Kajol, Shruti Haasan and Neha Dhupia lead a spirited group of women as they present a nuanced portrayal of sisterhood and sexual violence.
I still remember my response to the news of Delhi gang-rape case, I am sure so do you. Having covered crime at one point of my career, I should have been in some ways be immune to the heinous details, but I wasn't. I felt this visceral pain which started right in the pit of my stomach, realising much later that I was crying. The outrage would follow, at that point I was just reliving what she must have felt, her pain and her strength.
Watch the trailer of 'Devi' here
It has been close to eight years and the headlines are now about the hanging of perpetrators as the Supreme Court takes decision on their mercy petitions. Thousands of women have been raped in the interim, so many killed by the rapists. As per statistics, 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017, about 90 a day. Statistics don't have faces, they don't feel the pain.
Aruna Shaunbag spent 40 years in a vegetative state after she was sodomised and strangled. Hetal Parekh was just 14 when she was raped and killed. Priyadarshini Mattoo's father fought for justice for 17 years. Devi is the story of the victims; the women who became statistics.
For a film the length of which is 13 minutes, Devi is surprisingly effective and impactful. A closed-room drama, it pulls us in directly as we see a disparate group of women sitting in a room together. A homemaker Jyoti (Kajol) who seems to be praying for the ones she is surrounded by, the lines of worry etched on her face. Yashaswini Dayama, clearly the youngest in the room and speech impaired, is fiddling with a remote of a box TV, the reception is what it is. She gets the channel right finally as the news of yet another rape is announced; "it has shaken the conscience of a nation", announces the anchor.
The news gives the room a pause, but only for a moment. Sandhya Mhatre, Neena Kulkarni and Rama Joshi – a trio of Maharashtrian maushis -- keep up their conversation; Neha Dhupia, who seems like a 30-something executive, is lost in thought; Shruti Haasan is a glam diva who sparingly speaks; Shivani Raghuvanshi's student studies like her life depends on it while Mukta Barve's burka-clad character is waxing her legs.
Their religion, language, class, thoughts and beliefs are widely different but still this incongruent group does more than just stick together -- there is something binding them. You just know they are not leaving this room despite all the fights. The room is their sanctuary, or maybe a purgatory of sorts? A newcomer, urgently ringing the bell as if she is desperate to find her own nook in this sanctuary leads to a heated discussion. Should she be let in? Is there space enough for everyone in the room? Who gets the precedence and based on what? Devi's conclusion will shake you up; it is as much a comment on our society as on us.
Priyanka Banerjee's nuanced portrayal of sisterhood and resilience works on so many levels, beginning with the ironical title. Perhaps saying more would be giving away spoilers but this is a film which puts a lot of weight on subtext. The actors match her step for step, bringing a lived-in feel to their characters. Their vulnerability is tinged with strength, the world has failed them but they are damned if they will let it take that last shred of self they are left with.
I will watch Devi again, it will not be easy.