Review: ‘Devi’ Screams About The Apathy of The Judiciary
The review may contain spoilers
Amidst a looming uncertainty over the hanging of the perpetrators in the 2012 Delhi rape case, these words in Priyanka Banerjee’s short film Devi, playing on YouTube, echoes the pain of hundreds of rape survivors failed by the judiciary. Devi begins with women from diverse backgrounds confined to a room, busy with their own chores. Presumably dead, all are victims of rape or sexual assault. Holding them together is the quiet but fierce Kajol, who makes her entry with a puja thali in hand. As she offers her prayers, irony couldn’t strike harder. Here is an avatar of the goddess worshipped by those countless men who didn’t bat an eyelid while unleashing the brutality on the women.
The others range from a rich alcoholic (Shruti Haasan) to three Marathi women from the rural areas. Then there is a burqa-clad lady who is seen waxing her feet when we first meet her. A city dweller (Neha Dhupia) is lost in her own thoughts, while a young girl (Shivani Raghuvanshi) is busy studying for her medical exams (does the Hyderabad vet rape and murder ring a bell?). Another mute girl (Yashaswani Dayama) is busy trying to fix the TV. As soon as the news channel blares out yet another case of a gruesome crime, silence and fear reigns in the room.
Another victim rings the bell, and a heated debate ensues as to whether or not to allow her in the room. During the course of the discussion, the women open up about their abusers and the manner in which they were assaulted. But nothing prepares us for the devastating closing shot.
In just around 15 minutes Devi lays bare the naked reality – sexual assault is not restricted to age, caste, class, money. By holding back the names of the characters, the director reinforces the fact that the hurt is the same for all women. They do not need a specific identity. They have ALL been wronged and they have ALL been deprived of that one thing that might have offered them some peace – justice.
The deep-rooted conditioning in a patriarchal society is evident in the way some of the women quarrel about the hassels of accommodating another victim in the room or even compare the degrees of torture each had to undergo.
Among the most impactful performances are that of Kajol and Neena Kulkarni’s. Kajol performs with a lot of restraint. On one hand she does not let her powerful screen presence get the better of the ensemble and on the other she utters the loaded lines with command. Kajol’s character holds a mirror to the treatment meted out to rape survivors by the society. They are abandoned, humiliated and ostracized, just like the souls in the room. Kulkarni is remarkable as a conservative, Marathi middle-aged woman. She has been violated, but her empathy thrives on discrimination.
Despite costume designer Rohit Chaturvedi falling prey to stereotypes by decking out each character as a product of the community and class she represents, Savita Singh’s cinematography needs to be complimented. Mid close-up shots of the characters whenever they speak gives the desired impact.
Devi surely leaves us uncomfortable. The periodical doorbells are a reminder for the judiciary to wake up. Also, a male journalist covering a rape case and a female reporter spelling out the stats speaks volumes about the ‘progressive’ times we dwell in.