Science of love: look into Gītā's eyes in the Homeland (Swades)

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Homage to Gâyatrî's eloquent gaze, Gowarikar's creative vision

and the contemporary (pano-) Râma of our national epic

Having decided to make this monologue available to the public, I would like to offer a  conceptual grid of the underlying architecture of the various perspectives developed and woven together in this cascade of impressionistic musings on apparently disparate topics. This digest of posts on the aesthetics of the gaze in Swades is best summarized by the following two paragraphs completed in mid-October 2009 for my paper presented at the DANAM conference:

In Swades, the aesthetics of the gaze (nazar), enshrined in Sanskrit poetics and so central to the Indian sensibility, is also the portal to a more profound alchemy of love that dissolves the self-centered private life and opens it up emotionally to the world. At the Delhi bookshop, Gītā's riveting stare was as intimidating as her intelligence and even its momentary flicker of good humor was but a sarcastic condescension. Forced into close proximity in the village home, her withdrawn eyes, if not glaring hostilely as when intruded upon in the classroom, remained averted with the minimal engagement required by polite hospitality. A brief but entire night scene is devoted to Mohan gazing with curious wonder through his caravan window upon the languid Gītā working unawares at her desk. Instead of acknowledging his friendly nod, she looks back coldly and switches off the light abruptly. When the family drops in the next morning to take him to the village assembly, Mohan’s insistent eye language forces Gītā to notice and hide his cigarette pack from Kaveriamma, but the accomplice responds in kind with obvious displeasure and complies only to immediately look away in a huff. When she emerges in modest finery to greet her suitors, she turns to Mohan more with embarrassment, compounded with hopelessness as they leave empty handed. When the Bollywood movie-song begins to work its magic, her furtive almost involuntary glances at the handsome stranger seated beside her are immediately withdrawn and only serve to inflame her resentment at his uninvited intrusion into her 'idyllic' life. Once remorse at undeservedly punishing him with the duster has dissolved her inner resistance, her eyes can no longer hide her sentiments despite the distance maintained by modesty and pride. Three of the discarded scenes in the bonus DVD confirm how the dueling gaze has taken on the psychological brunt of mediating the delicate balance between privacy and intimacy, self and other. Mohan is sleeping in the central courtyard (instead of the caravan) and follows the dream-like nymph (apsaras) intently with secret eyes as she waters the plants, humming after her morning bath. The second is of both of them singing Kaveriamma to sleep, in unison, with the same lullaby to which she used to put them as infants to bed; and the third of the remorseful Gītā nursing the wounded forehead of a still teasing Mohan. Though tasteful in and of themselves these (over-) intimate scenes would have marred  the rasa-development and cheated us of the final reward. So when she watches from a distance Mohan setting off on her rent-collecting errand, he walks up to her at the doorway and tells her not to miss him too much. When she coolly mocks his presumption, he reveals that her eyes are betraying all despite her conscious reserve. Cheekily forced to acknowledge her feelings, she bursts out into solitary but exuberant song (Sâwariyan), interspersed with picturesque images of the by now distant traveler, that celebrates the preciousness of the gaze. Though still tongue tied after Mohan's return, she has no longer any qualms, while tying the NRI's dhoti for the Dusshera festival, about blatantly feasting her eyes upon her now discomfited charmer. Aesthetically, the culmination of their and our romantic interest is when she intrudes upon Mohan in his caravan, while he is engrossed in working out the equations for his engineering feat. She announces her unexpected presence by interrupting to resolve his verbal calculations, as she had at their first meeting, but only this time she continues by playfully pretending to be stumped so as to belie his indulgent skepticism with her delayed correct answer. Her accompanying full-moon smile is ample recompense for all the indignities that we have had to endure on behalf of the much maligned hero, and the two are now united in the fulfilling duet of an ode to love.

Their courtship thereafter is depicted only through idyllic scenes, especially at the temple ghats, spliced into the progress of the great collective undertaking spearheaded by our natural leader with this 'Kasturibai' (Mahatma Gandhi's devoted wife) at his side. Tormented on the day of his departure and fearful of revealing the depth of her feelings in public, the conspicuously absent Gītā awaits his caravan alone on the bridge at the boundary of the village, as if she were the tutelary goddess of the local territory (grâma-devatâ). She reaffirms to Mohan, who is overwhelmed with guilt and self-recrimination at having taken advantage of her sentiments, her understanding of his predicament and her impossible love. Presenting him a small chest whose compartments are filled with simple tokens—pebbles, herbs, flowers, spices, etc.—of their land, she expresses the fervent hope that they would for ever remind him of his true home. As the caravan rolls away reluctantly, with the driver looking back intently through the rearview mirror, the despairing modern-day Sîtâ prays inwardly for him to turn back, as if she were repeating a mantra, but reopens her eyes only to see him already gone. Though Swades is not a religious film overtly promoting Râma-bhakti, much less the ritual worship of his temple image, it is a profound exploration of the manner in which romantic love is transformed, through a universally attested form of spontaneous idolatry, into selfless devotion. It was Gītā's newfound fascination with her reflection in the otherwise familiar mirror that had called forth the joyous abandonment of self in her first love song (Sâwariyân), for the loveliness she begins to recognize therein is her enhanced portrait in the eyes of her beloved Mohan. As Gītā idolizes Mohan as the flesh-and-blood hero of her most cherished dreams, the latter willy-nilly transforms himself into the very idol he sees in the eyes of his worshipper. Having ridiculed her for high-flown ideals that would scare off any realistic suitor, he finds himself repeating her very words to persuade others to acquiesce in their own uplifting ("are a woman's hands good only for ornamenting with henna?" etc.). In this win-win resolution, Mohan has fallen in love not just with Gītā but with his own pre-figuration in the heartfelt prayers of this abandoned Sîtâ, and Gītā not just with Mohan but with the (self-) fulfillment of her aspirations of service (sevā) through the agency of this long-exiled contemporary Râma. The lovers begin to realize that they never knew who they 'really' were and could be until mutual love compels them to recognize the self in the other. Despite their initial estrangement, our quarrelling lovers are artfully identified with a contemporary reinterpretation of the idealized couple. The psychological process of assimilating the god's divine qualities through practicing regular ‘visions’ (darshan) of and by his idol is here naturally induced through the reciprocating gaze of the beloved. Gītā's rapt attention, while praying to Sîtâ-Râma on Mohan's presentation to the temple, was already distracted to his revelatory musings on the meaning of Charanpur. Gītā's self-confession to her Sâwariyan streams forth on these very ghats of their riverfront temple, and the plaintive song—pal pal hai bhârî (“each moment weighs oh so heavily”)—that she later sings, as Sîtâ pining under the Ashoka tree, is already rendered hauntingly on the wordless flute during this first visit.  During the Ram-Lila, even as this despairing Sîtâ clings to her praises of Râma before a menacingly skeptical Râvana, Mohan answers her call by interrupting Gītā to usurp the epic role here and now. Bhakti amounts, in Abhinavagupta’s non-dual ‘doctrine of recognition’ (pratyabhijñâ), to projecting and enjoying one's own Self through the external form of an idol. This abstruse metaphysical principle, beyond the ken of so many Hindu champions obsessed with the 'historical' Râma, has been intuitively felt in other climes by every Romeo-and-Juliet.

"Love, devotion, and service: Retelling the Râmâyana in Gowarikar's Homeland (Swades)" (DANAM panel, 06 November 2009, Montreal)

Readers will appreciate the illustrated musings in the following posts better, if they first take the trouble to read the above paper in its entirety and attempt to hold Swades in their mind's eye as a coherent whole.

The entire Hindi movie that has been uploaded by someone else [now with English subtitles] to YouTube is available sequentially embedded within my customized playlist below and these clips are also available for widescreen viewing directly on YouTube [since deleted]. You can also watch the entire movie with English subtitles for free starting with the first part here.

Before even introducing these musings in the light of Abhinava's aesthetics of love, I would urge readers—particularly those who feel that their appreciation of Swades has been sufficiently enhanced by my labors—to take the resolve to purchase the 2-DVD set of the movie as a personal endorsement of Ashutosh Gowarikar's creative vision, and to encourage him to produce even more brilliant works of art that are as delightful as they are illuminating and inspiring. The arguments being made, often directly by Gītā herself, will be even more persuasive when you hover the mouse-cursor over her standalone still frames. As for the embedded YouTube clips (with English subtitles) below, I uploaded them under the sort of 'fair-use' policy that typically governs scholarly citations serving as illustrations to make a theoretical point: they also constitute in themselves an interpretative narrative of the (love-) gaze (nazar) at the aesthetic core of Swades. Each clip begins and ends with a meditative pause on a still frame (typically of Gâyatrî's eyes) that has been carefully extracted from the enclosed animated interaction. These parenthetical frames have been captioned with ambiguous and suggestive queries that serve to highlight the extent to which the movie itself, whether consciously or not, is making so many of the fundamental psychological and even 'metaphysical' claims that I am advancing in this philosophical review. Unfortunately, several of the (especially third-party) video clips embedded in these posts have since been removed from YouTube due to copyright violation. Please feel free to post your well-considered comments (subject to approval) on (my interpretation here of) the corresponding video-clip directly at YouTube:

[Playlist deleted - need alternative solution]

No-nonsense  (Bollywood?) types for whom "seeing is believing" may prefer to enjoy the visual feast of (seeing the world through) Gītā's eyes by first of all reviewing in sequence my close-captioned sequence of subtitled video-clips (playlist above), faithful to the movie timeline, of episodes that raise the various questions that this essay attempts to explore if not definitively answer. More philosophical  (neo-Vedantic?) types for whom "everything is illusion" may prefer to engage the theoretical issues before evaluating for themselves how she responds to them on behalf of not just director Gowarikar but also against the backdrop of Indian aesthetic sensibility. This extended multimedia review, with links to movie clips at YouTube from Ashutosh Gowarikar's Swades, was intended as a major contribution to an ongoing dialogue on the complex relationship between love (śṛṅgāra), devotion (bhakti), and (community) service (sevā), from the perspective of Abhinavagupta's aesthetics of rasa.  I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize some of the posts. The original message (of 8th November 2007) interpreting this narrative of the gaze has been greatly amplified and revised in the light of the subsequent posts below, the substance of which have been left largely intact (other than for subsequent copy-editing). Posts from Nov-Dec 2007 dealing with other psychological and socio-political issues have been moved to the separate digest on "Nostalgia and the Homeland" (November 2009).

 

The specific relevance of each of the items above is also pointed out in the comments (in red) introducing the subsequent posts below.

[I have subsequently edited and amplified this first post of 08 Nov 2007 to further clarify the, otherwise easy-to-miss, internal correspondences and wider resonances of the artistic details of the movie; click the link to the Abhinava forum archive for the original post, which had links to YouTube instead of embedded video clips-  SV]

Subject: The science of love: look into the eyes" of Gītā (Gâyatrî Joshi) in the 'homeland' (Swades)

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Thursday, November 08, 2007 4:12 PM [Abhinava msg #4427]

To: Abhinavagupta

“Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress.”

