If you are looking for vicarious empowerment and sobering reality of sexual violence against women and children in India, then Kajol all-female new short film about reluctant sisterhood ‘Devi’ hits home.
The film, written and directed by Priyanka Banerjee, opens with a roomful of nine disparate, disgruntled women from different social strata, ages and backgrounds huddled in a living room bickering.
You don’t know why they are stuck in a single room at first, but their mutual disdain and distrust for each other is evident as they argue pointlessly. But soon you realise that they may not have many things common among them, but they are united by their collective reality of how they were shabbily treated. What is it like being a woman in a society where rape is the real threat and safety of your person is just a myth.
Shruti Haasan plays the party-girl who was left to die after a beer bottle was rammed into her by her sexual predators, Neha Dhupia plays a women who harbours emotional scars that will never heal. “Just because I don’t have injuries to show, it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt,” Dhupia’s character defiantly tells the other women in that grey, stuffy living room that doubles up as a rape shelter. They are all arguing whether their rape shelter – overstuffed and overcrowded already — can take in more rape survivors. The door bell keeps chiming as they bare their claws and wounds. The character played by Kajol seems to be the sane voice among the dissenting group of women.
In the scene where these entrapped women list out the crimes that they had to endure and how they compare notes about the severity of their sexual aggressors is bone chilling.
This short film, clocking 13 minutes and 2 seconds, proves that you don’t need two hours and more to drive home a point. It can be done as efficiently in a much shorter time.
Devi, available on YouTube, is also an example of smart casting. The ensemble actors including Neena Kulkarni, Mukta Barve, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Sandhya Mhatre, Rama Joshi and Rashaswini Dayama are swift and efficient in driving home their agony and anguish.
These talented actors — who are unlikely to be seen together in a mainstream Bollywood cinemas — takes one sportingly for the women’s team around the globe. While the statistics of rape and the cases that are yet to be tried in India — a country that worships its goddesses — splayed out towards the end is demoralising and de-humanising, there’s no denying its existence.
‘Devi’ spells the entry of acclaimed actors like Kajol into short films and underlines their willingness to experiment. Here’s a big shout to actors who turn on-screen warriors, one good short film at a time.