Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jai Santoshi Maa

Kaitlyn’s review covered a lot of ground and incorporated the articles in very well. My reaction to the film was similar to Kaitlyn’s in that it changed after I did research on it. Watching the film through Westerner eyes with little background information on the movie, only the story of Ganesh, I found the movie to be very amateur and was curious as to why it was one of the movies selected to watch in the course. I found the acting to be so awful that nothing felt genuine, the movie relentlessly reminding me of a soap opera with the frequent dramatic outbursts (especially the scene where Birju discovers he has been served leftovers from his brothers’ dinner plates) and female actresses caked with make-up. Satyavati’s insecurity frustrated me and I was annoyed with her whininess because I felt she should have stood up for herself against the cruel sister in-laws, and also that she should have taken the opportunity to leave the mistreating household when her father came to take her back to her hometown. I understand she was committed to Birju, but I saw no reason why Birju could not just seek out for her once he returned to find her absent. To me, when she made the decision to stay in hopes of Birju’s return, she subjected herself to the abuse. I guess I just wanted to see her become strong and independent woman who thought for herself rather than rely on fate and faith( agreeing with the critique of the vrats as “rituals contributing to the subordination and disempowerment of women” mentioned in Lutgendor’s article). However, I enjoyed the change of pace from the many mansalas that we have viewed, especially the lack of constant violence and political corruption that mansalas always capture, and found the silly fighting scenes to be endearing. After learning that Jai Santoshi Maa falls under the genre of mythological/devotional, and that the plot was parallel to the story drawn from a pamphlet belonging to the genre known as vrat katha, I started to see the movie in a new light.

I found it very interesting that I could have noticed the movie was going to be aimed for a different audience just in the opening credits. Mansala’s have the target audience of young urban males and more “sophisticated” audiences, and “displayed their titles and credits in Roman script and using English terminology” (Lutgendor 6). Jai Santoshi Maa’s credits were completely in Devanagari script with Sanskritized-Hindi neologisms, a flag for the change of pace in genre’s and targeted audience.

What I wanted to touch on that Kaitlyn did not get to include in her review, was the significance of the history of devotionals in relation to why it was so shocking that Jai Santoshi Maa was a great success. Devotional films were crucial to the start of Indian cinema. This was because well into the sound era of the 1930s, cinema was still stigmatized as being a foreign innovation, and the shift in content of output in the Indian cinematic industry was not until D. G. Phalke’s efforts to capture Indian culture on screen. Around 1913, he began to produced close to a hundred movies and the majority of them were devotionals drawn from epic and puranic tales, which created a different audience than from the one’s that were patronizing foreign films. People of India embraced the devotionals because of the familiarity of mythological tales, something significant to Indian audiences. This familiarity also explains why devotionals were significant to the start of early Indian cinema, because it helped Indians embrace the new technology of cinema and break the stigma of cinema being foreign and only for the elite or more sophisticated audiences. But as Indian cinema developed and more genres were being produced, devotionals, having that target audience of more rural populations (that Kaitlyn explains in her review), were started to be seen as downmarket, and the production of devotionals shrinked drastically. Devotional films accounted for 70% of films made prior to 1923, but had practically disappeared by the 1950s (Lutgendor 4). So it is no wonder why it was shocking that in 1975, long after the shift in popularity from devotionals to mansalas, Jai Santoshi Maa was such a success!

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