Citation from Mohandas K. Gandhi that opens the movie, Swades, whose main protagonist is likewise named Mohan

Good raga, but why girls on the picture? If he says yar then it is not Girl but Allah. Know it before you do something please. All Raga and Ghazal is related to Allah (or Eshq majaz) and not this world stupid girls.

Since he can't put Allah on the video, why not God's beautiful creatures :)

Dude, we are talking about Awyal's poems. We cannot add half naked women with them... Oh, seeing God in them is also funny because what will be the next step? Seeing God in porn movies? Come on dega!!!

Loser. You dont even understand his comment. Try to understand, and respond after that!

Loser? why that? anything against Quraan is not accepted by Awliya (Hafiz saheb, Bedil Saheb)... And putting half naked female with those holy words is just [not? - SV] acceptable... no too much half naked women in this video, but what other video's... BTW, it is my opinion, please write your opinion and don't attack on a person by saying that he is a loser :) OK?

[Could someone translate the exchange of Arabic (?) citations in the subsequent dialogue left out here? - SV]

 Viewer comments on the (un-) veiled bright-eyed women boldly gazing out from
Ustad Naim Nazary, eminent Afghan classical singer of the Patiala Gharana, rendering Darbari Kanada (YouTube)

The last verse, also from Amaru, is cited by Abhinava in his Locana, as an example of the suggestion of the “cessation of a transitory emotion” (bhāva-praśama). An exceptional delight is offered by the skilful presentation of the fading away of a passing mood, and that is why it is privileged as a separate category. According to Abhinava, the verse under discussion captures the subsiding of pride having jealous resentment (sulking) as its essence. But the same verse is again analyzed by Abhinava in his Abhinavabhāratī to show how vipralambha [love-in-separation] and sambhoga [love-in-union] are not mutually exclusive but each necessarily includes the other. His remarks, if their implications are drawn out, will already permit the critically attentive reader to appreciate why hāsya [humor] is an inevitable ancillary of sambhoga-śṛṅgāra. “Both these conditions (sambhoga and vipralambha) are pervaded by love (rati), in the form of the mutual bond of affection, which on being [<275-276>] relished becomes śṛṅgāra…. This is why in sambhoga there is the fear of the possibility of separation (vipralambha) and vipralambha too is penetrated by the imaginative desire for union (sambhoga). Such is the nature of śṛṅgāra. Where there is rati in the form of the bond of mutual affection, it includes within itself longing, jealousy, exile [as when the captive Sîtâ, confined under the Ashoka tree in Râvana's Lankâ, pines for Râma  - SV], and other conditions. Hence terms like ‘sambhoga-śṛṅgāra’ are used figuratively, by extension even when there is no sexual union. That is why it is the blending of these two conditions that is indeed truly of supreme aesthetic appeal. As in:

Lying together in the bed
They kept a sullen silence grim,
Faces averted and suffocating with pride
Though hearts relented within,
And not a word to her he said
And she refused to speak to him.
But glances chance to interlace:
A moment’s pause, and both thereafter
Forget resentment and..........
             dissolving in a gale of laughter
                                  ...........embrace!

[Amaru-shataka no. 21]

Here there is the supreme experience of rasa in the form of the blending of ‘separation-due-to-jealousy’ and union, produced by determinants, consequents and transitory emotions pertaining to both (âzrayas) but having a single essence…. Like the performance of bath, etc., (the representation of mere) sexual union (bhoga) is [<276-277>] devoid of any rasa." [direct citation from Abhinava]

Sunthar V., "The role of hāsya (humor) in śṛṅgāra (the erotic sentiment)," Abhinavagupta's Conception of Humor (PhD thesis, 1983)

It may seem obvious to every starry-eyed lover but psychologists have now proved it to be true – if you want someone to find you attractive, look them in the face and smile. A strong jaw for men, high cheek-bones in women, a perfectly-shaped nose or unblemished skin may be the physical signs of sexual attractiveness, but it is the gaze of the eyes that really counts. Psychologists have shown for the first time that you are more likely to find a happy-looking face that looks directly at you sexually attractive than the equally smiling face of someone who is averting their eyes. The findings support the theory that both men and women use the direction of a person's gaze as a signal of whether that person finds you interesting enough to look you directly in the face – and that sign of interest is, in itself, seen as attractive to the observer. [...]  "They are assessing who is likely to like them. It's not so much about holding eye contact with a member of the opposite sex, it's about looking at someone who you are interested in," he said. "It is all part of an ancient need to concentrate one's limited courting resources on potential mates who are realistically interested in you. "It wouldn't pay me, for instance, to spend time and effort on chasing supermodels but it would pay me to concentrate on women who smile at me in the street," he explained. [...] This shows both men and women prefer faces of people who seem to like them and that attractiveness is not just about physical beauty. "It's the first demonstration to show people's preferences for being looked at depends on the emotional state of the person who is doing the looking, as well as their sex," Dr Jones said. "It makes common sense, but it's the first time it's been shown. What we've shown is that people seem to like someone who likes them – based on the direction of their gaze – and it's particularly true of the opposite sex," he said.

Steve Connor, "The science of love: look into the eyes" (07 Nov 2007),The Independent

Rasa is therefore not simply an emotional response to artistic stimuli but the inner organizing principle of a distinct mode of apperception (anuvyavasâya-vizeSa), their raison d’être, and very meaning. This ‘identification’ (tanmayî-bhavana) is so complete that we seem to be experiencing the same emotion without any distinction of self and other. This is precisely why our whole-hearted enjoyment of Sîtâ’s beauty through the eyes of Lord Râma is no stigma to Indian aesthetics. Considering the real-life infatuation that actors (Amitabh Bacchan, M.G. Ramachandran, now Shahrukh Khan) and actresses (Aishwarya Rai and, more recently, Gayatri Joshi in Swades) can evoke in their fans, it is worth noting that the shared enjoyment of the heroine (nâyikâ), even vicariously in theater, posed a dilemma to the Indian ethical consciousness. This ingenious concept of tanmayîbhavana removes the moral compunction even while sanctioning the unreserved sensuous delight. [ad note #12] [...] Abhinavas esoteric treatment of eros (kâma) might best explain king Bhojas - he was himself a contemporary Tântrika - public elevation of śṛṅgāra to the supreme rasa from which not only all the others but even the worldly passions emerge, and around which are centered all ego-centric human pursuits (of the life-goals). What Bhojas great literary synthesis, the śṛṅgāra-Prakâsha attempts might be understood as a sort of Hindu‘psychoanalysis’ - but from the perspective of a thoroughly aestheticized’ sexuality - that not only embraces morality and love (prema) but equates eros with the (self-aware and synthesizing) ego-function(aham-kâra),whereas Freud<’s materialism posits a polar opposition between libidinous instinct (id) and individual adaptation. [note #64]

Sunthar V., "Towards an Integral Appreciation of Abhinava’s aesthetics of Rasa" (Evam, 2006)

When Elizabeth and I saw Swades together in Paris, just after its release in December 2004 (and as I was working on the above essay on Abhinava's aesthetics), I was thrilled by the 'idealistic' theme of a successful NRI (Shâhrukh Khan as Mohan Bhargava), a valued project manager at NASA, returning to (village) India to serve (sevā) his people for good. And also by the parallel representation of the neglected motherland by his doting (but since long abandoned) foster-mother (Kâveri-amma) and of her concealed charms by the latter's adopted school-teacher 'daughter' (Gītā played by Gâyatrî Joshi). Though I was thoroughly charmed by Gâyatrî's beautiful depiction of a self-liberating Indian womanhood, it's only just recently, upon reviewing, on YouTube, various sequences (and juxtaposing the clips of thematically and psychologically related scenes that are widely separated on the timeline) that I realized the extent to which I had been, perhaps unconsciously, hypnotized by her (often scornful) gaze. It's relevant to note, in this context, that director Ashutosh Gowarikar (of Lagaan fame) had been vainly auditioning many (would-be) actresses as prospects for Gītā's role, before he happened to recall having met Gâyatrî at a party. Apparently, he had retained something of that innocent encounter, the aesthetic possibilities of which did not occur to him immediately, in much the same way that we come to appreciate Swades for all that it is only after having repeatedly looked at, and through, Gītā's eyes. No doubt, the sentimental ruse intended (by Gowarikar's artistry) to impress upon us all his own 'patriotic' message: he had driven a stake through my heart without my even realizing it! Is this extended movie review no more than an attempt to dislodge the sweet poison?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swades

http://www.planetbollywood.com/Film/Swades/

Returning to India is above all to be (re-) immersed in an intangible sensibility that is almost impossible to define in abstract terms or to describe meaningfully. Though best expressed through interpersonal relations that may be captured on the screen, this aesthetic quality needs commentary to be properly appreciated both by foreigners, who cannot help remarking its strangeness without being able to comprehend it, and also by Indians, who take it so much for granted that they no longer even notice its uniqueness. The initial encounter of the opposite sexes—with Gītā—in the Delhi bookshop is in fact embedded within the 'joking relationship' of the owner Rahul and his NRI friend Mohan that captures the sort of 'bonhomie' that characterizes interactions among male Indian friends. On the face of it, they are communicating quite intelligibly about the most immediate, mundane, and pragmatic business: here's a map where you should be able to locate Caranpur, please mind the sales counter while I rush off to the bank to secure a loan for my business, no problem, how come you've left the counter unattended, of course I'll find you a caravan, etc. But if we listen to what they are actually saying in Hindi (not translated literally in the subtitles), they seem to be talking plain nonsense: "this (map) will cost (you) 150 rupees" [Rahul]; "That's OK, Don't pay me" [Mohan]; "Are you going to rob the bank?" [Mohan]; "No, please mind the counter" [Rahul]; "I'll just sit there" [Mohan];  "Fit" [Rahul]; "Fit" [Mohan] "Your first day, and you're already sick of the job?" [Rahul]; "You've made a profit (the 50 rupees change that Gītā didn't wait to collect) for the company on your very first day...you've got the job!" [Rahul]; OK OK Mr. NRI, you'll have your caravan, don't worry" [Rahul]. Obviously, something else is being communicated than information through the rather idiosyncratic Indian humor, which is that I enjoy your company enough to tease and be teased. Such silly good-natured bantering (Indian women have developed their own styles of such, sometimes merciless, teasing  as may be also seen in Bollywood movies)—which is one of the first things that struck me about Indians (as opposed to Malaysians), especially while travelling in the company of complete strangers on trains— should alert us that the embedded initial encounter between Mohan and Gītā might herald an implicit treatise on what's so different about the romantic sensibility in Indian culture.

Gâyatrî's intelligent and riveting gaze is like a dagger as Mohan learns, to his great discomfiture, at the very first ('accidental') encounter in a Delhi bookshop with the childhood playmate whom he (unlike her) otherwise does not recognize:

Note that Gītā is an intimidating math wiz, who can crunch out the numbers before you can even punch them into the calculator.

Their entire interaction in the village may be summed up as a recurring tussle between Mohan's desire to take Kaveriamma back with him (from all this misery) to the US and Gītā's equally stubborn determination to ensure that this 'traitorous non-returning Indian' (NRI!) 'returns' empty-handed. Is it preferable to have an attractive and intelligent woman grace you with a scornful look or to watch her avert her gaze and reserve her affectionate attention for others...you decide:

He gets the cold-shoulder and is quickly shown the door when he intrudes into her classroom 'to be 'formally' introduced by her kid brother...). He then inadvertently trips her at the threshold, when she returns home after school, into dropping her book like the earlier 'oaf' did in the bookshop (all the more irritating as she has lost her bet with Kaveriamma that this NRI 'son' would never return...)

