Not all directors are equal, or treated equally. Especially in the way their work is perceived of celebrated in the Western world. While the likes of Kurosawa, Truffaut, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky and Fellini are lauded and almost worshipped by cinephiles, other filmmakers, such as Satyajit Ray, have found their bodies of work rather overlooked or underappreciated. There has been a reassessment of Indian cinema over recent years and thankfully he’s now being appreciated for much more than just his famous Apu Trilogy. Devi is a gem.
Set in rural Bengal during the nineteenth century, Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) lives with her husband (Soumitra Chatterjee) and his family. When he goes away to teach, she is left to her own devices. Worshipped by his nephew Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury), who follows her around, she spends her days looking after her father-in-law (Chhabi Biswas). Their relationship changes when he has a vision that she is, in fact, the Goddess Kali. The wealthy landlord becomes obsessed with this notion.
Devi is a studied drama which confronts the fanaticism of traditional religious beliefs and intransigence of accepted cultural values with the inevitability of scientific, societal and medical progression. Ray tackles conservative power structures within family groupings as well as the concept of free will within the boundaries set by a society. It’s beautifully made, as you’d expect, but there’s a subtlety and lightness to Devi which make it entirely distinct.
• 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Interviews with actors Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee, recorded in 2013
• Video essay by film scholar Meheli Sen
• English subtitle translation
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Devika Girish
Devi is released on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection on 22 November.