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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Devi - A slice of real life?

NDTV Imagine’s Devi in its first few episodes has shown promise in terms of story and treatment. Like most serials of today, it is also set in rural India and talks about the lives of poor villagers who are held ransom to faith, bad weather, lack of opportunities and an evil Thakur (landlord). It has so far been a telling commentary on some of the ills affecting rural India. On the one hand it talks of superstition and old belief patterns and those who exploit the poor in the name of both. On the other hand it brings to the fore the status of women in India’s villages. It talks of the double bind that women find themselves in terms of caste/class and gender.

A baby girl is born to a poor family and the father is forced to abandon the child because of his limited means. Coincidentally the day of her birth sees rainfall in the village after three consecutive years of drought. The village priest convinces the superstitious and God-fearing villagers that the baby is a reincarnation of the Goddess. As more people are convinced of her divine status, a small group of people are out to make money. Her own father and uncle fall in this category and the two in fact end up fighting about who gets to keep the lion’s share of the income she has generated. The villagers throng to catch a glimpse of her as they are convinced that she will rid all the ills of their lives. They even turn in their hard-earned money as offering. Thus as she cries lustfully in the hot sun as she is hungry, the superstitious villagers turn a deaf ear to her wails and keep chanting “Jai Devi”. Their false notions of divinity and reincarnation help them to ignore her cries of hunger and overlook the fact that she is only a hapless little thing.

In the same place where this baby girl is being hailed as a Goddess, her mother is being made a target of the landlords’ evil designs. The Thakur holds her father hostage while her mother begs for his life. The cruel man then decides to trade in the father’s life in exchange of the mother’s honour. The little girl’s mother is helpless-in terms of societal structure since she is located far below the Thakur being poor and a woman. The paradox of the situation is hard to miss-while on the one hand a little girl is being worshiped for being a divine reincarnation, the same child’s mother is being preyed upon for being a poor woman. The irony of the situation is something that is true not only to rural India but also urban India.

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