Though Gītā welcomes Mohan as a guest into her village home, she maintains a cool distance that is guarded especially by her reserved and averted gaze. She not only doesn't approve of cocky better-than-thou NRIs, but is also wary of this rival for the affection of Kaveriamma. Mohan retires to spend the first night in his caravan where he continues to work late on his NASA project. He inadvertently notices Gītā at her table engrossed in schoolwork unawares that he's peering at her curiously through the window: he catches her disengaging into a pensively languorous mood. A 'voyeuristic' scene that might be construed as a very restrained and sublimated psychological echo of the 'languid maiden' (âlasya-kanyâ) of Sanskrit erotics, who is all the more enchanting for relapsing into a natural unselfconscious state (the director's intention becomes even more apparent upon watching the discarded scene entitled "Mohan Falling in Love" when he wakes up indoors to the soft humming of Gītā watering the potted plants after her bath). The friendly acknowledgement from his courteous eyes, when she eventually catches him looking, is rebuffed with a blank indifferent stare before she switches off the light abruptly to spurn his intrusion into her privacy. However, the next morning she can't avoid the intricate eye-communication through which he forces her into unwilling complicity in his bad habit of smoking, as he silently urges her to hide the incriminating cigarette pack from being discovered by Kaveriamma. His thankful nod before being obliged to respond to the rustic amazement at his well-equipped house on wheels is, this time, greeted with a haughty upward turning away of the gaze that seems to be saying: "I'm not impressed, nor even really interested. So why don't you stop making eyes at me once and for all?" After all, even the God with the most 'captivating' (mohana) eyes ever seen still has to make such great efforts and endure much pain before the feminine soul willingly bares all to his relentless gaze!

After the meeting of the village assembly (pañcâyat), Kaveriamma introduces Mohan to the elders (sarpanch) before taking him to the stepped landings (ghâts) to the river where stands the temple to Lord Râma (with his brother Lakshmana) and his consort Sîtâ. Mohan is overcome by the tranquil beauty of the setting, and learns that Charanpur is named after the footprints of the divinized couple. This brief scene is significant because of the haunting background flute-rendering of Pal pal hai bhârî ("every moment weighs so heavily...") that (Gītā later in her Râmlîlâ role as) Sîtâ will sing to beseech Râma (only to hear Mohan answer her call for the betterment of this rural community). While offering her prayers now with folded hands, the otherwise reserved Gītā is indeed intently scrutinizing Mohan's face to fathom his responses to the surroundings, as his new family takes him on an idyllic tour of the rest of the village scenery. This holy site is of central significance for it provides the stage for not only their Râmlîlâ but their final reunion around a wrestling match where Mohan sportingly triumphs over the village Râvana.

Mohan realizes early on that Gītā needs to be safely married off, if Kaveriamma is ever to agree to accompany him back alone to the US. The foster mother's attempts to find a suitable match for the idealistic Gītā always run into the same hurdle: she's too independent and wants to continue teaching after marriage whereas her orthodox suitors insist that the woman's place is in the home (and, in fact, it would be disgraceful to give others the impression that the husband is unable to support his wife...). The particular episode to which Mohan unwittingly becomes the witness ends with the poor girl, who never loses her dignity, silently watching the backs of the disappointed boy and his parents as they head for the door, the way they came. The exchange of gazes occurs both at the beginning, when the bride-to-be emerges from her room to greet the visitors and sees Mohan dumbstruck by her beauty, and as they leave, when he is trying to discern her state of mind: concealed embarrassment, sympathy for her plight, inklings of other alternatives, who knows?....what matters is the mutual interest in the other's perception (and Mohan's inner exultation at the mismatched attempt):

The post-mortem that follows over lunch is a curious exercise in triangulation: Mohan's evaluation vacillates between endorsing Kaveriamma's sense of loss ("after all, you could have converted him after marriage," etc.) and Gītā's foresight ("you can change a man's habits but not his ingrained way of thinking...the next thing you know, he'll be asking for a dowry!"). However, when he latches on to her cue to criticize Indian 'backwardness' in all things as contrasted with innovators like himself ("designing mundane hardware that carries humble bits, bytes, sounds and images across the world sitting in satellites that orbit our little planet earth"), Gītā becomes not only defensive of her traditions (paramparâ) and native culture (samskâra) but goes on the offensive that while people like her are "working at the grass roots," NRIs like him "have given up on hope itself." And, of course, Kaveriamma is inclined (marriage or no marriage) to agree with her.

He even blurts out, in the spur of the argument, the us/them 'superiority-complex' (borrowed omnipotence?) implied, for example, in the ill-thought-out posts of some NRIs on this list, including those who might otherwise shudder at consciously thinking such thoughts: he chides Gītā for being a "typical Indian" and addresses them both as "you Indians who never admit their faults!" When Kaveriamma repeats his words with disbelief, he immediately corrects himself into "sorry, we Indians" (such a remark from me would have probably prompted a tongue-lashing from a surprised, though still very French, Elizabeth...though, happy to say, it looks like I've yet to provide the occasion...):

When all is said and the meal is done, Kaveriamma's predicament still remains and Mohan proposes the solution (while Gītā is temporarily out of earshot...?): you find her the right mate, while I find the pupils to ensure that her school survives.

The next (literally) starry-eyed episode is the rare screening of a romantic movie that the whole village, including the untouchable families and children, has gathered around to watch from their respective sides of the large screen that separates the high from the low. The movie ("The union of memories") is about (the songs and sentiments surrounding) a marriage celebration, and naturally the wider intrigue includes Mohan and Gītā exchanging furtive glances (while the heroine sings: "you've stolen my heart" in this very manner) during the sensitive sequences: Bollywood today, like the classical Sanskrit theater in its own time, draws upon a shared emotional sensibility even while reinforcing and generalizing the same through providing a common idiom and frame of reference that transcends barriers of language and caste:

When the electricity fails at the lyrical highpoint, Mohan saves the night by spontaneously improvising a public (including adult) education class in recognizing (and reaching up for) the constellations to the tune of A. R. Rehman's score ("this star, that star, each star"). As he begins to hop back and forth between the opposing sides of the screen to ensure maximum audience participation, the postmaster simply tears down this barrier while the everyone, including the village elders, look on with appreciative consternation at the illuminating antics of this goofy 'foreigner' (NRI). Instead of indulging in accusatory rhetoric, he 'simply' points them towards a common goal to which they could all put their shoulders.

While Gītā is grateful for all that he's doing for (her by way of) the village school, she's also alarmed at the ease with which he's ingratiating himself into everyone's (including her own) heart (though she doesn't yet recognize this herself). She gets up to leave, keeps looking back in grudging appreciation (#11), and finally lies in wait, when the show is over, at the back of his caravan to demand why he's come back to trouble her peace of mind by wanting to take Kaveriamma away:

She finally confesses to a surprised Mohan that she gave him false directions at the Delhi bookstore to her village, so that he'd never get here, followed by mutual accusations of wanting to take advantage of their (foster-) mother as an (unpaid) house-maid (whether in Charanpur or in America). This 'hitting below the belt' attempt at 'resolution' ends in a deadlock, with each determined to have his/her way over their shared object of affection.

The ongoing tussle begins (04:35) with her declaring loudly to Kaveriamma tp stop looking for a match for she's decided never to get married (and would hence remain dependent on her foster-mother for bringing up at least her kid brother), and his retorting who would want to marry any girl with such "great expectations" (despite 'conceding' that she's not lacking in beauty), while intimating that there just might be one person who might be willing to put up with her (Kaveriamma?).

The stage is thus all set for tug-of-war of egos - it's not for nothing that king Bhoja, the tântrika, associates and even equates śṛṅgāra with ahamkâra ('egoism') - each bent on its own perception and anticipation of conquest.

Gītā accosts the bathing Mohan with charges of putting dreams of America into her kid brother's mind, and his primarily line of defense is to admit teasingly that he's actually taken a liking to her impressed from the very start by her merciless pounding of the unfortunate customer at the bookstore...attempts at "buttering" her into acquiescence that only infuriate her all the more against this "non-returning Indian" (NRI): only angry stares and cowering protest here.

She stomps off declaring that he's more in need of an education than her school kids. Desperate at finding a suitable match for this girl who stubbornly refuses to become an honorably domesticated maid, Kaveriamma begins to take increasing satisfaction overhearing their constant bickering and assaults on each other's vanity. For any self-respecting Hindu who's done their homework on the amours of Krishna and Râdhâ knows that quarrelling is the spicy catalyst of love (as that 'narcissistic' Kathak girl on the Benares rooftop muses: "I have to pretend like Râdhâ, and in that song there is love also and fighting together...[03:09] it never ends, never ends...he's going and dance going" [05:24]). Kaveriamma might perhaps not have the benefit of an astrologer to read the stars (and match horoscopes), but her unschooled eyes can see the stars twinkling in eyes that are still too blinded by transitory (vyabhicâri) emotions to recognize the undertow.

When Mohan makes matters worse by taking Gītā's challenge at her word and an uninvited backseat in her elementary class, much to the jubilation of her pupils, the disconcerted teacher is gleeful at the chance to inflict a humiliating lesson:

Mohan miserably flunks each question (what are the five major rivers of India, the new state carved out of Uttar Pradesh, the number of lion faces on the Ashokan pillar, etc.) that the hand-waving kids are jumping to answer with ease. After drawing the lesson on "the need to learn about one's own country before going elsewhere," she dismisses the class, and contemptuously turns her back to dust the blackboard. Mohan then sheds his cocoon of mock ignorance to reveal his true grasp of Indian geography, politics, demography, history, etc., while walking up to her from behind to the blackboard. Her exultant moment of triumph suddenly deflated, she keeps wiping the already clean board unable to turn to face him.

Is her helpless gaze, when he suddenly swings her around by force, speaking confusion, remorse, trepidation, expectation, or something else? Especially, when he begins to confess...what? Does she know herself? Strike back in panic!

As the panic at being caught off-guard in a compromising situation subsides, she discovers that her fellow teacher had called out her name only to present a parent couple who wanted to commit their two kids to the school because Mohan had succeeded in convincing them of the value of a sound education. Gītā appreciatively requests them to enroll during the auspicious Dashera celebration at the school. She now has the choice of two conflicting readings of these developments: Mohan is ensuring that her independent career as a schoolteacher takes off so as to take Kaveriamma away to America and is mockingly indulging her own self-estimation as an intelligent woman (as his deception just now would seem to prove), or he has not only made her ambitions his own but has stooped to a level lower than that of her primary class, all for the sake of winning her love...

