Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Woman's divine double nature

Publié le 24 Juin 2012

the veil

My first impression upon viewing Raj Kapoor’s mythical Satyam shivam sundaram, an impression shared by many other bloggers, is that the Showman had purely and simply been manipulated by his lecherous pulsions, and had also manipulated us spectators! Gone are the days (I told myself) of the virtuous Vidya (Shree 420), and nobody buys his “real beauty is inside” formula while watching Zeenat Aman’s gorgeous and exposed charms. On the contrary, everybody thinks: oh well, since it’s cinema, let us at least enjoy the show. Who cares about the message ? And so it all comes down to: mmm, she’s really tasty. Or if you’re a Shashi fan: he’s certainly dishy too (personally I think he’s rather pathetic, but as you guessed, I’m not a Shashi fan).

natty Shashi

I was therefore in a classic suspension position, where I lazily followed the story and its avowed narrative intentions, while really ogling what RK was serving me under the pretence of a preachy and bungled story (you can read it on Nida’s blog – she has also great pics, thanks Nida!). It’s true that the sexual revolution, at the time (1978), was in need of good exponents, and perhaps such a revolution was necessary (thought I)… At any rate, Zeenat Beebie did it! Many people remember about SSS nothing but the missus’ curvy bronze flesh (I don’t mind saying I also find it very pleasant - click on the picture below).

Rupa's dress

But there’s something (mostly in the first half) that woke up the dozing art critic: many scenes are placed in a timeless atmosphere, now oneiric (or psychedelic), now mythological, and so the reading of whatever happens can be interpreted along other lines. If indeed the story is no longer only that of Rupa and Ranjiv, but of a more archetypal pair (Krishna and Radha, and why not Adam and Eve, see later), then perhaps the movie acquires a purpose which otherwise one might think was sadly lacking. We’ll come to this in a minute.

The lovers

Eyes wide shut

Also, while watching the movie, I couldn’t not think of a paradox which I have already met about Indian culture: why is the country so generally prudish on the one hand, and yet so free when it comes to celebrate the beauties and bliss of human loving? In the film, we see Rupa caressing the religious stone (Shiva’s lingam) in a very sexual way, but the tantric traditions of Hinduism also seemed to include a sexual dimension which didn’t pose problems to practitioners. At Khajuraho (below), among other places, such open acceptance of sexuality and eroticism is made clear. Could the film be seen, then, as a celebration of sensuality and innocent sexuality? Apart from the fact that such a possibility rings very much like a westernized perspective of Indian tradition (see The householder), the story doesn’t help a lot to uphold such a view, and we all know how easy it is to hide behind such pretexts.

Khajuraho sculpture 2

So, what was left to save the film from cheap voyeurism and kinky grooviness? Well, in fact, luckily, quite a lot. The second part of the film, where we see Rajiv reject the Rupa he hates to look at in order to join and love the Rupa he thinks is the only true one, contains a promise of symbolism, for example the fact that Rajiv, the dam engineer (= the restrainer of natural forces) has to face the overflowing of truth coming from a pent-up source which he has been responsible in barricading. One can read the breaking of the dam and subsequent flooding of the downstream lands as the destruction which Rajiv brings about by sticking to a false picture of feminine value. By refusing Rupa as she really is, i.e., supposedly innocent and God’s creation, he brings about divine wrath and will need to save her from his own hubris. They accordingly end up atop the redeeming temple! Anyway Rajiv seems to be RK’s personal target – I wonder if lil brother minded! Remember how he divests him of his shashilicious hair under the waterfall shower?! What was left was just a few black sprouts in the middle of his chest – enough for the enamoured village girls, but for us?

The village belles

Then we also have this strange opposition between the two sides of the same woman as represented by the two Rupas. Perhaps Raj Kapoor wanted to show that certain men harbour a schizophrenic image of femininity, and Rajiv (poor Rajiv) could then be seen as the picturization of this masculine tendancy to love and hate Woman at the same time. Under this perspective, Rupa’s scar might stand for the various wounds which affect idealized beauty as dreamt by romantic and passionate lovers, the most obvious of which would be childbirth and the transformation of the woman’s exclusive femininity into the shared condition of maternity and family life.

