Priyanka Banerjee’s short film Devi tells the story of a ‘safe haven’ where a group of women live together. One can easily presume that they go about doing their daily chores and are reasonably fine with their current situation, until they hear a bell ringing which means that a new person is making her way to their ‘safe haven.’
The heart-breaking realisation, onscreen and off it!
What happens next not only breaks your heart but also leaves a lump in your throat! You soon realise that these group of women have reached this ‘safe haven’ because they have been victims of sexual violence, and the one ringing the bell is also a girl or woman who must have succumbed to her injuries during a sexual assault.
You also realise the distressing reality that like in the movie, in reality too, more often than not, shared experience between a group of women is the sexual violence that they have faced! The realisation that how we have failed as a society and system to make our girls and women feel secure will hit you in the face.
Devi is a hard-hitting reminder that we are a country that bows down in front of idols and images of goddesses but have time and again failed to extend same respect to the female members of our society. In fact, many of us waste no time in ‘blaming the victim for the atrocities that have fallen upon her.’
As the film develops, the viewers also see that these women are very different from each other. We see a housewife, a student, a group of old Maharashtrian ladies, burkha clad woman, a socialite and a corporate employee and we also realise that all of them have been a victim of sexual violence despite their social strata, age group, dressing style, opinions and aspirations.
It is unfortunate to be living in times when a news report on rape specifies that a victim was pub-hopping or was in an inebriated state or was traveling late at night from work or was not given the due urgency and attention.
The safe haven that all of us are looking for…
As the film progresses, we see that the women who are already living together are arguing because many of them are not in the favour of allowing a new member to enter inside the house. Their casual discussion on how they will accommodate a new member, and should some of them have to leave the place to make space for new members, shocks you to the core.
As the women discuss the yardstick basis which they should decide who should be staying inside the house – “jinke papa, bhai ya husband ne kiya woh reh sakte hain” (the ones who have been raped/killed by their fathers, husbands or brothers can stay) or “jiska bhi 25 se kam tha who reh sakta hai” (whoever was assaulted by someone who was younger than 25 can stay) it chokes you.
The women eventually reach to a conclusion that irrespective of whatever was done to them, they are in this together … “wahan bhi toh adjust kar rahe the. Yahan thodi bheed mein rahenge but unn haiwaano se dur rahenge” (we were adjusting there also. We can adjust in lesser area here, at least we are safe from those demons).
Devi punches you in the gut and tells you how our society and conditioning has led us to normalise the topic of sexual violence - how we start giving excuses for the crime, how we start telling our daughters/sisters/friends/wives the do’s and don’ts of living safely in this cruel world, how we are quick to come out for protests but are still not willing to challenge the patriarchal and sexist mindsets and behaviour.
Earlier this year, Sex Education 2 (Netflix Original British comedy-drama web series) also depicted a group of teenage girls connecting over the sexual assaults they have faced while growing up. They discuss how their respective episodes made them fearful, angry and disgusted with toxic masculinity around them.
Devi ends with Kajol’s character bringing in the newest member of the ‘safe haven’, and that last image will stay with you for a long time. The film leaves you with a barrage of emotions and a weird sense of hopelessness.
(Devi stars Kajol, Neha Dhupia, Shruti Haasan, Neena Kulkarni, Sandhya Mhatre, Mukta Barve, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Rama Joshi and Yashaswini Dayama. Directed by Priyanka Banerjee and produced by Electric Apples Entertainment for Large Short Films, Devi was released on YouTube on March 2).