Am I just one of these star-struck fans who is reading into Gâyatrî's eyes sentiments that she, like Sîtâ spurning Râvanâ, in no way really shares? Here, (a vainglorious?) Mohan is teasing Miss Aloof not to miss his absence from the village:

When she mocks back rather indulgently, "whoever told you that I'd be even thinking of you?" he states the (even to all of us) obvious, "your eyes," of course, "they say everything!" (and, naturally, she's inwardly relieved that her game is up without having to openly compromise herself). In fact, Kaveriamma is sending Mohan off on this overnight trip to a distant village not only (in a vain attempt) to collect overdue rent from a destitute tenant farmer (and thereby discover, at first hand, just how much his motherland needs his experience, skills, and resources, here...), but also to make them both, especially Gītā, realize the nature and depth of their feelings for each other ("absence makes the heart grow fonder" as Abhinava says). There's no way to express this dynamic better than by interspersing picturesque scenes from his trek by land and sea with clips of her confessing her new found love to all of nature back in the village: "Now that we've met the whole world is transformed...all's changed, my love, since my eyes courted thine; I've lost my presence of mind, gone is my treasured selfhood. O beloved, I'm simply infatuated, now that you've enchanted my heart!"

Upon his return, he doesn't know how to tie his dhoti for the village assembly on the occasion of the Dasshera festival; watch how the now subdued (but still 'untamed') Gītā keeps looking dumbly at him while tersely doing the needful:

The Sanskrit term for (a maiden with) such a spellbound innocent look is mugdhâ ('infatuated'), which is why she curtly tells him to "shut up!" (when he tries to joke at the end).

We may now go on to enjoy (Gītā playing the role of) the ascetic Sîtâ, spurning the advances of a rustic Râvana (played by the postmaster), but through the eyes of her virtuous husband Râma (or of the love-stricken Mohan who interrupts the performance?):

An auspicious sight on this Diwali to bear witness, once again, to the redeeming of Sîtâ's honor and the (re-) establishment of dharma (note how real and present all this is to the villagers)!

But the "proof of the pudding" of the "science of love" is always in the eating. Here we finally get to see Gītā (come by his caravan only to) gaze longingly at Mohan. Bollywood, as an exponent of rasa, can take the same number-crunching of the original encounter that heralded their subsequent battle of wits, and transform this formula to the nth degree of romance (women in Abhinava's time were not so educated, let alone school-teachers!). After enduring unforgiving glances, gratuitous barbs, physical assault by the 'weaker' sex while trying to take a bath (to the 'teenage' tune of "I've been waiting for a girl like you"), and even a hard knock on the forehead with a soiled duster (simply for getting all his quiz answers more than correct :-), the erotic climax is the sight of her now breaking out, after playfully dumbing down her formidable IQ, into full-faced joyful laughter at his mock obeisance. Mohan's prize is indeed a trophythe cool light of the full-moon that illumines the whole movie and the soothes our hearts— that Abhinava himself would have delighted in:

When her smiling eyes have already "let the cat out of the bag" what's there left to conceal but to come back, dressed again for the occasion (Passion has made her so bold that she comes straight to the point without bothering to consider that he is deeply engrossed, right now, in the more pressing challenge of solving the problem of bringing electricity to the village. How many of us are aware that this natural 'regression' of a haughtily self-sufficing (and intelligent) woman (mâninî) into the 'dumb' infatuation of a 'schoolgirl' (mugdhâ) only to 'unexpectedly' re-emerge as an 'impudently forward' lover (pragalbhâ) who insists on seizing the initiative, is but a contemporary reenactment of the categories described in profuse detail by the Hindu "science of love" (kâmâ-zâstra), and illustrated by Sanskrit poetics (alankâra-zâstra)?

The various stages that follow of his new collective project of restoring "full power" to the village are (psychologically) interlaced with vignettes of their courtship...to the stereotypical, but relatively restrained, accompaniment of Bollywood song amidst idyllic village scenes. When Mohan's (repeatedly extended "two week") vacation in Charanpur draws to a close under the pressing schedule of the NASA satellite launch, Gītā is prepared to marry him but still, most unhappily, refuses to give up her school and commitment to educate her community. Kaveriamma, who was never enthusiastic about adapting, at her age, to a new life in America, has even less reason now to accompany him back. Taking leave from his newfound 'extended family' assembled to bid him a grateful farewell, he looks around in vain for Gītā only to find her awaiting his parting caravan on the wooden bridge at the village boundary, as she couldn't bear to reveal her sorrow in public. Her reaffirmation of love is now rather a tragic appeal to return rather for the sake of his homeland that she presents to him as a wooden chest whose compartments are filled with an assortment of native herbs, cereals, flowers, and even pebbles, a tangible memento of his culture:

As he continues on his way looking back through the rearview mirror, Gītā is praying for him to turn back of his own accord only to see the caravan gone upon opening her eyes.  Mantra-repeating Sîtâ, who is born of and represents the fertile earth as the basis of community, is no longer a role assumed for the Râm Lîlâ festival but actually takes possession of her soul in an attitude of complete surrender and despair.

For all these never-ending exchanges of (love-) glances, Swades strikes me as a surprisingly 'unsentimental' (and very focused) movie (by Bollywood standards). Whereas their earlier separation, just for a day, had made him realize the depth of his feeling for her as a woman, returning to America to complete his business is suffered as an exile from his true calling of which Gītā has become but the emotional embodiment. Other than for Mohan's graphically depicted inner conflict even as (phase 2 of) his NASA project unfolds before our eyes as a roaring success of a satellite launch, nothing is shown of his returning to India, the resumption of their courtship, or even the hint of a marriage ceremony. Instead, we are shown Mohan wrestling with his 'champion' (pahelwan) friend, the postmaster (who had earlier played Râvana during Dashera), and quickly throwing his appreciative opponent to the ground before an admiring crowd that includes Gītā and Kaveriamma:

The primary significance of this scene is that it takes place on the stepped landings (ghâts) to the lake where stands the Râma temple of Charanpur, the village taking its name from the (imprints of the) feet of the steadfast Sîtâ and her loyal consort. The underlying symbolic strategy is, no doubt, the superposition of three (or four) unions: Mohan's with Gītā (and Kaveriamma), the 'now-returning Indian' (NRI) with his motherland, and of Râma with Sîtâ (played earlier also by Gâyatrî playing Gītā). The Light of Diwali shines forth with all its splendor in Swades only when (electric) power is fully restored to all through their own independent collective efforts and Râvana (who these days even dares to usurp the immortal prestige of Râma...) is uprooted from the heart to make way for the fulfillment of the Mahâtmâ's vision.

The waterside Charanpur temple is not the only anchor for the pervasive imprint of the Râmâyana and of Hindu mythology upon the narrative structure of Swades. Immediately after the first pañcâyat assembly, Mohan is taken on a tour of the temple ghâts, where he is shown the footprints of the model couple and learns the significance of the village name. Gītā pines fondly for her absent lover while sitting at the temple ghâts, which is where her Râmlîlâ is enacted, and silently urges him to follow her steps in dipping his feet in its cool waters. After her Râma defeats the village Râvana, his heroine urges the the soiled NRI to cleanse himself in its holy waters, and the rest of the (extended) family now throngs around to follow suite. Water and motherhood are indissociable in the Hindu imagination, which is why Gītā's first challenge to the conceited NRI is to name the five great rivers of the motherland, starting with the Gangâ (in the Rig-Vedic period, it would have been a different set of five rivers, starting with the Sarasvatî, as the most motherly of rivers). Most significantly, Kaveriamma is herself named after the next among the rivers, the Cauvery in South India (for non-Hindi audiences who might otherwise leave with the impression that this is a 'North Indian' movie). When the NRI arrives to be reunited with his spiritual mother, she is in the midst of massaging a new-born baby, symbolically assuming the role of midwife to this 'born-again' Indian (this 'connection' was immediately pointed out to me by Elizabeth, as she was watching the episode from the DVD over my shoulder). By drawing upon this symbolic repertory, Gowarikar has, perhaps unawares it seems to me, not only infused his contemporary epic with mythico-ritual overtones, but has resuscitated the sacrificial (yajña) ideology that (still) underlies the (subsequent bhakti elaborations of the) Râmâyana,

Does the camera repeatedly return to and linger on Gâyatrî's expressive eyes simply because they happen to be her most attractive physical feature? As windows to the soul, they reveal, of course, how Gītā perceives and emotionally responds to the world and those around her. Mohan naturally keeps scrutinizing her (often averted face and) gaze for tell-tale flickers that might betray the reciprocity, often unacknowledged, that constitutes the essence of love as an abiding bond (sthâyî-bhâva). But in peering, so tantalizingly, into the mirror of her 'soul' the lover also glimpses reflections of himself that distort his self-image for better or for worse. Much of (the pre-) 'court-ship' consists in attemptsby both parties in what amounts to a sort of romantic litigationto bridge the gap between the (self-) image (of the ego) and its refraction in the soul of the other, first by staking and countering claims and then, gradually, by falling in love with the transformation reflection taking shape (like Narcissus drowning in self-admiration).  It is Gītā's newfound fascination with her reflection in the otherwise familiar mirror that calls forth the joyous abandonment of self in her first love song (Sâwariyân), for the loveliness she begins to recognize therein is her enhanced image in the (now temporarily) absent eyes of her beloved Mohan. As Gītā begins to idolize Mohan as the flesh-and-blood hero of her most cherished dreams, the latter willy-nilly transforms himself into the very idol he sees in the eyes of his worshipper. Having ridiculed her for 'high-flown' ideals that would scare off any 'realistic' suitor, he finds himself repeating her very words to persuade others to acquiesce in their own uplifting ("are a woman's hands good only for ornamenting with henna?" etc.). In this 'win-win' resolution, Mohan has fallen in love not just with Gītā but with his own pre-figuration in the heartfelt prayers of this abandoned Sîtâ, and Gītā not just with Mohan but with the (self-) fulfillment of her dreams of service (sevā) through the agency of this long-exiled contemporary Râma. The lovers begin to realize that they never knew who they 'really' were (and could be) until mutual love compels them to recognize the self in the other. Bhoja's equation of the seeming opposites of irresistible Eros (śṛṅgāra) and confining ego-centrism (ahamkâra) is not simply a 'metaphysical' abstraction, but the 'tantric' resolution of the fundamental formula that governs all human striving and finds aesthetic codification in Sanskrit poetics and now in Bollywood.

Those who weren't able to follow the Hindi dialogue in the above easily accessible clips (that can be also viewed full screen) can still watch the entire movie (strongly recommended) with English subtitles for free (high bandwidth for $9.99) at

http://www.rajshri.com/movies/nowplaying.asp?band=low&fileID=moviesDrama191

Rajshri productions seems to be offering Swades (along with Pâyal kî Jhankâr...) for free due to its lackluster performance at the box-office among the target audience: American NRIs. These 'enlightened' progressives have faulted the director Gowarikar on especially 'intellectual' grounds, for not making a movie other than the one we just enjoyed. The film keeps dragging on because it's too 'didactic' (like our epics themselves?); Mohan touches on so many social ills (caste, corruption, overpopulation, poverty, inefficiency, superstition, etc.) that he's unable to do justice to any; the villagers exude a naive optimism that would rapidly evaporate in any NRI who stays back more than a couple of months; and so this list could go on interminably. Shahrukh Khan, who anticipated its commercial flop even while rehearsing, still identified himself with its noble message, and goes so far as to affirm "I think like my character in Swades [but] unfortunately I'm not in a position to change the way our society functions."  For me, Swades is simply a love-story, between a man and a woman, between an Indian and his motherland, between a Hindu and his (not just Râmâyana) tradition: when the 'sentiment' (rasa) runs deep, the problems, though analyzed similarly, are perceived very differently; when it spreads wide, it finds enough hands to start getting the job done. Perhaps the 'failure' is really that of its (over-?) 'sophisticated' audiences having lost touch with themselves?

