“Narayan, Narayan,” words I never want to hear again while watching a movie. I agree with the reviewer’s first opinion of Jai Santoshi Maa in that it was a painful experience to watch. Once again, my western close-mindedness prohibited me to view this movie for its significant value. While watching the movie, I found it to be a mix between the campy Batman series of the 1960s, Cinderella, and The Ten Commandments. I know this is not true; however, it is difficult for me to form an objective opinion on a movie like this because I am not Indian nor am I spiritual. In my opinion, there are two types of bad movies. The first, are movies that I consider just plain bad such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and then there are the movies that I find bad because I can’t relate or understand them such as Jai Santoshi Maa. With that said, I respect and appreciate the value that Jai Santoshi Maa had on the Indian people. Actually, it is kind of embarrassing. Jai Santoshi Maa had the power to inspire people to worship this holy figure, yet we are inspired by shows such as The Jersey Shore.
In Indian cinema, a mythological movie is about representing the Gods and a devotional film is based on devotees (Waters 84, 86). The review of Jai Santoshi Maa identifies the movie as a mythological film, but I also find that it has a devotional aspect as well. Obviously Santoshi Maa is the mythological figure being worshiped, but it could be argued that Satyawati is the true subject of the movie (Das 49). Her story is the narrative that unfolds the storyline of the movie, yet it is bound by the structure of Santoshi Maa (Das 49). The actions of Satyawati are the catalyst of the story. Every scene that drives the film forward occurs when something happens to Satyawati, often requiring her devotion to be tested. For example, early in the film she pledges her devotion to Santoshi Maa in order to find a husband. Her wish comes true and she marries Birju. Again, towards the end of the movie it is through Satyawati’s devotion to Santoshi Maa that drives Santoshi Maa to be sympathetic to Satyawati’s sister in-laws’ foul actions and thus resurrecting Satyawati’s dead nephews. In another aspect, Satyawati’s devotion put Santoshi Maa to the test. If Santoshi Maa was overcome by anger and conducted vengeful acts, she would be viewed as ferocious and feared; therefore, she must be able to forgive in order to show that she is a gentle and benevolent goddess.
Like the review and a few of the articles mentioned, women had the strongest presence in the movie. The male characters such as Birju and the “Hindu trinity” (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) were all backdrops to the story. Once again, it was Satyawati’s devotion to Santoshi Maa that propelled the movie, but the wives of the the “Hindu trinity” (Lakshmi, Parvati, and Brahmani) as well as Satyawati’s sisters-in-laws (Durga and Maya) provided the drama or conflict. I agree with the review that these are the representations of the concepts of “good” and “bad.” In my opinion, these qualities of “badness” showed the divine also have their weaknesses. As an outsider to Indian culture and beliefs, I found it confusing as to why the movie portrayed the three Goddesses with weaknesses driven by jealousy like their human counterparts, but Lutgendor explains that these movies are targeted towards a traditional audience who have a more personal relationship with the gods as opposed to a Protestantized ideology (Lugendor, 6). At the end of the movie, the three goddesses state they were only testing Satyawati, but I did not buy this based on the tone of the acting (Das 45).
I am usually annoyed by the song and dance in Indian cinema, but Jai Santoshi Maa truly put my patience to the test with the character of the Narada. Only through the readings did I find the significance of his character. Narada is a divine sage who is a devotee of Vishnu. He is mischievous gossiper who likes to stir up trouble and he inspired several key events throughout the film (Lutgendor 14). At first, he was a considerable factor in the decision making process of Ganesh in creating Santoshi Maa. Later on in the movie he advised Satyawat to fast in which ultimately led to the return of Birju.
Jai Santoshi Maa is a movie that has deeper meaning than I can ever understand in film. I have not decided if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but I don’t see myself ever being inspired by a film. As I mentioned in my introduction, Jai Santoshi Maa is not a movie I ever care to see again; however, I respect it’s message and significance to the people who are inspired by it.
Das, Veena. “The Mythological Film and its Framework of Meaning: An Analysis of Jai
Santoshi Maa.” India International Centre quarterly 8:1. (1981) 43-56. Print.
Lutgendor, Philip. “Who Wants to be a Goddess? Jai Santoshi Maa Revisited.”
Watkins, Gregory J. “Teaching Religion and Film.” Oxford University Press. 2008.