Content Note: rape
Kaali (Chitrangada Chakraborty) has spent years locked up in an apartment as a sex slave. When she has a chance to escape, she takes it. But she is far from doing well and seeks help with psychologist Vikrant (Vinay Sharma) who diagnoses her with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Vikrant tries to help, but he is struggling with sex addiction and feels drawn to Kaali which complicates matters, especially since Kaali is looking to connect with him outside the therapeutic setting.
Devi Aur Hero sounds a little sensationalistic at first glance, but it is actually a thoughtful examination of mental health/illness and how it may be connected to a patriarchal context.
If I hadn’t seen Kripalani’s first two films and liked them, I probably would have given Devi Aur Hero a wide berth. There has been too much fuckery in films with DID and sex addiction both, and I could see at least 20 ways that the film’s set-up could go very wrong indeed. But, I thought, with Kripalani’s feminist earlier films, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. And I was right to.
For one, this is one of the more realistic portrayals of DID I have ever seen on screen, including the treatment that consists of getting the personalities to communicate with each other and realizing what worth they each have in the plural system’s life. Yes, at the end things take a bit of a turn towards a more cinematic than realistic take, but I thought it was well deserved by that point.
In addition, I actually liked how they used sex addiction here. Too often, sex addiction (the official diagnosis is compulsive sexual behavior) is only trodden out when a man couldn’t keep it in his pants, and is looking for an excuse. “Oh, he couldn’t help himself, he’s an addict,” they’ll say, waving all responsibilities away. This is not the take on this here. Vikrant actually struggles, suffers, and he knows that he is responsible for his behavior. He is in therapy himself. He fucks up, too, but that’s on him – and on him to fix.
The film doesn’t just work as a pretty fair representation of mental illness, it also works on a more symbolic level. It is no coincidence that Kaali is named Ka(a)li after all. And it’s also no coincidence that it is exactly the kind of hypersexual behavior that seems to be expected of men everywhere, including the objectification of women, that causes Vikrant his suffering and is the behavior he needs to excise from his life before he can really connect with Kaali.
It’s this richness makes the film well worth seeing and thinking about afterwards (and finding the soundtrack that I really enjoyed).
Summarizing: very well done.