Zeenat 3

But more fundamentally, I think some men are deeply insecure (if not terrified by) about women, and women’s relationship to life and death (symbolized by menstrual blood), and cannot relate to them beyond this idealized picture they have of their mother. Rajiv would then excessively represent this type of infantile men, keeping in mind that all men probably have some trouble with their representation/fascination of women, or at least have to fight against forces within themselves and to replace fantasies by reality. Many men are apprehensive of femininity and maternity, and hopelessly long for an eternally youthful figure which doesn’t exist:

Psychedelic sets 1

In the first half, we have the allusion to Radha and Krishna’s relationship, with Rajiv representing a dark Krishna, whose darkness (goes Rupa’s story) is caused by Radha’s black eyes. Zeenat Aman’s eyes are indeed black, but her skin is darker than Shashi Kapoor's, which makes the whole situation rather funny. But to stick to the mythological frame, or perhaps not to stick to it, I have found (here) this quirky picture of “tantric marriage” with a half black, half bright Shiva figure:

Shiva

and it is said in various places (one such) that the film’s title is a designation of Shiva: Shiva in the Hindu pantheon is the Destroyer. What Brahma creates and Vishnu preserves, Shiva wipes out so that creation can start again. Now this divine cycle must be in coherence with the human cycle of birth, life and death. Death in such a cycle isn’t only understood as a negative force of destruction, but as a positive one of transformation so a new life can flourish. In the film, Rupa and her scarred face figures this necessary deathly process: Rajiv sees in her not only an ugly and unfortunate girl, but he’s shocked by what is really a death-face (and even more precisely a death-in-life face).

Ecorché

What he sees in her nobody else sees; this horrid decomposing skull is a visualization of a transformation, the mutation of beauty into horror, of grace into evil, because it is seen through Rajiv’s fears. I believe nevertheless that Raj Kapoor doesn’t want us to adhere to his prejudiced hero. His negative reaction is the reverse side of the teaching which he will accept later on in the movie. The painful vision contains a truth (Shiva’s truth), which, unpleasant as it is, must be confronted: all flesh, all beauty decomposes ultimately and becomes ugliness and horror. And there is something even more unpleasant in that it is connected to feminine beauty, because women are the carriers of human life. So when he sees Rupa (a word which means beautiful) for the first time, he exclaims:

Kaun ho tum

This question is the movie’s whole question. He asks her (twice) “Kaun ho tum?”, and not aap (the polite form), indicating that he is still sufficiently intimate with the different person he believes he is facing. He might of course, as a dignitary, say tum to all women, known to him or not. But anyway what’s clear is that he faces somebody who is both looking like Rupa and enough different from her for him to reject the identification. One line of scenario might have been Rajiv’s breakdown upon realizing that his one and only Rupa is defaced. But what happens is altogether different. He is confronted with a stranger, Rupa’s disfigured twin so to speak, Rupa’s negation in a way. Rupa’s evil double. Symbolically, the moment her veil is up, Rajiv is confronted with a truth (there’s no veil any more) which is death, and he can only refuse it at first. It will take the rest of the film for him to accept this truth, ie, that his beloved and her deathly appearance are one and the same (divine) reality.

Zeenat

The Apsara

It’s normal that Rajiv, because he has seen in Rupa Shiva’s destructive power, should feel such a jolt and revulsion. The story turns him into a sort of visionary, and Rupa’s veil becomes the symbol of what hides her mystery to the rest of humanity. She symbolises the womanly forces of life and death, the Shiva-cycle present in the human race. One could say that’s her truth (satyam), but this divine (shivam) aspect makes it fitting for Raj Kapoor to have chosen a very beautiful (sundaram) representative such as Aman. On the other hand, all women are concerned by this male tendency to sense in them more than just their counterpart. Look at these paintings by the Belgian painter René Magritte:

      Magritte 3Magritte le violMagritte 1

Wouldn’t you say he has represented something of this male complex? Doesn’t it seem that he has understood that for men, women are a scary power and a mystery, and that they (the men) need to be reconciled with them? I am also reminded of the classic associations of women and death (this is a mental structure, of course, please all ladies reading this, don’t assume I am making a statement about the reality of women!) through such artistic symbols of  Death and the maiden, and to come back to RK’s movie, there’s the theme of the casting of the spell, which again goes back to Woman’s phantasized destructive power upon men. The question “who are you?” resonates against this background. It corresponds to this fear within the masculine psyche of a feminine power linked to life and death, and feminine seduction as a threat to his integrity, to his own power and pleasure.

Waterfall 1

I said I would volunteer a word about Christian mythology, which as I well know, shouldn’t perhaps be brought about here, seeing as we are clearly in a Hindu environment. My defense nevertheless is that I believe there are universal archetypes that can bring together different cultural ensembles, and it seems to me that Satyam shivam sundaram presents us with a readable (if limited) Adam & Eve motif. Both lovers meet in a sort of primeval, ideal garden, where clearly realism is sacrificed to make us understand that the place is a projection (this is what we have in the Genesis). The waterfall (above) could well speak of the Fall itself, and Rupa’s deformity could be seen as the curse for her sinful act. And let’s not forget Eve is the instrument by whom death inflicts the human condition according to the Bible. Well, even if these parallels shouldn’t be strained, the film’s evocative folktale symbolism suggests associations which in themselves make it more interesting, especially in this case!

