed to her are working wonders. But really this is Ray setting us up for a fall, and a rather sobering one at that, with Devi actually an awful warning about being too gullible in the face of what in some ways could be a form of mass hysteria centred around faith.

Uma is called back from his studies, and here the gap not only between the generations but between religion and rationality is emphasised, as he is extremely sceptical about his father's belief in his wife. But he has the weight of public opinion against him, as the poor bring their ailing to see Doya instead of taking them to doctors. Ray is on Uma's side, and we can relate to his anguish as he tries to take his wife away from all this circus only to find she is suffering doubts about whether what they are saying about her is true, and if she will be cursed if she refuses to take up this mantle pressed upon her - the superstition has got to her as well. In truth, although it's undeniable that the characters need to wake up from the harmful fantasy that they have embraced, the manner in which Ray goes about it is is far too cruel, and might leave you musing that there must have been a better way to enforce reason upon them. Music by Ali Akbar Khan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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