In Devi, the ‘goddess’s’ listlessness and immobility within the face of burgeoning oppression was a metaphor for patriarchy at its diabolical worst.
What makes a basic? How does a much-talked-about movie or TV present of its time go on on to realize cult standing? In our new column, Rewind to Unwind, we break down classics to see how they stand in 2020, how they’ve aged (if in any respect), by both re-visiting the property with a brand new perspective or watching them for the primary time.
One of probably the most enduring and vivid photos from my childhood needs to be that of Sharmila Tagore staring proper into my eyes together with her mounted, unwavering glare by means of our humble outdated Western telly set, in Satyajit Ray’s Devi. It was the late 90s, and I used to be all of 5 or 6 years outdated, when Tagore’s piercing gaze and an unsmiling mouth conflated with the picture of the fierce autumn Goddess, Kali. Not a lot else from the movie had seeped by means of my mind all these a long time in the past, but it surely had, quite surprisingly, irrevocably rewired my recollections and associations to the deity with Ray’s creation. I could not have actually watched the movie, however I evidently might by no means unsee these fleeting photos from the nook of my thoughts’s eye, as they proceed to stay seen and dedicated to acutely aware reminiscence 22 years since.
As Ray’s centenary beckons, I determine to revisit Devi, a movie that has arguably attained cult-status amongst cinephiles through the years, and discover the thriller behind Tagore’s transfixing manner. In the backdrop of a altering Calcutta with its timeless charms, the essay will even try to uncover this alleged dichotomy espoused by the metropolis, and the way the movie’s message on blind religion and colonisation of the feminine physique finds relevance in a metropolis that refuses to outgrow such contradictions.
In India, ladies with any quantity of social capital are both devis (goddesses) or dayans (witches), thereby efficiently eluding their human types utterly. From folktales to movies, the dehumanising male gaze on ladies has been all-pervasive, stripping them of company and autonomy, even of their very own our bodies. A current glowing instance of the identical could be present in Netflix’s Bulbbul produced by Anushka Sharma, whose story is ready in 19th century Bengal. The movie revises the lore of the chudail (man-eating demoness) to make clear archaic feudal constructions oppressing ladies within the erstwhile havelis of the Indian aristocracy. Interestingly, the movie’s premise jogged my memory of Satyajit Ray’s 1960 basic, Devi, starring Sharmila Tagore within the eponymous position, with Tollywood stalwarts Chabi Biswas and Soumitra Chatterjee for firm.
Growing up in a middle-class family in Calcutta in the ’90s and early 2000s entailed dwelling on a gentle tv weight loss plan of all-things Bollywood, MTV, Cartoon Network, and beneficiant doses of Bengali cinema’s holy triumvirate — Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak — on the trusty outdated Doordarshan. Until the ascent of Rituparno Ghosh, the working class Bengali’s vocal rejection of mainstream Tollywood’s aesthetics left them clinging on to the dying embers of a ‘superb cultural previous’ that was steadily eroding away.
My household was no exception; the primary twelve summers of my life spent with my dad and mom, paternal grandparents and uncle in our cosy one-BHK, comprised soirées in entrance of the telly, devouring such Bengali classics in black-and-white. My first, and quite momentous encounter with Sharmila Tagore’s enigmatic Dayamoyee, occurred on one such night.
Twenty-two years later, as I revisited her story in hopes of discovering solutions to an everlasting childhood riddle involving Goddess Kali, I used to be left additional overwhelmed with questions that I shall try to discover on this essay.
Right on the outset, I want to declare my allegiance in direction of the luxurious lead pair of Tagore and Chatterjee, — over the extra common pairing of Aparna Sen and Chatterjee — whose first on-screen marriage in Ray’s Apur Sansar, only a yr previous to Devi, had carried out a lot good for Indian cinema. Their chemistry is palpable, and the dynamism of their equation is quite poignantly captured and mirrored within the fireworks in an preliminary scene, which takes place within the backdrop of ongoing Durga Puja celebrations. The overtly superstitious family of the prosperous Roys in 19th century rural Bengal is thrown into sharp aid the second Chatterjee’s Umaprasad, the youthful son of the household, flees to Calcutta to earn an English schooling at a university. He leaves behind his 17-year-old spouse within the care of a god-fearing father, Kalikinkar (Chabi Biswas), a wayward elder brother Taraprasad (Purnendu Mukherjee), his disgruntled spouse Harasundari (Karuna Banerjee), and their little son Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury) — Dayamoyee’s fosterling.
Tagore’s coy bride and daughter-in-law act is rooted in her demure eyes and rationed phrases. They set the stage for her imminent destiny of enjoying an impotent goddess on the whims of her father-in-law. He lies prostrate at her toes one fantastic morning after a febrile dream, the place the goddess adopts the face of Dayamoyee, his perfect daughter-in-law.
The movie stands witness to Ray’s sheer sorcery on celluloid by means of its riveting play of sunshine and shadow. In a scene the place Dayamoyee’s limp physique sits on a pedestal, with tears streaming down her face, a thick, translucent, virtually ghoulish cowl of gray shrouds her determine. The ‘goddess’ is an exhibit for a predominantly male room that watches her each breath and blink fastidiously — she should carry out. And so she does.