Fierce angel

All in all, the movie, with its often underlined flaws, contains enough symbolism for us to say something about RK’s attitude to women and cinema. He’s not here to answer any more, but I would have liked to ask him the question: how much has the cinema (this maya, this art of illusions) taught him about women, and how much has he lost through unreined desire and experimentation? I had already tried answering this question in Sangam, but it’s also posed again here, even if through the filter of allegory. I’d say that what he’s gathered in terms of art has been tremendous, but probably to the detriment of his peace of mind.

Here are some reviews (on top of those already quoted) which I selected for their thoughtful remarks: Adeline’s (in French), Beth, who watched the movie with Carla, and not forgetting Philip’s short but insightful comments. And there’s a comic take at P-pcc.blogspot!

Rédigé par yves

Publié dans #Film reviews

Commenter cet article

Filmbuff 04/07/2012 21:20


I read your post on SSS and the comments too. As Anu says RK had degenerated by that time. Ram Teri Ganga Maili was a much better film in terms of exploring the ideas of human weaknesses and
exploitation of women. There again there was no need to have so many scenes of Mandkini in see through fabrics. My main grouse against Raj Kapoor as a film maker is that he would some how find
space to include scenes (no matter the story/theme) for mere titillation. There are subtler ways of portraying sensuality. Commercial success is no doubt important, however there are ways of
attracting audience to make money through a good story, direction, cinematography, music etc which many other film makers have done so.
 
I personally liked Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog. As an actor he was good in some of his early movies esp those with Nutan. He is not my fav actor or director which u may have guessed from my thots
above.
cheers

yves 04/07/2012 21:21



There, thanks again Meera for allowing me to post your comments here!
As for your comparison with RTGM, I agree that the story and some of its themes (the exploitation of women) were quite good. Nevethelesless I also feel that the sheer power of Rupa's scar motif
in SSS makes for a stronger artistic and symbolic impression, and so it's little sad, therefore, that such a powerful motif is mired in the "titillation" process which you aptly describe!



Anu Warrier 03/07/2012 15:53


Yves, just came back here, and read the comments and responses. Like Suja, I want to mention that I was in no way intending to criticise you for your interpretation of what you saw in the film. I
disagreed with you, yes, but I speak with the benefit of having lived in that culture and having grown up with those films. But that in no way negates  your experience as a
viewer.I apologise if what I said came through that way.


As for having to 'tread carefully' because it is a culture not your own, speaking for myself, you do not have to do that. I come here to read your posts because they interest me. I may not always
agree with your analysis of a film, culturally or otherwise, but I venture to suggest that that would be the same if we were discussing Indian films or French films or Turkish films for that
matter.


Also, because I disagree with you, that does not mean that your analysis or viewpoint is wrong. Surprising as it may seem, I'm not always right.

yves 04/07/2012 21:11



Thanks Anu, it's very kind of you to develop your position in such a friendly and open way. It's true that at one stage I was rather worried because I felt that what I had said hdn't perhaps
deserved the interest which I thought it might have, and I felt myself plunged into the cold bath of reproval (or something like that!!) from people who had more right than I had to look at their
heirtage. But all's well now. And anyhow, I'm pleased of our exchanges!!



suja 30/06/2012 08:15


You ask "which criteria enable one to say one has read too much in a work of art?".  To my thinking, the question does not arise. If you are, as I said before, part of the art
experience, then whatever you interpret is legitimate. Can I liken the film to poor Schrodinger's cat? The cat could only have two states-alive or dead but the film can be any number of states.
It is only when you, the observer, look at it that it becomes in reality one state or the other. What RK intended becomes irrelevant; all he did was create a scenario for the possible states.
hehehe Qantum Mechanics and Bollywood have something in common after all hehehe

yves 30/06/2012 11:06



Haha! I love this, and if you stroke the cat (ie, if you make the film go your way), does it purr??



suja 29/06/2012 19:59


I am absolutely in tune with you Yves re meaning found in art whether intended by the creator or not. In fact, in  the about page of my blog, which has not changed
since I started writing a year and half back, I have said 'The listener is as much part of the musical experience as the composer, the lyricist and the performers. The music I hear in my
mind, it is mine alone, for my response to it stems from all my experiences, musical and otherwise.'. What I write about music applies equally to the books I read, the art I see and the
films I watch. The audience contributes to a piece of art and joins hand with the other creators to form the final product. And I kind of get a kick in holding hands with, for
example, Rembrandt or Monet and participate in the final art product that I experience :) And I believe this is exactly what you are talking about, so in this, we are in one mind.

yves 29/06/2012 21:56



Great! I'm pleased to read what you have written. Now of course the other aspect of this rather tricky question is when does one diverge from the legitimate path of criticism, which criteria
enable one to say one has read too much in a work of art? For example, when I am suggesting in SSS that Rajiv, as a hydraulic engineer, could have a role in the forces of repression of
women-driven forces, which I also describe with the religious structure of shivaite destruction and transformation as made visible on Rupa's face: am I over-interpreting? Or in spite of RK's
apparent disregard for higher inspirational sources, can and does his movie carry something of that kind?



suja 29/06/2012 11:53


Hello again Yves, I saw your response to Adeline and realised that you feel criticized by me (you say 'elles') in some way for your interpretations. I apologize if my words came through like
that. In fact, I find your points of view interesting especially because it is from a view point quite separate from that of mine. If we saw the world with the same pair of glasses, except for
patting each others back, how would we enhance our experiences? So there is no criticism, perhaps surprise at some things you say, but definitely interest otherwise I wouldn't be coming here,
would I ? My latest post is in fact triggered by some references in your blog; I went especially into the some theological ideas in answer to your question about Shakti. Cheers.

yves 29/06/2012 12:32



Thanks a lot Suja for this very warm and thoughtful little message, which indeed does a lot of good! I too am sorry if I sounded a little dispirited and critical, but it's true that I tried hard
to put forward my point of view, and felt that I hadn't quite managed, I am talking about the aspect which sounded to me acceptable from a more general perspective: the fact that meaningful
structures can exist in a work of art independently of their authors. For the rest, I was quite willing to admit that I need to step carefully whenever dealing within a cultural world which I do
not know very well.


I had in fact been to read your very interesting post on divine consorts (and magnets!) before reading this message! So thanks once again for that!



a2line 28/06/2012 13:22


Hello Yves,


Désolée, je vais une fois de plus répondre en français, fainéante que je suis. 


Superbe article ! On est sur la même longueur d'onde je crois, à part que ton analyse est bien plus poussée que la mienne (et que je suis plus sensible au charme de Shashi !) 


RK etait un grand réalisateur,mais aussi un businessman, toujours capable de sentir ce que veut le public. Et l'athmosphère très sexualisée de SSS correspond bien aux années 70. Je le regrette un
peu, car cela dissimule les nombreuses qualités de ce film, dont cette dimension mythique passionnante, et ouverte à beaucoup d'interprétations, que tu soulignes. 


Ton article m'a vraiment donné envie de le revoir.

yves 28/06/2012 21:04



Merci A2line pour tes encouragements qui me font du bien, car tu l'as peut-être lu, il n'en a pas été de même de plusieurs autres lecteurs, qui trouvent que je sur-interprète le film, et vont
jusqu'à dire que je plaque sur le cadre hindou des catégories occidentales. De plus, elles ne semblent pas démordre du fait que si RK n'avait pas voulu (selon elles) mettre ce que j'y vois, c'est
que ça n'y est pas. Je pense qu'elles ont peut-être en partie raison, mais je continue de croire qu'on a le droit de relier certaines références d'un film, même commercial, à des structures
artistiques universelles. Enfin, c'est sûr qu'on ne peut pas plaire à tout le monde!


A plus, yves



Anu Warrier 26/06/2012 21:59


"...it comes after a long development which tries to understand the role of Shiva in the movie because of its title,..."


Ah, now I understand the confusion. Yves, Shivam is not Lord Shiva as we understand it. In Hindu scriptures, the phrase Satyam Shivam
Sundaram  is a concept. It can be defined (I'm no scholar, so this is just the bare definition of a concept) this way: Satyam - Truth.
Not what you say about it, but what it is. Not what you think it is, but reality, not corrupted by any particular view. It is the negation of the ego, or aham because if you are
present, then truth is absent. It is only when you can absent yourself of all prejudices, all biases, all negation of the 'conception' of truth, just pure truth itself.


Shivam is an even more abstract concept. On the face of it, it is virtue. At a deeper level, you need to have absorbed Satyam or the
truth to know what Shivam is. When you have internalised truth, you begin to live it. Sounds confusing? Well,
it is. The concept of Shivam  is rooted deep in Vedanta philosophy. 


Sundaram is beauty. Not as we know it, physical, corporeal, or even abstract, divine. It is the awakening of our consciousness, once we have
accepted Satyam, and experienced Shivam.


So if you extrapolate this to the image of Lord Shiva (the lingam in the movie); - He is the truth; and therefore to embrace him, one needs to
give up self. Once the abnegation of self is complete, then you are able to express that inner truth (Shivam), leading us to Sundaram, the expansion of our consciousness to be
one with Shiva.


