Today is Diwali in Northern India, a time of light over darkness, joy over pain and happiness over sadness. It is also a time to reflect honestly about the rise of Hindu extremism or Hindutva in the region and the knock-on effects this has on the country psyche. I mention this because the new Criterion release of DEVI, comes at an interesting time. If made today, it is likely to have been affected by this rising tide. Banned probably, censored and those behind it, demonised for the content. It would have been swept away by the ignorance and fears of the vande mataram and the Swachh Bharat bowel movements. You see the film is such a simple, yet effective tale. A young girl is mistakenly reported as an incarnation of a god and then this is exploited ruthlessly to gain favours and control over others by those calling her such. Even an esteemed film maker, with impeccable credentials, would find it hard to make.

The filmmaker in question was Satyajit Ray. He is often perceived in the west (and in the film literate of India) to be the countries fore most film maker. His connection to the post war Indian embrace of technology, development and progress, is key to the power of his best work. With films like THE APU TRILOGY (PATHER PANCHALI, APU SANSA and APARAJITO), CHARULATA and ABHIJAN, he cemented his position as. Each dealing with visions and versions of India. DEVI however, deals with India past and future. When Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) travels for studies, his father (Chhabi Biswas) has a dream. This leads to him believing that his daughter in law Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) is the reincarnation of goddess Durga. He hails this as the truth and worships her like a goddess. As the whirlwind takes over though and Doyamoyee becomes the focus of much politicising, Umaprasad is unable to save her.

I have said what I think above about the film in a modern context but it would be best to run over the disc and what Criterion are bringing to us. The new 4K restoration from AMPAS, is a thing of beauty but has the issue of focus occasionally. Anyone who knows the work of Ray, knows of Subrata Mitra stunning work. He intended this to happen. It was to cast the viewer into the dream like state of the near goddess on earth. Well done for saving this AMPAS. Where I am less impressed is the extras. Weak by many standards.

Special Edition Features

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New program featuring interviews with actors Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee recorded in 2013
  • New video essay by film scholar Meheli Sen
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Devika Girish

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