Why have I dwelt even more insistently on these ephemeral and 'repetitive' (exchange of) glances than Abhinava has on the impersonal (we don't even know the names of his lovers let alone anything else about their relationships...) 'trivialities' of Amaru's over-active amorous imagination, whose each verse is treasured as a 'pearl' (muktaka) that when pried open through the techniques of 'suggestion' (dhvani) becomes an entire drama (nâTyâyitam) all unto itself? Because they capture a 'sensibility' (sahrdayatva = 'having a heart') that is shared by South Asians irrespective of religion, caste, class, and gender. The 'sentimental' tale of the fortuitous and crooked paths taken by Gītā's haughty riveting stare and condescendingly aloof smile to reach their final destination of unselfconsciously adoring gaze and contagious heartfelt laughter, is also the narrative of rediscovering the lost childhood love for one's motherland as embodying a distinct cultural sensibility. Curiously, this 'failed' movie now draws appreciative comments on YouTube from Bangladeshis, Nepalis, etc., even Pakistanis and Afghans, living abroad, in whom it evokes longings of return from exile. The 'patriotism' of Swades is not rooted in chauvinism nor even (a narrow and un-Gandhian) 'nationalism' but in a way of feeling about the world, social relationships, and oneself. Great works of art, composed for the future, are often not appreciated by (or even known to) their immediate audiences (in much the same way that Abhinava, who embodies such sensibility, is not mentioned in the works of his less illustrious contemporaries).

But the gaze (Sanskrit: darzan) is central not just to the unruly passions of lovers but also to the Hindu conception and architecture of the divine: we go to the temple not just to see the Invisible but to be 'seen' in turn. The 'servant of God' (deva-dâsî) asks her (both human and transcendent) Lord (in the Tamil movie, Thillana Mohanambal), "what is the secret of hiding and looking at me?" before going on to proclaim, "other than for me, who can (really) see You?" She begins, in fact, by asking "what's so beautiful (to your eyes)? this temple, or is it this (my statuesque) form?"  But isn't what we actually see in the temple a mere 'idol', perhaps the fetishistic object of even more self-deluding than the spontaneous 'worship' that these film-stars evoke in their starry-eyed fans? And how could the formless Absolute possibly (deign to) 'look at' the finitude of his transitory creatures? Just as the authentic lover exhibits the self to the beloved only to become this transfigured image mirrored in the eyes of the other, so too does the transcendent divinity 'objectified' in the (the temple that houses) idol divine image reflect back the hidden nature of the ultimate Self. Though there are no longer any human eyes looking back at (much less desiring) and following the (inner) movements of the (soul of the) worshipper, the latter is nevertheless voluntarily entering into a 'personalized' relationship with God that is structured by a shared framework of myth, ritual, and aesthetic sensibility. Insofar as this environment is cast 'faithfully' in the direct image of an authentic experience of the divine, such worship amounts, paradoxically, to a process of Self-discovery through interiorizing the Other! The life of the emotions (rasa) surrounding ritual worship becomes a medium for (re-) constructing one's (ultimate sense of) identity by interiorizing the object of devotion (bhakti). Just as the worldly lover becomes his/her own reflection, Abhinavagupta's 'doctrine of recognition' (pratyabhijñâ) reconciles gnostic experience of the Absolute within and the worship of a personal God without, through the non-dualistic formula of "externalizing the Self onto an (objectivized) image (that is not really separate)" (âtmânam eva jñeyî-kuryât, prthak sthiti jñeyam na tu): : the notion of the 'reflected image' (prati-bimba) is at the core of the 'doctrine of recognition' (pratyabhijñâ is also called pratibimba-vâda). So important is the gaze (darzan) to Hindu bhakti that the (otherwise formless deity) is often represented iconographically simply (and even very crudely) by its eyes!

What is the status of the ego-function (aham-kâra) within this understanding of bhakti? [to be complete]

So important is the gaze that the deity is often represented iconographically simply (and even crudely) by its eyes! For some 'pious' Muslims, to be 'seen' by a doe-eyed female, even if the rest of her face (and body) is wholly covered by the veil of the unknown, seems to be a terrifying experience (enough to provoke even more terrifying sanctions against the 'weaker' sex?). Many Hindu bhaktas would ask, however, how someone incapable of appreciating the light reflected in the eyes of a lover could possibly see the Light radiating from the Holy Book?

As this concoction (Abhinava's pânaka-rasa?) was still brewing before my mind's eye, it struck me, a couple of days back, that I owed it to my readersand to myselfto find out who Gâyatrî really is (e.g., what other films she has acted in...) before posting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayatri_Joshi

Had I known, as I now discover, that this modern Sîtâ, making such a magnificent debut in her first and only film, was actually a glamorous fashion model, who had first met Shahrukh while modeling together for a publicity stunt, and had to work very hard, with the help of so many people, to molt into the inspiring role cast for her by the director's eye, before getting married in real-life to become a mother,

http://www.hindisong.com/Interview/Interview.asp?ContentID=680&cID=1296

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CUZl6qwhbw

http://www.freewebs.com/gayatrijoshi/index.htm [Gayatri-Joshi-Fan-Club website]

http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/Gayatri-Joshi-Fan-Club/ [Gayatri-Joshi-Fan-Club Yahoo! Group]

http://www.hamaraphotos.com/gayatri_joshi_827.html & (etc.)

I'm not sure that "looking into the eyes" of Gītā would have exuded so much rasa and (not just desh-) bhakti, as it has till now...

Enjoy!

Sunthar

P.S. My apologies for this rather long 'didactic' post, but this was not just something I needed to "get off my chest" but also a public rehearsal for a dense synopsis of Indian aesthetics that I'm currently working on....

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar's comments on Shrinivas' post (07 Oct 2007) at

RE: What is Bhakti? Devotion (prem), serving/sharing (sevā), or partaking (bhaj)?

Subject: Love (śṛṅgāra), devotion (bhakti), and (community) service (sevā) in Swades ('homeland') - my footnote to Abhinava's aesthetics

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Friday, November 09, 2007 2:30 PM [Abhinava msg #4428]

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com; 'MeccaBenares'; Dia-Gnosis

Cc: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com; 'Indo-Roma'; Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com; Hindu-Buddhist

[The French email (citations from my analysis were already in English) to Paul Paumier has been translated here into English. Click on the link to the original post at Abhinava forum for the French version]

Friends,

Diwali greetings to all!

Along with a follow-up to my review yesterday of (not just the 'aesthetics' of) Swades, which is now available at

http://www.svabhinava.org/abhinava/Dialogues/ShrngaraBhaktiSeva-frame.php

As you can see from the revised passages below, I've added a few details to further demonstrate just how much of this beautiful, and still relevant movie, we may miss even after multiple viewings...

All the best!

Sunthar

-----Original Message-----

Subject: VeillEUR : INDE / DIWALI / THEATRE / CINEMA / "The science of love: look into the eyes" of Gītā (Gâyatrî Joshi) in the 'homeland' (Swades)

From: Paul Paumier

Sent: Friday, November 09, 2007 3:08 PM

To: veilleur-inde@listes.univ-rouen.fr; veilleur-lettres@listes.univ-rouen.fr; veilleur-anglais@listes.univ-rouen.fr; veilleur-religionshs@listes.univ-rouen.fr; veilleur-philosophie@listes.univ-rouen.fr

Bonjour Paul,

Thanks for all these delicious treats for Diwali that you are sharing so generously with your readers!

I'd like to invite all of you to watch the village theatrical representation of Sîtâ's redemption in the film Swades (on the relation between NRIs and India)

--------------

We may now go on to enjoy (Gītā playing the role of) the ascetic SÎtâ, spurning the advances of a rustic Râvana (played by the postmaster), but through the eyes of her virtuous husband Râma (or of the love-stricken hero Mohan who interrupts the performance?):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2PH1a2fVew ((#16: starts at 05:28 continues into next clip)

An auspicious sight indeed on this Diwali to bear witness, once again, to the redeeming of Sîtâ's honor and the (re-) establishment of dharma (note how real and present all this is to the villagers)!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYGuU2nq4oE (#17)

For all these never-ending exchanges of often ambiguous (love-) glances, Swades strikes me as a surprisingly 'unsentimental' (and very focused) movie (by Bollywood standards). Other than for Mohan's graphically depicted inner conflict even as (phase 1 of) his NASA project unfolds before our eyes as a roaring success of a satellite launch, nothing at all is shown of his actually returning to India, the resumption of their courtship, or even the hint of a marriage ceremony. Instead, we are shown Mohan wrestling with his 'champion' (pahelwan) friend, the postmaster (who had earlier played Râvana during Dashera), and quickly throwing his appreciative opponent to the ground before an admiring crowd that includes Gītā and Kaveriamma:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNh4b4oV5M8 (#22: ends at 04:20)

The primary significance of the scene is that it takes place on the stepped landings (ghâts) to the lake where stands the Râma temple of Charanpur, the village taking its name from the (imprints of the) feet of the steadfast Sîtâ and her consort. The underlying symbolic strategy is, no doubt, the superposition of three (or four) unions: Mohan's with Gītā (and Kaveriamma), the 'now-returning Indian' NRI) with his motherland, and of Râma with Sîtâ (played earlier also by Gâyatrî playing Gītā). The Light of Diwali is restored in Swades only when electricity is fully restored for all through their own independent collective efforts and the Râvana (who these days even dares to usurp the immortal prestige of Râma...) is uprooted from the heart to make way for the fulfillment of the Mahâtmâ's vision. 

-------------

If you'd like to explore further 'intellectually' this taste (rasa) of shared joy, you may read my review of Swades from the perspective of Abhinavagupta's aesthetics.

http://www.svabhinava.org/abhinava/Dialogues/ShrngaraBhaktiSeva-frame.php

My apologies for not resorting to French but most of my readers are Anglophone :-(

Happy festivities!

!Sunthar


Subject: Between Gayatri's Bollywood persona and Sîtâ's devotion to Râm (-râjya): Gītā's lesson in the "science of love" in Swades

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Saturday, November 10, 2007 1:34 PM [Abhinava msg #4429]

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com; 'MeccaBenares'; 'Dia-Gnosis'

Cc: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com; 'Indo-Roma'; Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com; 'Hindu-Buddhist'


I am really proud of Swades. It is a fantastic product. It is touching so many people in so many ways. If people like it they speak of it very passionately and that gives me goose bumps. We worked hard and that it has touched people it was gratifying. When I saw the film I was concentrating more on myself because it was the first time that I have acted or danced or even delivered a dialogue. It was a shock and pleasure to see myself and there was a nostalgic feel because I kept recalling how and where each scene was shot, etc. It becomes a very nostalgic feeling. I must say I came out thrilled that the film had turned out so amazing. You can’t call it preachy. If you understand the message in the film you wont find it preachy. It’s the nature of the story. People have received this message very well.