As I said, this is just the tip of a philosophy, and the interpretations are many.


As for your posts, I like reading them because it allows me to view my films from a different perspective. Sometimes I think you read too much into
what you see, but oftentimes it makes me pause and think. And that is a good thing. I also like being reading the
journey that brought you to this particular viewpoint. So, thank you.



yves 26/06/2012 22:31



Thanks once again Anu for such detailed explanations. I'm almost confused to oblige you (the same goes
for Suja, in fact) to give me these detailed explanations of Hindu thinking and religion, of which you realise I know so little! Yes, indeed this progression from Truth - the negation of the ego
- towards Beauty which is the awakening of consciousness... It is very abstract, and certainly at some stage I would need to put all this into some sort of practice, because I suppose you can't
just function with the ideas, the succession of the 3 stages you described: they certainly must be rooted in experience to have any sort of worth, mustn't they?


Thanks for your open-mindedness and
time. Have a nice day.



Anu Warrier 26/06/2012 19:28


So in the case of SSS, can't it be possible (independently of what RK was doing - exploiting, sexualising, Zeenat
Aman etc. -) to look at Rupa's character as a "figure", a structure, and speak as I have done about this figure in terms of feminine power and divine cultural reference? Surely, her scar (and the
way it's included in the story, which is why one can give credit to RK for this) can be interpreted as something more than a reduction of her physical beauty and a way to hammer in the hackneyed
message about beauty being deeper than the surface.


 


Yves, RK definitely had the concept of 'beauty in divinity' - it's a theme that crops up infinitely in his films. But truly? By
the time SSS was made, he was a man fighting the odds and having to give in to box-office dictates. The failure of Mera Naam Joker had destroyed him. Bobby had a different
ending than he envisaged because the distributors demanded it. I do not think he had a divine / cultural reference in mind.
I think it was Suja who pointed out once (correct me if I am wrong) that it sometimes makes no sense to watch a Hindi movie through the prism of a Western / Christian prism. :)



 


Besides, I wonder whether it's possible to look at works of art in a moral light and determine which ones elevate and
which degrade morally. I mean, you can do it, I do it, but I'm not sure it's always legitimate and true to the nature of art itself. 


I do not think one can look at pure art as a moral exercise. Morality, as we know it, does not exist in that realm. What is
degrading to me may be uplifting to another, and vice versa.


I did not look at SSS as being morally degrading, as much as I was sorry to see a great filmmaker fall to such depths that he had
to resort to skinshow to sell his dream. Because this was the same RK who could  make a moon erotic without lingering on the heroine's assets.


Just my two cents. :)



yves 26/06/2012 21:31



Thanks Anu for your two cents, which are worth more to me than that, because you take the time to explain and answer me at length.


I'm ready to admit to RK's perspective at the time when SSS was delivered was that of a "fallen" dreamer (let's say a disillusioned and
opportunistic director) who did not consciously reflect about his film as anything more than a commercial product. Hey, so many movies are like that! What I'm suggesting is that precisely, even
he didn't have this "divine/cultural reference in mind", I think it can still be there for the spectator to appreciate.That's what I was saying when I said that the artist uses
material that up to a certain extent was independent of how he used it. I'm thinking especially of such anthropological or religious material as we have in the film's story.


Yes, it was Suja indeed that said it wasn't a good idea to watch Indian movies through a Western prism. I think this is a very important precaution
indeed. But if you go back to my review, I don't think I've done that. There's this last paragraph about Adam & Eve, which I clearly indicated was a tentative superimposition and it comes
after a long development which tries to understand the role of Shiva in the movie because of its title, and how the symbols contained in the film (for example the flood at the end) agree with the
idea of destruction and death.


Thanks again for enabling me to explain myself.


 



dustedoff 26/06/2012 05:53


Yves, 'Ardhnareeshwar' is a combination of three different words: 'ardh' = 'half'; 'nari' = 'woman', and 'eeshwar' = 'god'. Therefore, literally, a god who is is half woman (reminds me oddly of
Adam's rib - not that Adam was God, of course). I am not absolutely sure what the connotations of Ardhnareeshwar are, but I know it's a form of Shiv, in which he's considered part himself (very
masculine), and part his consort, Shakti (very feminine). Sort of Yin and Yang, I guess.

yves 26/06/2012 13:28



Thaniks Madhu for this explanation. I knew all the words, but I hadn't recognized their
combination!


BTW, Do you believe I went too far in my
interpretation of SSS? (check what Suja and Anu say) I'm starting to wonder...!



