I meant to nap. Post lunch. Drowsy Sunday afternoon. But this kept me awake and glued there.
Sharmila Tagore again, looking so wondrously lustrously beautiful. With huge kohl rimmed eyes, thick dark eyebrows, cheeks that hadn’t got the dip yet but are filled out in teen health, cascading dark hair in the Bengali fashion layered in front with the simple saree over it. She doesn’t talk much, only looks and you know. And she was only 13 when the movie was made. It must be that Tagore blood.
She is the happy daughter in law of a rich family in some village, of course by the river. She is beloved by the parrot, the grandson and the father-in-law besides of course her scholarly husband, all of whom she looks after with demure cheerfulness.
Husband goes away to study in Calcutta. Father-in-law who is just cheered by her presence and calls her his ‘ma’ because she is like a mother to him.
One night he has a dream. Sees the daughter in law as the Goddess. He comes to her room in the night and falls at her feet. She is reincarnated and celebrated in the village thereafter as Devi. Miracles occur and the hordes increase. Her husband comes back, is shocked and tries to take her away.
Ray seems to have originated so many stories and feelings that we see in movies even today. The loneliness of the person endowed with mystic powers. How doubt creeps into everyone, even herself. Is she really Devi?
The contrast between the two brothers is remarkable and yet maybe is common. Elder brother is under the thumb of his father. When he says, ‘believe’, he believes. What am I to do, he asks his enraged wife? My father has all the money. Shall I fall at your feet too? Will that make you happy?
On the one hand is the weak, drunken brother with the unhappy wife who doesn’t respect him and is resentful of the affection shown by her father in law to the younger daughter in law.
On the other, is the decisive, outspoken scholarly younger brother who can talk back to his father. And he has the sweet beautiful docile wife.
Does it all go together? Or does one quality lead to the other factors?
Certain things come through to show the hand of the Master. The vacant look of the beggar boy as his father sits beside him and sings beautifully in praise of Devi. The unhappiness and resentfulness of the elder daughter in law even thought she hardly speaks and is only a figure in the background.
The movie ends hauntingly.
It won the President’s Gold Medal, New Delhi, 1961