Flashes of Dayamoyee’s piercing gaze that have been beamed straight into my psyche all these years in the past resurfaced, solely to depart me flustered with discomfort. As I watched her sitting defeated, virtually maimed by the assaulting eyes of her onlookers, who hoped to spiritually gratify her as a way to have their wishes answered, I was left feeling horrified and astounded by the auteur’s sheer audacity.
Every time Dayamoyee was worshipped on display screen, I discovered my palms desperately clawing on the blanket wrapping me. The scenes performed like metaphors for sexual abuse. The ‘goddess’s’ listlessness and immobility within the face of burgeoning oppression, as she is compelled to fulfil an outdated man’s fantasy, was a refined, but unsparing metaphor for patriarchy at its diabolical worst.
The movie that had launched to a lot opposition and criticism — and was an adaptation of a brief story by the identical identify by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay — had gone on to win the National Award, and compete for the Palm d’Or in 1962. Within its compact 1 hour 30 minute-long runtime, it meticulously packs a number of conundrums plaguing an evolving society — that of science versus faith, together with the risks of blind religion and megalomania — themes which can be apparent to the bare eye. But what really stirs me is Ray’s fierce critique of misogynistic forces embedded in non secular constructions that disempower ladies within the garb of empowerment.
There are clues hidden all through the movie, with the allegory of the caged hen being among the many extra dominant ones. Dayamoyee’s attachment to the chattering parrot foregrounds her future, the place, very like the proverbial hen, she too should come to phrases together with her shackled existence, spieling off prophecies — albeit unwillingly.
Despite Umaprasad’s ceaseless warnings in opposition to the perils of blind religion, the fortuitous restoration of a dying, poor younger boy not solely reaffirms his father’s beliefs, but in addition convinces his spouse of her preternatural talents.
“Ami jodi Debi hoi?” (“What if I really am a goddess?”) asks Dayamoyee to her husband, as they stand inches away from the river financial institution, on whose different aspect lies the promise of a brand new life with city comforts, sans the sufferings.
“Tumi jodi Debi hote tumi nije bujhte paarte na? Tumi ki tomar moddhe kono poriborton bujhte paro? Tomar ki mone hoy tumi manush now? Tumi amar stree now?” (“But if you really were a goddess, wouldn’t you be aware of it? Do you feel any changes within yourself? Don’t you believe you are human anymore? Don’t you think you are my wife?”) Umaprasad implores, interesting to her rationality. Through him, the director urges his heroine to reclaim her company of not simply her spirit, but in addition her physique.
In the ultimate sequence of Devi, when the unlikely goddess fails to save lots of her beloved ailing Khoka, — who’s denied medical assist by Kalikinkar, and is in flip, left on the mercy of Dayamoyee’s divine prowess — she is reviled as a “rakkhoshi” (demoness) by her sister-in-law, who accuses her of devouring her son. In the penultimate scene, earlier than Dayamoyee disappears right into a misty area of smoke, she seems in a bedraggled trance, asking her husband to assist her dress. The scene is solid in a pall of white, lending it a surreal, virtually unearthly tenor.
“Paaliye jaabo…noile…era…amay merey phelbe” (“We need to run away from here, or else they will kill me”), says the dethroned goddess with heartbreaking readability. The fall has damaged her wings, and very like her rise, it has occurred with out her consent. She was however a prop within the bigger scheme of issues.
As Dayamoyee — now a veritable spectre — will get swallowed into oblivion within the closing shot, I really feel a tough punch pummel the pit of my abdomen. Her unsettling gaze proper earlier than she melts into nothingness, denouncing the evils of a system that discards ladies refusing to satiate its greeds, succinctly mirrors the horrors of womanhood even as we speak.
Devi was allegedly based mostly on a real story — a declare I’d be silly to contest whereas dwelling in a actuality that, most of the time, appears stranger than fiction. And as I revisit this basic in 2020, within the milieu of a metropolis struggling to fight a number of calamities without delay, its relevance in the prevailing instances turns into onerous to overlook.
For a Bengali millennial, who was a maiden voter within the historic state elections of 2011 that noticed the egress of the 34-year-old Left-front regime, the panorama’s transformation over the previous decade has been quite private. Almost in a single day, the color of the terrain modified irreversibly for the foreseeable future, and but, it characteristically retained its unwillingness to desert an elusive ‘superb’ previous.
However, probably the most important paradigm shift had occurred within the political idiom of the state, which as soon as celebrated the chauvinistic ‘rationalism’ of ageing male communists. The new order was female-led, hinged on the beliefs of motherly care — ‘Maa, Mati, Manush’, with the time period ‘Maa’ evoking the patron deity of Bengal, Durga.
Mamata Banerjee’s widespread acceptance follows her warrior-goddess picture, warranting deification of ladies in public areas as a way to grant them respect to at the present time.
But one should keep in mind, even six a long time therefore, that Dayamoyee by no means selected to change into a goddess — she was coerced into turning into one by a society that denied her fundamental human dignity.
All photos by way of Facebook
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