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Short of the Week: Karishma Dube's exploration of power and sexuality in 'Devi'


The recipient of several coveted awards from film festivals around the world, Karishma Dube is a graduate of NYU’s prestigious film school where she earned her MFA. Her recent short film Bittu (2020) was the Indian entry to the Academy Awards and won the Best Student Film Award at the Denver International Film Festival as well as the Student Academy Award.

For this edition of our weekly exploration of the world of short films, we take a look at Dube’s 2017 thesis on class conflicts, power and sexuality in Devi (Goddess). Set in New Delhi, the film presents a microcosm of Indian elite society and the place of a house help (played by Priyanka Bose) in such a hierarchical framework.

Aditi Vasudev stars as Tara, a petulant and privileged young woman who launches a rebellion against her mother by transgressing the socio-economic barriers. She kisses Devi, the family’s maid, at a house party but everything goes downhill when a guest walks in on them. Dube provides a layered commentary which subverts conventional treatment of homosexuality in cinema and problematises the case study.

“A lot of this film stems from my relationship with my mother. I think in most Indian households, everyone is very over-communicative; there’s a lot of intimacy in all relationships but very often the most important things are never discussed,” Dube explained. “With Devi, I was writing versions of women I know and have grown up with. I wanted to put them in a container that examined class and sexuality in India from a perspective that felt familiar to me.”

She added, “There are 100 different perspectives of this in India; it changes with every household and family. This is more specific to the kind of family I grew up in. Growing up I never really thought my family would be a problem whenever I’d decide to come out to them, which ultimately was kind of true. In this film, Tara’s sexuality is not what is vehemently opposed, it’s the abuse of her own power when trying to express her sexuality that is punished.”

See the 2017 short film Devi below: