At the beginning of Devi (The Goddess), the attractive young girl Donamayee teases a pet bird and is teased in turn by her husband. Then, suddenly revealed as a incarnation of the Mother Goddess, she finds herself worshipped by her family, adored by crowds of pilgrims. She sits enthroned in an incense-clouded temple; priests chant and bells clang.
These haunting bells echo the tension which builds as the film contrasts domestic detail with divine ritual. The scene shifts abruptly from a quarrel between Donamayee's brother-in-law and his wife to the ecstatic faces of the priests. The same woman who, when an affectionate aunt, feeds candy to her little nephew attempts to cure him when a goddess.
The personal disasters created by Donameyee's sudden elevation raise questions about both the divine and the human. Her father-in-law is accused of precipitating a tragedy through his blind faith, of weighing down an innocent girl with the "burden of divinity." Yet Donamayee, who has always been rather vain, begins to believe in her own divinity; she cannot run away when her husband begs her to. Physically trapped as the key figure in a ritual, she becomes emotionally trapped by the ceremony. Even the audience comes close to believing that she is indeed a goddess.
Brilliant performances from the entire cast sustain the tension of the tragedy. In particular, the actors effectively use their eyes to capture subtle shifts in emotion. Shamila Tagore presents Donamayee as an entirely believable, affectionate young wife--and as a terror-stricken "goddess." Satyajit Ray, who also directed the Apu films, paces this picture to underline changes in mood; for example, Donamayee pauses when asked to cure a child and then reaches out to him with an instinctive maternal gesture.
Sensitive photography captures every shift in emotion. The most moving frames show Donamayee enthroned in the temple literally weighted down by her ritual jewelry; her frightened eyes gleam through the incense. The film includes many skillful landscape shots; tall plants cast leaping shadows on Amu and Donamayee when they vainly attempt to run away.
An effective shot of a statue of the Mother Goddess begins the film. Her sharp, grotesque eyes contrast with her elaborate costume. Music pounds and lights cut into the sky as men worship her. The ritual mounts to a frenzy, and the statue is cast into the sea.