Gayatri Joshi (movie interview)

After directing the epic-scaled, Academy Award nominated period drama “Lagaan”, Ashutosh Gowarikar settles for simplicity. Shahrukh Khan finally sheds off his star persona, enacting a refreshingly subtle, but powerful performance thanks to the director’s sensitive storytelling. Though he introduces his protagonist as a pragmatist, Gowarikar carefully imbibes Mohan Bhargava with the emotional capacity to act passionately within rational means. As was witnessed in “Lagaan”, Gowarikar extends that rationality and articulation to every supporting character, developing each one with the aim of influencing his protagonist’s goal. One such character, Gita inspires Mohan through her own example, to lead and create change. The serenely beautiful Gayatri Joshi makes a classy and confident debut in a strong, well-written role carrying herself with unassuming grace and poise. Humor is skillfully played with, extracted out of the village-folk’s innocence. [...] Gowarikar’s writing is strongly focused, characterization once again, proving to be his forte. Like “Lagaan”, “Swades” too tells the story of good triumphing over evil. This time however, evil has no face but is rather equated with regressive ideology. The enemy lies within in the form of passive acceptance of injustice by those who suffer it and ignorance by those who witness it. Mohan Bhargava helps Charanpur’s villagers identify this enemy, teaching them to fight it, while at the same time, learning from them, how to fight the enemy within himself. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics effectively ponder over these emotions through powerful musical interludes such as “Yeh Jo Des Hai Mera” and “Pal Pal Hai Bhaari.” [...] Despite the negligible technical flaws, Gowarikar succeeds as a storyteller because his script has its heart just at the right place. A simple but inspirational experience, “Swades” must be seen by every Indian, not to be educated about his or her country’s problems, but rather to be reminded about a responsibility to act and make a difference. Patriotism has a new face.

Vijay Venkataraman, Review of Swades (Planet Bollywood)

Friends,

Realizing that I had not sufficiently highlighted the core 'scientific' theme of Gâyatrîs "full-frontal smiling gaze" nor the continuing 'mythical' hold of Sîtâ over the movie, I have filled out the relevant passages so as to also bring out the contrast.

What if Mohan had attempted to persuade Gītā to accompany him back to America by insisting that Sîtâ would have rather followed Râma into exile? Is it simply an unseemly desire for 'independence' that makes his wife-to-be stay behind?

Here's where it's important to recall that Sîtâ is actually, already in the Râmâyana, the very embodiment of the prosperity of the community as rooted in the native land: had Gītā crossed the bridge in pursuit she'd no longer be Sîtâ...

Makes sense?

Sunthar

----------------------

An auspicious sight on this Diwali to bear witness, once again, to the redeeming of Sîtâ's honor and the (re-) establishment of dharma (note how real and present all this is to the villagers)! [...see initial post for complete text...] Mantra-repeating Sîtâ, who is born of and represents the fertile earth as the basis of community, is no longer a role assumed for the Râm Lîlâ festival but actually takes possession of her soul in an attitude of complete surrender and despair. For all these never-ending exchanges of (love-) glances, Swades strikes me as a surprisingly 'unsentimental' (and very focused) movie (by Bollywood standards). Whereas their earlier separation, just for a day, had made him realize the depth of his feeling for her as a woman, returning to America to complete his business is suffered as an exile from his true calling of which Gītā has become but the emotional embodiment.

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As this concoction (Abhinava's pânaka-rasa?) was still brewing before my mind's eye, it struck me, a couple of days back, that I owed it to my readersand to myselfto find out who Gâyatrî really is (e.g., what other films she has acted in...) before posting: [...see initial post...] I'm not sure that "looking into the eyes" of Gītā would have exuded so much rasa and (not just desh-) bhakti, as it has till now...

--------------------


Subject: Good taste, bad taste, 'Hindu' taste: caste segregation, transgressive modernity, and the healing power of Bollywood in Swades

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 9:03 PM [Abhinava msg #4440]

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com; 'Dia-Gnosis'

Cc: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com; 'Indo-Roma'; Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com; 'Hindu-Buddhist'; 'MeccaBenares'

[The post below is also a contribution, more from the 'psychological' (as opposed to 'political') angle to our svAbhinava digest on

"Caste, racism, assimilation, and multiculturalism: the politics of acculturation"
]

Powerful emotions are engendered through the conflict of values and their resolution; the personal values of the spectator unavoidably color one’s perception, impeding or facilitating this identification with the protagonists so crucial to the evocation of the intended rasa[...]  Classical Sanskrit theater thus reflects a convergence of aesthetics and ethics: a traditional Indian exposed to such cultural pedagogy from all sides would often act appropriately because this was not just morally right but also a matter of good taste. [...] The permanent tension and possible conflict between the socio-religious norms governing human behavior and the imaginative exploitation of the latter for procuring public delight is explicitly discussed by subsequent rhetoricians and the verdict is almost invariably in favor of curtailing artistic liberties. But is 'propriety' (aucitya) a moral ('social') or an aesthetic category or, rather, symptomatic of the 'confused' overlapping of the two domains? Though morality and art constitute distinct domains, - each with its own practices, rules, and rationality - they are also intertwined through their very nature, particularly in the context of normative theater. Over and above the inevitable conflicts over where (external) boundaries are to be drawn, the poetics of suggestion often revolves around the (at least imaginative) transgression of social norms, the connoisseur’s ability to appreciate their validity even while sympathetically entertaining the possibility (and even likelihood) of their circumvention (if not suspension). The uncertain and ambivalent status of rasâbhâsa with regard to 'good' and 'bad' taste is no doubt symptomatic of a larger cultural 'project' where the (rigid external) observance of (binding socio-religious) norms is gradually subsumed within a generalized aesthetic sensibility that is keenly attuned to (the 'irregularities' of) particular context and individual circumstance. Born of and appealing to a highly diverse society - where each (sub-) caste is (self-) regulated by its distinct and often conflicting norms - 'Hindu' taste is the product of constant (re-) 'negotiation'. [ad. notes #47-52]

Sunthar V., "Towards an Integral Appreciation of Abhinavagupta's Aesthetics of Rasa" (Evam 2006)

The next (literally) starry-eyed episode is the rare screening of a romantic movie that the whole village, including the untouchable families and children, has gathered around to watch from both sides of the large screen that separates the high from the low. The movie ("The union of memories") is about (the songs and sentiments surrounding) a marriage celebration, and naturally the wider intrigue includes Mohan and Gītā exchanging furtive glances (while the heroine sings: "you've stolen my heart" in this very manner) during the sensitive sequences: Bollywood today, like the classical Sanskrit theater in its own time, draws upon a shared emotional sensibility even while reinforcing and generalizing the same through providing a common idiom and frame of reference that transcends barriers of language and caste: [...] When the electricity fails at the lyrical highpoint, Mohan saves the night by spontaneously improvising a public (including adult) education class in recognizing (and reaching up for) the constellations to the tune of A. R. Rehman's score ("this star, that star, each star"). As he begins to hop back and forth between the opposing sides of the screen to ensure maximum audience participation, the postmaster simply takes down this barrier while everyone, including the village elders, look on with appreciative consternation at the illuminating antics of this 'foreigner' (NRI). Instead of indulging in accusatory rhetoric, he 'simply' points them towards a common goal to which they could all put their shoulders.

Swades: Gītā's side-glances at Mohan watching Bollywood movie (YouTube)

What happens in the modern context when we are faced with diametrically opposed notions of propriety: should the (high and low among the) village audience enjoying a Bollywood movie be separated by the screen (of untouchability)?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5re3SKyetps [spliced, remixed, and close-captioned for the blind by yours truly :-) ]

What's important to bear in mind while enjoying the above clip from Swades, is that the sentiments (rasa) are shared by all regardless of caste (age, gender, station, or religion) and serve to mitigate and even to dissolve (partly and temporarily) the less visible social barriers. Given the internal diversity of the community and the collective perception of organic unity, continual (re-) negotiation must have been central to the dynamic vitality of the traditional organization. This is readily apparent even from a ritual perspective, as in the community festivals around (the headman assuming the role of) the king, where the untouchable typically plays a crucial role (as in the Pachali Bhairab Jatra studied by Elizabeth).

Inheriting the sensibility of the classical Sanskrit theater, cinematography here takes the tension between art and morality to its logical conclusion by appealing to our 'good taste' in 'resolving' the contemporary ethical dilemma of Swades: instead of (overtly) 'politicizing' the 'big screen' to squawk incessantly and cheeply (like " headless chickens" across the Internet?) for or against caste discrimination, Gowarikar seeks to transform the Indian sensitivity to differences from within.

A happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends!

Sunthar

P.S. Those who can't follow the Hindi dialogue can now view all the relevant clips with English subtitles...all similarly remixed to illustrate our hermeneutics of love, devotion, and service in Swades:

http://www.svabhinava.org/abhinava/Dialogues/ShrngaraBhaktiSeva-frame.php
 
 

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar V.

  "Re: The Wonder That Was Caste [why waste our time with 'hyperbolic' repetitions of the obvious?]" (Nov 2, 2007)
 
"Multiculturalism, caste, universalism and the survival of communal diversity: a belated Indian Thanksgiving? (Dec 9, 2002) ]
 
 

Subject: Swades: from the courtship of the eyes (śṛṅgāra) to falling in love with My reflection (bhakti)

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Monday, November 26, 2007 2:21 PM [Abhinava msg #4444]

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com; 'MeccaBenares'; 'Dia-Gnosis'

Cc: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com; 'Indo-Roma'; Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com; 'Hindu-Buddhist'

[The post below is also a contribution, more from the 'psychological' (as opposed to 'political') angle to our svAbhinava digest on

"The Politics of Iconophilia: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and the problem of representing God" - svAbhinava dialogue
]

Gte-to daleko [Irina's Russian song rendering homage to Swades, especially to the courtship of the eyes)

What you just said                                                                             tumne yeh kya kah diya
has dispelled the darkness from my nights                                             merii raato.n ke a.ndhere jaise DHal gaye
it's only after meeting you I have learned what dreams are                      tumse hi to milke mai.n ne jaana hai sapne kya hote hai.n
it's only after meeting you I have learned how a heart is lost                   tumse hi to milke mai.n ne jaana hai dil kaise khote hai.n
dearer to me than the moonbeam                                                       chaa.ndanii se bhii pyaarii mujhko
is the shadow of your eyelashes                                                          in palko.n ki chhaao.n (chha.nvo.n)
you have created in my heart                                                             tumne basaaya mere dil me.n
a village of dreams                                                                             ek sapnon ka gaaon (gaa.nv)
[...snipped...]
how the days sparkle and the nights are scented                                 ab jaise din chamke raate.n mahakii hai 
now that you are my partner                                                             tum ho jo hamraahii
without you I was incomplete                                                             tum bin jaise mai.n thii adhuurii 
now I'm complete                                                                              puurii ho gayii huu.n mai.n
now I have got the whole world                                                          tumko paake jag paaya hai     
but I have lost myself                                                                        par khud kho gayii huu.n mai.n
now we both realize what life is all about                                             ham dono.n ne ab jaana jiine ka matlab kya hai
what life was like and what it's like now!                                               pahale kya thii ab kya hai yeh zi.ndagii
now we both realize how wonderful the world is                                  ham dono.n ne ab jaana duniya kitnii pyaarii hai
we have received so much happiness                                                   paayii kitnii saarii hai hamne khushii
Look....                                                                                            dekho na....

