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The Hindi Devotional Film


Kusum Gokarn


Devotional films, or to put it more broadly, films with a religious content generally offer an idealized and glorified portrayal of persons such as saints and devotees who by their exemplary behaviour are held as a cut above the average human being and also seem to possess a ‘divine’ aura or charisma that makes them almost God-like.   Generally the film narrative follows a biographical pattern, depicting in detail the life-story of the saint. It begins with his/her childhood when he/she has already displayed some mysterious divine traits or has performed miraculous deeds that have helped alleviate human misery. There is also the conflict between the ‘radical’ views of the saint and the orthodox beliefs of a group of religious authorities of that period. He/she faces immense trials and tribulations that is a test of his/her faith and divinity. Eventually however, the saint through his/her superhuman miraculous feats triumphs over all odds.   Most figures depicted in such devotional films are purportedly historical Some were also poets with compositors (Mirabai, Namdev, etc.) and so devotional songs based on heir works also form an important and intrinsic part of the narrative. A part of their enduring popularity is explained by the noted filmographer B.V. Dharap who remarked that, ‘…tales and legends of love, devotion, trust and sacrifice from the scriptures, the epics and the Puranas still have a strong influence on the public mind. That is part of Indian culture’.   Devotional films were very popular with Indian audiences during the silent era of Indian Films (1912-33) as well as the sound era (1933-80). After the 1980s, it could be argued, with the advancement of technology, the onset of the jet-age and a consumerist lifestyle, and a more questioning mindset, devotional films saw a decline in their viewership and popularity. Blind faith in mythological gods and goddesses and miraculous feats on the part of legendary saints no longer hold an appeal for the younger generation. Indeed it is films peopled by scientific robots and supermen that strike an empathetic chord with the younger generation!   One of the very first films ever made, Pundalik in 1912 made by R.G. Torney and N.G. Chitre was based on a legendary saint-poet of Maharashtra and public response to the film was overwhelming. Similarly, Raja Harishchandra made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913 was again based on a famous story from the Mahabharata and ...


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