In 1860's Bengal, wealthy, powerful, yet mentally fragile landowner Kalikinkar (Chhabi Biswas) dreams that his daughter-in-law Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) is the avatar of the Goddess of destruction, Kali. He falls to his knees in front of her, claiming that she embodies the living spirit of the much-feared deity. When his son Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) returns from Calcutta after his school exams, he is horrified to see that his wife is being worshipped by floods of people that have travelled to pray. He is unable to convince his father of his folly, and Kalikinkar's influence eventually manages to convince Doya herself.
Bengali director Satyajit Ray's sterling film shows the danger of idol worship, and how easy this influence can spread to people in need of escapism. When a dying child is brought to her, the small boy miraculously awakens apparently healed, convincing everyone apart from her husband and the women of the household of Doya's power. The women remain unconvinced, but as Kalikinkar is head of the household, they have no choice but to worship, exposing Indian's heavily matriarchal society, and women's role as the 'Mother'. Kalikinkar refers to Doya as 'mother' before his dream, and a beautiful song is heard from outside, singing of adoration for the mother.
The standout scene of Devi (meaning 'The Goddess') captures Umaprasad's utter horror at the sight of Doya, fitted out like a deity and confused at the new role flung upon her. There is little to no dialogue in the scene, but Ray understands the power of silence in film. As Doya, Tagore is so beautiful that you could almost mistake her for a goddess, and she carries her performance (at aged just 14 at time of filming) with remarkable maturity. As Umaprasad enters the room and sees her for the first time, they converse with their eyes, and Doya gives a simple and subtle shake of the head. With fundamentalism so commonplace amongst most religions these days, Devi is perhaps more relevant than ever, and with that heartbreaking and memorable final shot, still as powerful as it ever was.
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