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Review Hindi

Devi review: An unsparing look at reality

Release Date: 02 Mar 2020

Cinestaan Rating

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Roushni Sarkar

Directed by Priyanka Banerjee, the short film on the sisterhood of rape victims leaves a chilling impact because of its nonchalant approach.

Priyanka Banerjee’s hard-hitting short film Devi conveys volumes with its compact storyline. The film is relatable and demands empathy. A tale of the sisterhood of rape victims, it makes a striking juxtaposition between the content and its setting and manages to convey, through appropriate characterization and dialogues, how sexual violence on women is perpetrated with no discrimination whatsoever.

The film opens to a room packed with various women going about their business. Three old women play cards while a burqa-clad woman makes sure to wax her legs thoroughly. A girl studies with concentration while a deaf-mute girl struggles to switch on the television. Another young girl in gorgeous clothes sits with a drink in hand. Finally, there is the corporate-type woman who takes in a long, deep breath, implying psychological exhaustion.

Everyone seems busy, except for Jyoti (Kajol), who seems to be in charge of the place. Her eyes are fearful and manner submissive, even as she prays to the goddess. Her way of speaking ensures compassion and empathy for everyone around.

The sight of so many women packed in a single room evokes an uneasy feeling. The house appears to be quite large, and so their gathering together in such a small space raises curiosity, too. However, therein lies the twist, the common state of existence that all of them in the room share.

The sound of a doorbell has the women breaking into a loud argument, as it means they have another tormented soul coming into the house. They complain about their own plight in the house, turning a blind eye to the plight of their other sisters. Their insensitive comments reveal the extent to which they have normalized in their minds the sexual violence inflicted upon them. But they still raise their voices and proclaim that there is no god.

While deciding on who needs to stay in the house and who needs to leave, they talk about their individual horrific stories, which are chilling. Their narratives reveal that like the victims, there is nothing which distinguishes the perpetrators.

Kajol, Neha Dhupia and Shruti Haasan in a scene from Devi

The individual narratives are revealed through casual exchanges of dialogue, without the addition of heightened emotions or melodramatic music. The nonchalance hits harder. It also highlights the reality of their solidarity, which is based on their common torment.

All their arguments turn futile in the climax, which reveals their perpetually vulnerable state in reality, though projected through a surreal narrative. It also shows that the sisterhood of the victims is their only solace. Despite their quarrels, the sense of security is palpable. It is also implied that they are probably safer indoors, as the number of victims is on the rise outside.

Along with Kajol, Neena Kulkarni, Shruti Haasan, Neha Dhupia, Mukta Barve and Shivani Raghuvanshi all manage to convey the distinguishing traits of their characters. A state of helplessness is their point of connect with one another. The distinctive nature of these women, their appearances and attitudes here become important to highlight this commonality.

Banerjee’s writing is on point and amplifies all the strands with a single focus on highlighting the sorry state of women in our country. At the end of the film, the title credit gives statistics of women raped in India and the number of cases that are eventually reported to the police.

The title of the film is a statement on the hypocrisy of society which has no qualms about worshipping the goddess as Devi on the one hand and yet treating women as creatures with no will. The sequence of Jyoti making offerings to the goddess also presents a striking irony in this regard.

Savita Singh's camerawork mostly concentrates on the characters, their movements and their facial expressions. The use of the violin in the background score by Yash Sahai adds to the surreal approach of the narrative. However, the sound of the doorbell ringing could have been made more alarming as it goes almost unnoticed.

The 11-minute-33-second film manages to convey the reality of the ‘second sex’ in our country. They are often not treated as human beings, but as objects for exercising violence and satiating lust. The short film has tremendous impact because of its matter-of-fact approach.

Devi is streaming now on the LargeShortFilms YouTube channel.

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