Perceptions From a Modern Witch Hunt: The Making of a She-Devil

Perceptions from a Modern Witch Hunt: The Making of a She-Devil is a social documentary about a Witch Hunt that took place in 2017, in Bardhaman district of West Bengal, India. The incident was atypical, since it took place after a new shrine was established for exclusive ceremonies by the tribal section of the village, Gopikantapur. During frenzied celebration after the ceremony, Tribal women claimed possessions by the new Goddess and professed Jayanti Mudi, a fellow tribal resident, to be a witch. Consequently she was brutally tortured. In spite of a government awareness program against Witch Hunts, Jayanti remains pariah in the village to this date. The narrative reconstructs the incident and its aftermath through multiple perspectives of the victim, accusers, neutral observers and state actors. Through them, transpire layers of perceptual realities where class, caste and gender relations of community life, trickle down modernity, and the media culture that perpetuate such phenomenon are intertwined.

  • Sourav Roychowdhury
    Herbal Healing Practices of Tribal Bengal: An Arcane Folktale
  • Sourav Roychowdhury
  • Sheuli Dutta
  • Parthapratim Banerjee
  • Debabrata Chatterjee
  • Soumen Pyne
  • Sudip Chakrabarty
  • Raunaq Das
  • Sukrit Sen
    Sound Design
  • Anirban Ghose
    Color Grading
  • Debabrata Chatterjee
    Assistant Director
  • Ananya Das
    Production Assistant
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    45 minutes 44 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 3, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    1,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
    Bengali, English
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Sourav Roychowdhury

Dr. Sourav Roychowdhury grew up in Kolkata, India, and has been attending Film Festivals since 1994, pretending to be adult in the initial years. As a literary activist he was interested in poetic elements of the Film Form. That evolved into exploration of cinema’s power in addressing social and political issues, especially in low budget, independent productions. Currently Dr. Roychowdhury teaches Film Studies at West Bengal State University, India. He finished his PhD from the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, Los Angeles in 2010. Apart from teaching at various national and international universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Florida State University and University of Southern California, he has written Film Reviews for National Dailies like The Asian Age and The New Indian Express. His production works include 16mm and digital short fictions and documentary films. Perceptions from a Modern Witch Hunt: The Making of a She Devil is his second feature length documentary.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

While the documentary started as a commissioned project about witch hunts in general, my existing conceptions were problematized when I met Jayanti Mudi at her residence, following a news report. Jayanti was not a widow, spinster, or childless, like more common victims. The village, Gopikantapur, also underwent significant modernist development in years preceding the witch hunt. That apparently made the incident anachronistic, and for its sheer brutality, hyperrealist at the same time. These experiences made our narrative impetus a collage of myth and physical reality, interspersed with tension between the visible and the invisible, or between speech and silence. Because of budgetary constraints and inertia of events, we couldn’t study the village for a long time. While Jayanti was vocal and animated, the only interview admitting torture from the perpetrators’ perspective was anonymous. The rest of the information was gleaned from indirect questions, or absurdity of denials. We patched up narrative lacunae with recontextualized media footage or movie clips. Those images functioned as perceptual nodes from where we navigated towards their making. That way, although structured like a found footage horror film, our purpose was deconstruction of the myths, rather than naturalizing them.
Another revelation during our shoot was the geography of Gopikantapur. The caste/economic hierarchy were embedded in its spatial division, each division retained a porous cultural autonomy, and the government initiative after the incident added a new layer to this dynamics. Jayanti’s intervention in her family, the smallest cartographic unit of the village, disrupted an older power structure. And as a reaction, the witch hunt was a rogue attempt to enforce hierarchy within the tribal community.
Therefore, we presented the documentary as a map, emphasizing the overlap between psychology, world views and the body of the village. We treated the emotive epochs of the narrative, be it Jayanti’s feminine achievements, the carnivalesque nature of brutality, or futility of rationalism, as constituent elements of this body. Bodies host diseases, just like modernity reinvented tradition dehumanizing Jayanti Mudi in this case.