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Woman Becomes Goddess in Bollywood: Justice, Violence, and the Feminine in Popular Hindi Film
January 20, 2011 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
A public lecture with Professor Kathleen Erndl, Florida State University.
Kathleen Erndl is an associate professor of religion at Florida State University. She teaches in the field of South Asian religions, especially Hinduism, as well as gender and religion, popular Hindi cinema, and Sanskrit. She is currently writing a book entitled The Play of the Mother: Women, Goddess Possession, and Power in Hinduism. Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra), the Department of Religion and the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research.Abstract
In the famous Hindu sacred text Devi-Mahatmya, in times of crisis when the cosmic moral order has been usurped by demons, the Goddess appears in order to destroy evil and re-establish justice. Similarly, on the human level, in folk and regional traditions throughout India, an ordinary woman subjected to oppression, takes on the power of her divine counterpart, transforming into a fierce Goddess to avenge the injustice done to her or her community. This theme of feminine (divine/human) retribution, repackaged in modern political and social contexts, has emerged in popular Indian cinema as a sub-genre called “avenging women”. Such films present an image of women counter to the docile, obedient daughter and wife or the sex-object of the “male gaze,” beginning with the character Radha, played by Nargis in Mother India (1957, directed by Mehboob Khan, reaching a peak in the 1980s with a spate of films such as Pratighaat (“Revenge” 1987, directed by N. Chandra), and continuing to the present day. This presentation analyzes the film Anjaam (“Outcome”, 1994, directed by Rahul Rawail), starring Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan. The appeal of this film lies in its deep resonance with the myth of the Goddess killing the Buffalo Demon, one of the most popular in the Hindu tradition, and also the way in which the narrative, dialog, and song-dance sequences open up discourse about female sexuality, women’s power, traditional and modern women’s roles, and the corruption of the State versus the sacrality of “Mother India.” An excellent example of the resurgence of the “feminine principle” in popular culture, it provides a vision of what may happen when, in the words of the film’s refrain, “a woman becomes Chandika.”