Anu Warrier 26/06/2012 04:26


iit's very interesting you should point out that the divinity consists of two halves, one male and one female; is this a frequent feature (your reference to "Ardhnareeshwar" seems to go
in that direction, but I don't know what it means)



Madhu pointed out the obvious (to us Indians, that is). Yves, this is a common concept in Hinduism, that everyone has both male and female components - that they are two parts of a whole (the yin
and the yang, if you will). So, the ardhnareeshwara is Shiva and his consort Shakti. Together, they are the cosmos, the infinite, the whole. 


 


Secondly, the story of Satyam Shivam Sundaram  was on Rk's mind long before it was actually made. If you take a look at his body of work, Aag had the seed of the same theme
- that of beauty being more than skin-deep. From what I have read, he had toyed with the idea of casting Lata Mangeshkar; when it eventually came to casting and he was auditioning, he had Amitabh
in mind for Shashi's role. The RK heirs and even his brother protested - RK films had outside heroines, but the heroes were always Kapoor men. In fact, he had to chase Shashi Kapoor for months
for his dates, since Shashi was very busy at the time (he called Shashi 'Taxi Kapoor' because he seemed to be signing films right, left and centre for money).


And yes, much as I love RK, the casting of Zeenat as Rupa was because Zeenat had ambitions to be known as an actress. Around the time that RK was conducting interviews at RK Studios, Zeenat
landed up there dressed in her version of tribal clothing - the costume you see in the film was Zeenat's genius at work. And before anyone claims I'm spreading gossip, both RK and Zeenat have
been on record about this. Perhaps the most honest (and the most scathing) denunciation came from Dev Anand, who was deserted by Zeenat in her quest for 'acting' credentials.


I believe that he had originally meant to make an honest movie - about how we only see the spurious outwardly beauty of the people who mean the  most to us. By the time SSS was actually
made, however, he had just about been able to save RK studios from toppling over (Bobby was a smash hit), but he needed money. And therefore, boxoffice considerations made SSS what it was - a
voyeur's wet dream.


It is sad however, that this one movie tarnished a legacy that went far beyond sexualising his women. Honestly, I would place Ram Teri Ganga Maili was a far better film, and a far more
honest depiction of the fall of a woman (Mandakini's nude scene notwithstanding) than SSS was, of a man's fall from grace.


So, long story short, I think you are reading far too much into the film. I seriously doubt that RK had even meant to imply anything of the sort.


 

yves 26/06/2012 13:55



Hello Anu, and many thanks for taking pains to comment, especially since you don't agree with what I
say. I was very interested to read about the context in which the film was shot, especially the relationships between RK and his team. I quite see Zeenat Aman as an ambitious woman, and RK as
opportunistic in that light. If you're right, that the film was driven by the need for cash - and I believe I know enough of cinema as an industry to recognize what you say - then this naturally
explains the insistance of the camera on skin (of both leads), as well as the film's feeble ending.


The point I want to defend, nevertheless, is what I've already tried to explain to Suja: I believe an
artist's intentions only partly cover what his creation expresses. I don't think it's wrong to argue for the existence of significant structures in some works of art, which their creators didn't
consciously think of including. As I said, the materials which artists find at their disposal independently carry references and cultural values which they manipulate and transform, but do not
and cannot reset to 0.


So in the case of SSS, can't it be possible (independently of what RK was doing - exploiting,
sexualising, Zeenat Aman etc. -) to look at Rupa's character as a "figure", a structure, and speak as I have done about this figure in terms of feminine power and divine cultural reference?
Surely, her scar (and the way it's included in the story, which is why one can give credit to RK for this) can be interpreted as something more than a reduction of her physical beauty and a way
to hammer in the hackneyed message about beauty being deeper than the surface.


Besides, I wonder whether it's possible to look at works of art in a moral light and determine which
ones elevate and which degrade morally. I mean, you can do it, I do it, but I'm not sure it's always legitimate and true to the nature of art itself. 


Thanks for reading.


 


 


 


 


 



suja 25/06/2012 13:25


Hello Yves, Thank you for another interesting review. In fact, I bought the DVD last year but it still awaits my attention. Of course I have watched it before and I remember the music with
pleasure. Of course, being a woman, I did not quite remember Zeenat with quite the same pleasure that male viewers might do! In fact, seeing the photos, I am quite surprised to the extent
that RK has exploited her body - perhaps the version I saw had been edited? RK often had his heroines drenched and in later years his ladies started showing more and more culminating in a very
much visible Mandakini in RTGM.


