Satyajit Ray contributed a lot to the Indian cinema, and Devi is one his major work along with the Apu trilogy.
Back in the 1960, when Devi was released, it created an interesting controverse, understandable considering the issue the movie tackled.
Indeed, Ray was bold enough to direct an anti-hinduism film, or more especially an anti-fanaticism film.
Based on a novel written by Prabhat Kumar Mukherji and inspired by the theme of the goddess introduced by Rabindranath Tagore, Devi relates the story of a girl, Dayamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) who lives in the same house as her father in law Kalikinkar (Chhabi Biswas), as she married Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee). She is only seventeen, full of happiness and full of love for her nephew Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury) with who she has a tender, accomplice relationship.
However, her husband has to go to Calcutta in order to pass his English exams, and leave her with his father with whom he is in total ideological opposition. While Umaprasad is looking for modernity, ways to develop his intellect, Kalikinkar is very traditional, and also very religious.
The departure of her husband will provoke a dark turn of events.
In hinduism, the goddess Mahkali embodies power and also death; she is often called “Ma”. In the movie, she is venerated and several rituals are showed; singings, offerings etc. The great religiosity of the characters depicted in Devi will attain its climax when Kalikinkar dreams of his daughter-in-law being the incarnation of Ma. The director then portrays the descent into madness of Dayamoyee, and the collective fanaticism of her surrounding.
The strong features of Mahkali; feminism and power, was forced into the fragile, weak girl, and created great confusion and cracks in Dayamoyee. Helpless, she couldn’t oppose the choice of her father-in-law, and then the belief of the whole community. This belief was overwhelmingly powerful, and when she was asked to cure a homeless’ son, and succeed in it, she started believing she might, indeed, be an incarnation of the goddess. She couldn’t continue questioning it.
That collective madness was driven by religious fanaticism, filmed and denounced by Ray, which triggered a controverse.
The movie questioned and put in opposition, knowledge and modernisation on one side and tradition and religion on the other.
Worth your time.