Thursday, May 12, 2011

Abstract 2011: Deimantas Valanciunas

Deimantas Valanciunas, Vilnius University


The mythologized femininity: Gendered identity and representation of a woman in Indian Goddess films

The gender perspectives in popular Indian cinema have been enjoying a wide attention in the academic discussions in the past several years. There is a number of notable academic studies concerning the representation of women in the popular cinematic imagination: ranging from the construction of the images of (idealized) woman in relation to the (postcolonial) nationalism to the feminist perspectives on the female as spectacle and the discourses of the hegemonic patriarchalism and male gaze theories.  
Standing in line with the Indian popular film is the unique and specific Indian film genre – the mythological or myth influenced goddess or Maa films. Although being sort of marginalized in the Indian film studies and not receiving vast attention from the academics, the goddess film genre is interesting to analyze in respect to representation and construction of femininity - especially in a broader Indian popular film context.
The goddess film genre consists of the films referring to and telling the tales of some (usually) local goddesses, popularly addressed as ‘Maa’ or ‘Mothers’ and their intervention in the human world in order to help their devotees and / or banish the evildoers. The genre reached popularity in 1975, with the release of the super hit Hindi language film - the mythological - Jai Santoshi Maa. Later on the Maa films started enjoying huge popularity in the South Indian (Telugu and Tamil) cinemas, acquiring more dramatic and popular forms of what could be called mytho-horror films (e.g. concentrating on the fearsome aspects of the mythological feminine: the goddesses Durga and Kali).
The unexpected box-office success of the film Jai Santoshi Maa raised many questions about what was so peculiar about this low budget cinematic screening of the local and previously not widely known goddess Santoshi (moreover that the film enjoyed the same huge popularity together with already firmly established ‘angry young man’ super hit movies of the same year Sholay and Deewar, both starring Amitabh Bacchan). The film Jai Santoshi Maa has shed a new light in interpreting the representation of femininity, the cinematic impact on religious experience and the audience.
The present paper concentrates on the analysis of mytho-religious impact on creating and disseminating the images of the woman and femininity in the specific Indian popular film genre – the goddess films (films in discussion: Jai Santoshi Maa, Ammoru, Raja Kaali Amman, Arundhati). The paper tries to trace the uniqueness of the genre through which the representation and construction of the femininity is discussed in relation with the concept of the Goddess and Hindu mythology, popular imagination, modern religious experience, gendered identities and the audience.

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