Dekho na (extract from love-song that accompanies first full confessions of Mohan and Gītā)

Does the camera repeatedly return to and linger on Gâyatrî's expressive eyes simply because they happen to be her most attractive physical feature? As windows to the soul, they reveal, of course, how Gītā perceives and emotionally responds to the world and those around her. Mohan naturally keeps scrutinizing her (often averted face and) gaze for tell-tale flickers that might betray the reciprocity, often unacknowledged, that constitutes the essence of love as an abiding bond (sthâyî-bhâva). But in peering, so tantalizingly, into the mirror of her 'soul' the lover also glimpses reflections of himself that distort his self-image for better or for worse. Much of (the pre-) 'court-ship' consists in attempts - by both parties in what amounts to a sort of romantic litigation - to bridge the gap between the (self-) image (of the ego) and its refraction in the soul of the other, first by staking and countering claims and then, gradually, by falling in love with the transformed and magnified reflection (like Narcissus drowning in the pool of self-admiration).  It is Gītā's newfound fascination with her reflection in the otherwise familiar mirror that calls forth the joyous abandonment of self in her first love song (Sâwariyân), for the loveliness she begins to recognize therein is her enhanced portrait in the (now temporarily absent) eyes of her beloved Mohan. As Gītā begins to idolize Mohan as the flesh-and-blood hero of her most cherished dreams, the latter willy-nilly transforms himself into the very idol he sees in the eyes of his worshipper. Having ridiculed her for 'high-flown' ideals that would scare off any 'realistic' suitor, he finds himself repeating her very words to persuade others to acquiesce in their own uplifting ("are a woman's hands good only for ornamenting with henna?" etc.). In this 'win-win' resolution, Mohan has fallen in love not just with Gītā but with his own pre-figuration in the heartfelt prayers of this abandoned Sîtâ, and Gītā not just with Mohan but with the (self-) fulfillment of her dreams of service (sevā) through the agency of this long-exiled contemporary Râma. The lovers begin to realize that they never knew who they 'really' were (and could be) until mutual love compels them to recognize the self in the other. Bhoja's equation of the seeming opposites of (irresistible) eros (śṛṅgāra) and (constricted) ego-centrism (ahamkâra) is not simply a 'metaphysical' abstraction, but the 'tantric' resolution of the fundamental formula that governs all human striving, its aesthetic codification in Sanskrit poetics is now displayed universally on the Bollywood (and our computer) screen.

But the gaze (Sanskrit: darzana) is central not just to the unruly passions of lovers but also to the Hindu conception and architecture of the divine: we go to the temple not just to see the Invisible but to be 'seen' in turn. The 'servant of God' (deva-dâsî) asks her (both human and transcendent) Lord (in the Tamil movie, Thillana Mohanambal), "what is the secret of hiding and looking at me?" before going on to proclaim, "other than for me, who can (really) see You?" She begins, in fact, by asking "what's so beautiful (to Your eyes)? this temple, or is it this (my statuesque) form?"  But isn't what we actually see in the temple a mere 'idol', perhaps the fetishistic object of even more self-deluding than the spontaneous 'worship' that these film-stars evoke in their starry-eyed fans? And how could the formless Absolute possibly (deign to) 'look at' the finitude of its transitory creatures? Just as the authentic lover exhibits the self to the beloved only to become this transfigured image mirrored in the eyes of the other, so too does the transcendent God 'objectified' in the (temple that houses the) divine image reflect back the hidden nature of the ultimate Self. Though there are no longer any human eyes looking back at (much less desiring) and following the (inner) movements of the (soul of the) worshipper, the latter is nevertheless voluntarily entering into a 'personalized' relationship with God that is structured by a shared framework of myth, ritual, and aesthetic sensibility. Insofar as this transforming environment is cast 'faithfully' as the direct 'reflection' of an authentic experience of the divine, such worship amounts, paradoxically, to a process of Self-discovery through assimilating the Other. The life of the emotions (rasa) surrounding ritual worship becomes a medium for (re-) constructing one's (ultimate sense of) identity by interiorizing the object of devotion (bhakti). Just as the worldly lover becomes his/her own reflection, Abhinavagupta's 'doctrine of recognition' (pratyabhijñâ) reconciles gnostic experience of the Absolute within and the worship of a personal God without, through the non-dualistic formula of "externalizing the Self onto an (objectivized) image (that is not really separate)" (âtmânam eva jñeyî-kuryât, prthak sthiti jñeyam na tu): the notion of the 'reflected image' (prati-bimba) is at the core of the Pratyabhijñâ (which is also called pratibimba-vâda). So important is the gaze (darzana) to Hindu bhakti that the (otherwise formless) deity is often represented iconographically simply (and often very crudely) by its eyes!

Sunthar V. "Science of Love: look into Gītā's eyes in the Homeland" (work-in-progress)

 


Friends,

I originally decided to study classical literature for my BA at BHU simply because it seemed that this option would plunge me headlong into the intricacies of the Sanskrit language that would be the precious key to understanding Indian philosophy. So you may well imagine my consternation on having to read, memorize, and even learn to enjoy introductory verses like this little gem:

Look upon me again [this time with favor? - SV], oh young maiden!     [drSTim dehi punar bâle]
you with [such beautiful] eyes elongated like petals of the lotus,         [kamalâyata-locane]
It's well-known in this world since age immemorial                             [zrûyate hi purâ loke]
That the antidote for poison is poison!                                               [viSasya viSam auSadham]

Enough to strike a young heart, steeped in the sublime imagination and personalized world of [English] 'Romantic' literature [Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, etc.], with the mind-boggling 'contradiction' of Sanskrit erudites, steeped in the loftiest abstractions of the Vedânta, indulging in such 'trivial' celebrations of silly adolescent eyes (not to mention heavy hips and budding breasts...). Though Amaru's love-verses are far more sophisticated, the underlying aesthetics is the same.

But after cowering, with Mohan, in the unflinching face of Gītā's (aloof condescending smile and) riveting stare:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woZvdXuXS-o

we can well appreciate the intoxicating exhilaration of being finally graced by a frontal full moon smile that blossoms from the heart:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzSK_SaeBLY

What director Gowarikar has done is to fill out the extended interval between the (here more than just two) doses of poison with much moral, intellectual, and spiritual substance, by carefully weaving an entire narrative of idealism, patriotism, and reform into the tortuous evolution of the love-gaze, whose aesthetics still remains encapsulated as it were in the above 'silly' verse (that actually lends itself to unfolding into an unending release of Bollywood movies...).

Enjoy!

Sunthar

Sunthar


[The post below is also a contribution, more from the 'psychological' (as opposed to 'sociological') angle to our svAbhinava digests on

"The Politics of Iconophilia: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and the problem of representing God" and

"The Politics of the female body - Part I: Nudity, Bollywood, and the Hindu Eros"
]

[See] how gracefully she walks, this beauty adorning herself...
just like lightning descending from the heavens!
Applying bindi of concentrated moonlight to her forehead,
decorating the parting of her hair with stardust,
smearing her eye-lashes with the darkness of the night,
displaying mehndi designs of her heart's desires,
[see] her pirouette as she sways by with lilting gait.
How coyly she dazzles, this beauty adorning herself...
just like lightning descending from the heavens!

[Kar singâr [zrngâr] aise calat sundarî...
jaise gagan se girat bijurî!
Când kî mâthî bindiyâ lagâî,
târon se apne bâl (= mâng) sajâî,
shyâm rât kâ kâjal Dâlâ,
man umang kî mehndi racâî,
laja-cam-caka pag dharat sundarî.
Kar singâr aise calat sundarî...
jaise gagan se girat bijurî
!]

Kar zrngâr aise calat sundarî - 'Odissi' dance competition in womanly grace of self-adorning natural beauty (YouTube)

Listen to the night whispering,              [ kahatii hai raat kya ]
the night has brought                           [ raat hai leke aa'ii  ]
so many unknown desires                      [ kitne armaan anjaane ]
it tells so many stories                          [ kahatii hai sau afsaane ]
and raptly I listen...                              [sunta huu.n main ]
the night is stretching its limbs              [ raat ne lii a.ngaRaa'ii ]
mysterious words are spoken                 [ anhonii baat hai hotii ]
like scattered pearls                             [ bikhare hai.n jaise motii ]
I gather them up                                  [ chunta huu.n mai.n ]
what you just said                                [ tumne yeh kya kah diya ]
has lit up my eyes like a flame!               [ merii aankho.n me.n diye hain jaise jal gaye ]

Dekho na (extract from love-song that accompanies first full confessions of Mohan and Gītā)

Though Gītā welcomes Mohan as a guest into her village home, she maintains a cool distance that is guarded especially by her reserved and averted gaze. She not only doesn't approve of cocky better-than-thou NRIs, but is also wary of this rival for the affection of Kaveriamma. Mohan retires to spend the first night in his caravan where he continues to work late on his NASA project. He inadvertently notices Gītā at her table engrossed in schoolwork unawares that he's peering at her curiously through the window: he catches her disengaging into a pensively languorous mood. A 'voyeuristic' scene that might be construed as a very restrained and sublimated psychological echo of the 'languid maiden' (âlasya-kanyâ) of Sanskrit erotics, who is all the more enchanting for relapsing into a natural unselfconscious state (the director's intention becomes even more apparent upon watching the discarded scene entitled "Mohan Falling in Love" when he wakes up indoors to the soft humming of Gītā watering the potted plants after her bath). The friendly acknowledgement from his courteous eyes, when she eventually catches him looking, is rebuffed with a blank indifferent stare before she switches off the light abruptly to spurn his intrusion into her privacy. However, the next morning she can't avoid the intricate eye-communication through which he forces her into unwilling complicity in his bad habit of smoking, as he silently urges her to hide the incriminating cigarette pack from being discovered by Kaveriamma. His thankful nod before being obliged to respond to the rustic amazement at his well-equipped house on wheels is, this time, greeted with a haughty upward turning away of the gaze that seems to be saying: "I'm not impressed, nor even really interested. So why don't you stop making eyes at me once and for all?" After all, even the God with the most 'captivating' (mohana) eyes ever seen still has to make such great efforts and endure much pain before the feminine soul willingly bares all to his relentless gaze!

Sunthar V. "Science of Love: look into Gītā's eyes in the Homeland" (work-in-progress)

Just as a dancer, having exhibited herself to the spectator,
desists from dancing, so too does prakriti (creative principle = woman) desist,
having manifested herself to the Self.
Without deriving benefits, this versatile servant [of God? deva-dâsî]
serves unselfishly in multifarious ways
the purposes of the Self-centered Man (puruSa = ultimate witness),
who has no (natural) qualities (guNa) whatever.
Nothing, in my opinion, is more delicate than the woman (prakriti).
Having once become aware of having been beheld,
she does not again expose herself to the gaze of the Self.

