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Devrai (2004)

| Drama | 2004 (India)
Devrai is the story of Shesh Shahi (Atul Kulkarni) , a brilliant but eccentric man . While living with his family in a village in the Konkan region of the state of Maharashtra in India , ... See full summary »
5 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview:
Seena's husband
Ashwin Chitale ...
Seena's son


Devrai is the story of Shesh Shahi (Atul Kulkarni) , a brilliant but eccentric man . While living with his family in a village in the Konkan region of the state of Maharashtra in India , Shesh becomes increasingly obsessed with a small patch of forest near his home which he calls as "Devrai" (meaning 'sacred grove' in Marathi) and starts o feel that the perfect harmony between the biological factors in Devrai offer a solution to the chaos which he perceives in the outside world . He is later diagnosed with schizophrenia and his younger sister Seena Gore (Sonali Kulkarni) tries to cure him by seeking professional help . Written by Soumitra

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Mohan Agashe, who plays the psychiatrist, is a well known Professor of Psychiatry at Pune, India. See more »

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Long, preachy film on mental illness in India; good for Indian audiences but not others
25 December 2005 | by (Portland, Oregon, United States) – See all my reviews

According to Gayathri Ramprasad, a mental health advocate here in Oregon who is a native of Bangalore, this is the first narrative feature film on the theme of mental illness to ever achieve commercial distribution in India. It is the troubled story of Shesh Desai (Atul Kulkarni), a single man who failed to graduate from college or pursue medical studies, as he had intended. Instead he looks after the family's mango orchard in a small rural village. Shesh develops paranoid schizophrenia in his late 20s.

Through flashbacks, we learn that as a child Shesh was jolly and playful, but in adolescence he gradually changed, with increasing evidence of temper outbursts and conflict with his mother, and loud utterances directed to strangers or to no one in particular. He gradually became a loner with a penchant for mercurial mood swings who gradually slid into increasing eccentricity and, finally, following his mother's death five years earlier, when he was 30, a delusional life centered on his devotion to a sacred patch of woods near his village, what is known as a "devrai" or sacred grove.

Shesh comes to experience this grove as animate and a more compelling reality than his ordinary life, which is marked by estrangement from and fear of others, and a tendency toward irrational, irritable encounters with family members and strangers alike. Shesh develops a paranoid concern that others intend to destroy his beloved grove, a place he sees as offering a solution to all the "chaos" Shesh perceives in the ordinary world.

He also becomes fixated on Parvati, the wife of a family servant, whom, in his fantasies, he imbues with magical powers and the sensuous attractiveness of an enticing goddess. In Shesh's mind, Parvati becomes his sacred lover, an inhabitant of the grove (like his mother after her death, Shesh believes) who gives a heart and human face to his devrai. Parvati seems to be a replacement for Shesh's mother and also for a younger cousin, Kalyani, for whom Shesh had developed an abiding infatuation while growing up.

We also follow the impact of Shesh's progressively disturbed life on his family, as he grows ever more compromised by his illness. His odyssey culminates in a frank psychotic episode while visiting his sister Seena Gore (Sonali Kulkarni), five years his junior, and her scientist spouse Sudish (Tushar Dalvi) in the city. When Shesh erupts at a reception in the Gores' home honoring Sudish for his recent promotion, Sudish becomes furious and remains impatient with Shesh thereafter. Seena is caught in the middle, trying to placate her husband while offering support and seeking professional aid for her brother.

To that end Shesh is admitted to a psychiatric facility where he and Seena encounter a sophisticated team headed by an older, kindly psychiatrist (played by Mohan Agashe). Shesh receives Etc and medications that suppress his erratic behaviors but do not eradicate his mystical, naturistic delusional system. Near the end Shesh returns from the city to his village, where he will be tended by Kalyani, who was recently divorced. While the Gores see this hopefully as an effective relocation, we can tell that Shesh remains seriously deluded, and that it will be only a matter of time until his next psychotic breakdown.

Mr. Kulkarni does an admirable job of portraying Shesh in a manner that is clinically authentic. His periodic monosyllabic utterances, angry, agitated outbursts, vocalization of auditory hallucinations, negativism, rhythmic mannerisms and movements, and avoidance of eye contact with others all are behaviors that ring true to his disorder. While taking medications and visiting a day treatment center at the hospital, Shesh tries to follow the advice of fellow patients, telling himself that his visions of Parvati are not real, are hallucinatory. This causes the vision to disappear, though only temporarily.

The film addresses most issues associated with severe and persistent mental illness. Questions of causation (faulty parenting versus chemical imbalance), proper treatment (institutionalization versus care in the community), developing the patient's capacity to resist giving in to delusions and hallucinatory experience, and family involvement are all explored in some detail.

The problem with all this is that the messages are delivered in a heavily didactic manner, even preachy at times. The fundamental truths explained here are already well known to mental health professionals the world over, and known also to the more sophisticated lay audiences in developed nations that are likely to seek out foreign language films.

That said, I should hasten to add that this film will probably be highly edifying for lay audiences in India and possibly throughout the Indian diaspora, e.g., here in North America, in Britain and in Europe.

Besides its didactic tone, other weaknesses of the film are its length and confusing cast of female characters. At nearly two hours running time, the film would be stronger if edited down to 90 minutes or so. It took me about halfway into the film or more before I was able to sort out Parvati, Kalvani and Seena (in the flashbacks when she was much younger). A plus is the photography, which is imaginative, with lovely use of saturated colors.

Devrai is a joint production of the Schizophrenia Awareness Society and the K. S. Vani Memorial Trust, Dhule, both in India. Support also came from the Maharashtra Seva Samiti Organization and from several sources in Canada: the Canadian International Development Agency, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, and the Wild Rose Foundation, also located in Alberta. (In Marathi) My ratings: 8.5/10 (A-) for clinical authenticity; 5/10 (C) for overall dramatic and cinematic values. (Seen on 12/15/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.

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