You ask a pertinent question here: 'why is the country so generally prudish....yet so free...' I believe its a clash of three cultures - one, the ancient Hindu less-prudish culture which
associated divinity with sexuality (Tantric thoughts for instance) second, the Muslim culture acquired from about 600 years of Muslim rule which with a culture though sensuous
was covert in its practice, then 100 years of British rule with Christian thought which associated sexuality with sin (not present in Hindu thought).  This amalgam of thoughts and
influences had left a very confused society.


But I think you give RK too much credit for being deep; his use of sexuality seems to me a simple case of financial gain at the box office.


I quite like the symbolisms you have suggested, for example the dam engineer as a restrainer of natural forces, very clever of you to make these associations !  Though again I wonder if
was really meant or are we reading meaning where none exists?


From a woman's point of view, I have wondered if RK has shown the conflict in men's mind when they fall in love and marry a woman. Is it not often that whom they are attracted to and whom they
find when they are married are actually two different people, wouldn't you say? So here is a man who thinks he falls in love, does actually falls in love, but only with one side of the
personality (face), one aspect of a being. When he meets the whole, he doesn't want it - for he has loved only one side.


Also, isn't it a well-know idea that men want their women to be houris at night but saints by day as if they were two different women in one? And are disappointed when she is neither? Rupa tries
to be the houri-by-night, but when she gets pregnant, she can no longer be the saint-by-day.


I was interested to read you say that 'It corresponds to this fear within the masculine psyche of a feminine power linked to life and death,
and feminine seduction as a threat to his integrity, to his own power and pleasure'. I was aware of the fear of feminine seduction which I have
found in my readings of both Christian and Muslim thought, but seldom in Hindu thought while the association of femine power with life & death, ie. Shakti, is very much Hindu thought but it
is always a positive association and does not lead to fear.  You have combined this to have a 'unified theory' so to speak :) Hmmm...let me think of this.


Your associations with the Adam and Eve story are interesting, but as I have always found it hard to blame Eve (for either going for the apple or for Adam, given he
is the only available fellow around!) I dont find it very convincing:) Rupa has not sinned in this film, but rather is sinned against, wouldn't you say?


Cheers. Suja

yves 25/06/2012 15:57



Hello Suja,


Thanks for your very thoughtful reactions: it's always a pleasure to read them, and I always learn from them! I've decided to react to what you say by placing my comments after yours.


You ask a pertinent question here: 'why is the country so generally prudish....yet so free...' I believe its a clash of three cultures - one, the ancient Hindu less-prudish culture
which associated divinity with sexuality (Tantric thoughts for instance) second, the Muslim culture acquired from about 600 years of Muslim rule which with a culture though
sensuous was covert in its practice, then 100 years of British rule with Christian thought which associated sexuality with sin (not present in Hindu thought).  This amalgam of
thoughts and influences had left a very confused society.


This seems indeed a good start: the present state of affairs certainly is the result of centuries of cultural habits, and it makes perfect sense, for example, to refer to the
long period of muslim exposure. And clearly the recent contact with Christian thought has added to this movement.


But I think you give RK too much credit for being deep; his use of sexuality seems to me a simple case of financial gain at the box office.


Yes, I know this is a risk. This is what I thought at first too, and I daresay I don't know whether RK consciously wanted to load his films with the references I see in it. You've already
underlined this attitude in my comments, and now I tend to write them with this criticism in mind, ! But you and I know
also that a work of art can contain more (or less) than what its creator has consciously put in it. A work of art travels through time and space, it uses references and symbols which its creator
finds already there at his disposal and which can colour what he says and does. Perhaps this phenomenon happens here, and I'm ready to believe it does. I've tried to show that RK's use of
sexuality crosses types of expression one can find in other artistic media, pictural for instance.


I quite like the symbolisms you have suggested, for example the dam engineer as a restrainer of natural forces, very clever of you to make these associations !  Though again I
wonder if was really meant or are we reading meaning where none exists?


What you say here, while referring to what I just wrote, has a broader impact. When you can ask the author about what he or she has meant, it's already something positive, and should of course be
taken into consideration. Yet I think even if an author says something about his creation, it isn't 100% binding. The spectator or critic also a right to react according to his own frame of
unserstanding. And what is said then isn't necessarily wrong because the author hasn't meant it.  


From a woman's point of view, I have wondered if RK has shown the conflict in men's mind when they fall in love and marry a woman. Is it not often that whom they are attracted to and whom
they find when they are married are actually two different people, wouldn't you say?


Yes indeed, this is a very common experience.


So here is a man who thinks he falls in love, does actually falls in love, but only with one side of the personality (face), one aspect of a being. When he meets the whole, he
doesn't want it - for he has loved only one side.


Yes, I've tried to show that this is what RK is presenting us with!


Also, isn't it a well-know idea that men want their women to be houris at night but saints by day as if they were two different women in one? And are disappointed when she is neither?
Rupa tries to be the houri-by-night, but when she gets pregnant, she can no longer be the saint-by-day.


You're right.


I was interested to read you say that 'It corresponds to this fear within the masculine psyche of a feminine power linked to life and
death, and feminine seduction as a threat to his integrity, to his own power and pleasure'. I was aware of the fear of feminine seduction which
I have found in my readings of both Christian and Muslim thought, but seldom in Hindu thought while the association of femine power with life & death, ie. Shakti, is very much Hindu thought
but it is always a positive association and does not lead to fear.  You have combined this to have a 'unified theory' so to speak :) Hmmm...let me think of this.


I'd love it if you could tell me more of this Shakti! I know it refers to power
but how and what for, I have no idea. Perhaps there are films (or books, or paintings...) that explore this? I have a film called "Shakti", starring SRK and Ash Rai, but it's probably a farce as
regards the real religious notion!  


Your associations with the Adam and Eve story are interesting, but as I have always found it hard to blame Eve (for either going for the apple or for Adam,
given he is the only available fellow around!) I dont find it very convincing:) Rupa has not sinned in this film, but rather is sinned against, wouldn't you say?


Of course! But here again, the important is not always what the characters stand for in themselves, as what they objectively
reveal. On top of that, in the Bible, Eve is only a symbol, a construction, she represents the temptation of knowledge and pleasure which all of us know so well. She is also a cultural
representation which is influenced by the male-dominated culture of the time. As far as Rupa is concerned, she's also a symbol (= you can look upon her as a
symbol) and as such can represent the male fears which I have spoken about. Also don't forget that there are cultures where a physical blemish is always interpreted as some sin which the bearer
or his ancestors are now suffering for. Isn't this what karma stands for, in a way?



vineet kumar 25/06/2012 12:01


"I think some men are deeply insecure (if not terrified by) about
women, and women’s relationship to life and death (symbolized by menstrual blood), and cannot relate to them beyond this idealized picture they have of their mother"


                 
                              Could you please explain me what does this paragraph say. i was not able to understand it.
And what does the "menstrual bloood" mean in this case.


                 
                                 help me........

yves 25/06/2012 14:33



Hello VK,


Menstrual blood refers to women's periods. It's the medical term, if you want. And so the fact that women shed this blood every month can be a source of insecurity for certain men who have not
completely integrated this phenomenon as natural and ordinary. In many religious rituals, for example, the moment of the month when women have their periods are considered ritually impure: it is
a sign that this bloodiness is associated to degradation and destruction.


Now of course, when you are a mother (pregnant or lactating), you don't have these periods and so metaphorically (but also unconsciously), so this circumstance can be seen on the contrary as
reassuring, or "normal". You understand that behind all this, there is the fear of blood as a sign of death, because blood inside is life, so blood outside is death.



dustedoff 25/06/2012 07:34


Yves, excellent and insightful review, as always. I watched Satyam Shivam Sundaram many, many years ago, so I don't remember the finer points of it, but your take on it was very engrossing - and
I loved the way you showed the uncanny similarity between Hindu and Biblical tradition when it comes to the perception of woman as being the downfall of man (!)


By the way, that painting of Shiv as half-dark, half-bright, also looks to me as if it's a depiction of Shiv as 'Ardhnareeshwar' - 'half-woman'. If you look closely, the left half is a woman (NOT
barechested, and wearing jewellery, and with feminine features as compared to the right half).


 

yves 25/06/2012 14:49



Hi Madhu,


Thanks for your comments and appreciative description of that rather mysterious (to me) picture of Lord Shiva - it's very interesting you should point out that the divinity consists of two
halves, one male and one female; is this a frequent feature (your reference to "Ardhnareeshwar" seems to go in that direction, but I don't know what it means)? In India, for example, the various
representations of Shiva which I saw were very masculine in outlook and detail.


For the comparatist that I am, this rings the bell of Plato's Banquet theory, where one of the speakers tells of the myth of the origin of love, perhaps you know it, in which Man used
consist of only one hermaphrodite, which for some reason (I'd have to go back to the text to say why), has been halved in two by the middle to give man and woman, and now men and women are
striving to unite because of this primeval unity they have lost.



astia 24/06/2012 20:00


thank you so much Yves for this review! I love this movie and mostly for Zeenat Aman's performance. As usual, i like the way you are finding links between the film and Hindu Gods, between love in
cinema and love in real indian life. So true!


 


 

yves 24/06/2012 23:03



Hello Astia,


Thanks for your appreciation: it's always nice to hear somebody else praise us. And surprising that you are more attracted to (or interested by) Zeenat Aman than Shashi Kapoor!