Sânkhya Kârikâs (xvii) of Îzvara-krishna

Have our Sanskrit poets and Hindu sculptors lavished so much attention on the 'languid maiden' (âlasya-kanyâ) simply because they were in love with the feminine figure and its delicate gestures to the extent of richly indulging its varied (self-) conceits: why are so many temple walls adorned with women wholly engrossed in adorning themselves from head to foot? They are spied upon in their natural state and caught unawares in various stages of (un-) dress, even engaged in water-sports  (jala-krîDâ) while bathing: what's so appealing about the âlasya-kanyâ, even when she seems to be narcissistically decorating her own reflection in the mirror, is that she's neither trying to put on a show nor veiling her inner mood from the public gaze. These celestial beauties (apsaras) have so captivated the Hindu imagination that their stylized postures and subtlest graces are not only depicted in classical, even sacred, dances by equally captivating doe-eyed earthly women, but also superimposed on primordial nature herself. The night shedding her darkness, for example, is compared through intricate and suggestive figures of speech to a lovely mistress, whose star-studded garments are slipping away of their own accord as she is embraced by her impetuous lover, the moon. The damsel is depicted in the Odissi dance above as if Nature herself were ornamenting (śṛṅgāra) her limbs in a languorously amorous mood: the lilting gait of these dallying women strikes the heart so suddenly causing our own eyes to flash wide open in wonder as at lightning descending (like the apsaras themselves) from heaven. So too does Mohan's love-song compare Gītā's confession to Night baring the deepest secrets of her heart. The celebrated instance of "rosy-fingered" Dawn baring her breasts shamelessly, like a seductive dancer to her lover (note how these youthful dancers, coyly but insistently, compare, with suggestive hand-gestures, the gentle undulation of their gait to the rounded fullness of their breasts...), is enshrined in no less a scripture than the Rig-Veda!

But what justification is there for assimilating Gītā to this classic portrait when she is merely stretching her limbs a little as she emerges from her late-night engrossment in her schoolwork and does not seem to be regarding herself in the least, even inwardly? In the omitted scene, Mohan is half-awakened from his sleep in Gītā's courtyard only to see her dream-like, wet hair all bundled up in a towel, and can't help ogling at this unexpected treat (for fear that she might disappear if he wakes up). In the amusing cat-and-mouse interaction that follows, she soon realizes that his eyes are glued, following her everywhere, though he feigns sleep (with his head levitating above the pillow...). Her incredulous then sarcastically amused look perhaps betrays just a tinge of pleasure at being an object so worthy of her adversary's attention. What is so attractive is indeed her state of nature (just after a bath) that is highlighted even further by the nurturing of the plants within. In fact, she modestly desists from the unwitting exhibition shortly after apprehending the voyeur behind the closed eyelids. Director Gowarikar had judiciously discarded this intimate glimpse into what household life in unavoidable proximity might have been like, and replaced it rather with the more antagonistic duel of the eyes from and in the caravan. Gītā's beauty is all the more striking when its physical basis is left understated, and is instead bolstered by a personality rendered appealing by its sheer dedication to her chosen vocation and coupled with a self-sufficiency born of intelligence and education. The sacrosanct Hindu tradition of (male) 'voyeurism' (bhoktâ = 'enjoyer') has not been negated, rather its prized object is now being 'enjoyed' (bhogyâ, in Abhinava's aesthetic and tantric terminology, means 'woman') as much, if not even more, for qualities and accomplishments that were once the privileged fief of learned and 'gifted' courtesans. Conversely, as this modern Râmâyana draws to a close with Mohan's departure, Gītā's eyes no longer speak the language, however camouflaged and unwitting, of seduction but of love's self-abandon elevated to a quasi-religious devotion. She gradually desists from attempting to charm her 'charmer' (Mohan) even through her lively intellect and the moral force of her personality that constitute her (more than just second-) nature. By the time Mohan returns to settle down in Caranpur, he has already 'seen through' Gītā, has worked through his passionate attachment to the woman of his (waking) dreams, whoinstead of blinding him vainly with her beautyhas helped him come to grips with his deeper self.

Whereas the (dream-vision of the) self-adorning nymph of yore, unaware of her graceful movements being intently observed, was thereby rendered all the more beautiful, the dancers competing to depict her on the stage now are craving for and basking in the adulation of a huge and cheering hall of spectators (not to mention ourselves looking on).  Does this imply that the âlasya-kanyâ, as opposed to her flesh-and-blood impersonator, was not 'self-conscious': but why then bother to heighten one's natural (feminine) charm so elaborately if the covetous (male) gaze had not been interiorized to the point of being omnipresent? On the other hand, if the dancers were 'self-conscious', in the typical sense of being intruded upon by their sense of personal identity, they would not be able to perform so well by losing themselves completely and now effortlessly in the rigorous discipline of the dance. This show has indeed been staged for the delectation of not just the human spectators but, first and foremost, as an offering to the 'Lord of the World' (Jagan-nâtha), whose idol has remained in the background witnessing all the inner movements of these embodied souls: his pupils light up at the very beginning and very end of the dance, during which interval he mostly withdraws into the darkness like a hidden voyeur surveying the entire spectacle in which we ourselves are unwitting actors (who imagine ourselves to be spectators). Indeed, the bright-eyed idol appears to be contained within the lighted orb of a giant all-seeing pupil. Such dances are still regularly performed in complete privacy solely for the eyes and enjoyment of the Lord of the World by his faithful 'servants' (deva-dâsî) at his Orissan temple in Puri. If (feminine) Nature (prakriti) stands apart as distinct from the (masculine) Self (puruSa)—as claimed by the Sânkhya, at least in its late post-Buddhist reworkings—why do all these (no longer just Hindu) women continue to dance, now even on YouTube, and why do we (no longer just Indians) persist in watching, again and again, with unceasing fascination (camat-kâra) as if we are being yet again struck with lightning for the very first time? Elevated to the supreme matrix of creative energy (zakti), the Female (prakriti) in Abhinava's Trika doctrine is no longer distinct from the passive (ziva) Male (puruSa) but constitutes the innate 'reflexivity' (praty-avamarza) of Self-Consciousness.

Having inherited, transformed, and generalized the aesthetic sensibility of the world of classical Sanskrit, Swades dramatizes before our eyes the manner in which the mass appeal of Bollywood may be harnessed to facilitate our (not just male :-) ability to 'see through' the woman, not so that she may retire in shame to the most domesticated corner of the home (-land) but assume her rightful place beside the man to be gazed at and enjoyed in all her (not just physical) beauty...

Enjoy!


[Skeleton of message yet to be posted...]

Starting in haste in her eagerness,
speeding back through inborn bashfulness,
Again urged forward with those familiar coaxings of her kinswomen,
Seized with trepidation before her husband on her first meeting,
With sprouting horripilation as she was embraced by the laughing Hara;
May this fair Gaurî be ever favorable to you! [invocatory verse to Harsha's love-comedy, Ratnâvalî]

[266>] It is the mention of the eagerness (autsukya) and the bashfulness (hrî) that throws into sharp contrast the hastening forth and the turning back and makes them appear mutually incongruous for, in fact, both these conflicting transitory emotions arise from the single underlying abiding emotion (sthâyin) of love (rati). Similarly, her terror in the presence of Hara [Shiva], also arising from deep love, is only half the reason for her sprouting horripilation. The hairs standing on end is also symptomatic of intense and indescribable bliss and this meaning, this transitory emotion of joy (harsha), although unmentioned by name, is clearly suggested by her being embraced by Hara while in this condition. The sprouting horripilation plays a role analogous to the verbal pun in jokes: it simultaneously reveals fear (mentioned) and bliss (unmentioned but evident) and the incongruity of the two evokes hāsya [humor] in the onlooker. What sprouted as fear no doubt blossomed as bliss. If the transitory trepidation (sâdhvasa) had not been mentioned there would have been no bisociation [split perception] centering on the manifestation of horripilation. That all these reactions of Gaurî are seen in an incongruous light by Hara is indicated by his laughter and thereby the connoisseur (sahRdaya) too is induced to focus his attention, through the eyes of Hara himself as it were, on the presented incongruities. Another incongruity is that her very attempts to conceal her overpowering love only reveal it all the more [<266 - 267>] forcefully and renders her all the more charming as a determinant (vibhâva) of love (śṛṅgāra). [...] But why is this an example of “love with humor as ancillary” (sahāsya-śṛṅgāra) and not of humor itself as arising from the “semblance of love” (zRngârâbhâsa)? Because all the transitory emotions, consequent reactions (anubhâvas), and determinants are suggestive of love (rati), and do not contradict the latter as in the case of Râvana’s love for Sîtâ. The incongruity is only between the transitory emotions (fear and bliss) and between the consequents (hastening and retreating), and the hāsya produced with these as determinants (vibhâvas) is itself a transitory emotion of śṛṅgāra, for its constituents are all arising from love. Further, it should be noted that, though both Gaurî and Hara are receptacles (âzrayas) of mutual love, it is only Hara who is the âzraya of hâsa. [<267]

Sunthar V., "The role of hāsya (humor) in shringâra (the erotic sentiment)," Abhinavagupta's Conception of Humor (PhD thesis, 1983)


Kathak dance depicting Krishna harassing Râdhâ in the movie Jhanak Jhanak Pâyal Bâje ("The Jingling of Anklets") - YouTube

[This is awesome--I haven't heard this bhajan in a while--I love the video for Meera--It's soo cute!! - NeilsNimkar] [Krishna apparently doesn't leave his devotees here...pulls her dress? Then, why is the camera on her lips, who has bad intentions here, Krishna or viewer? This is the reason Hinduism is going down the drain, mingle religion and sex. - yenchant] [This is the first time in the film we see adult Meera. I believe the director is trying to establish that she's blossomed into a beautiful young woman, but hasn't forsaken her devotion to Krishna. Both these facts are important later in the story when she is forced to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom. - godofpathos] [Thanks for the clarification. I do hate Bollywood and any movie telling me the story of Meera or Krishna. They would rather keep themselves to shaky the booty movies with Madhuri or Ash. Whenever they depict religion, they suck. Moreover, these Latha or Asha kill me with their style of singing bhajans and movie songs in the same tone. Whatever it is, don't get me wrong. I do like Indian culture, but they suck mixing religion, sex and entertainment.]

Discussion of Krishna's idol 'innocently' tugging at Mîrabhâî's sârî while she sings Mere hai Giridhar Gopal (in ?) posted by GodOfPathos 

[Hi, I'm not sure why you posted Paro's marriage as a reply to my clip from Swades. I don't see the connection at all. - Sunthar]

[Hi Sunthar, I see in both movies one person is injured on forehead, the actor [Shahrukh Khan - SV] who hurts a woman in one has been hurt by a woman in another on the same body's segment [forehead - SV]. Apparently the characters which hurt are facing vanity or pride, or at least it is their feeling. Resemblances are the reasons for my video response. Still when I saw that scene in one of these movies it reminds the scene in the other one, ever. That's all. (...) Mattia P.S. Of course I like Swades movie too, more indeed, for the Bhakti scene. I can see how I was when I saw this scene for the first time standing by the side of Râvana for my atheist/Marxist education and I can see how I am when I see now the same scene standing by the side of Râma for growing Buddhist.  - Mattia]

[Hi Mattia, I've finally decided to approve your video response of Devdas striking Paro with the pearl necklace but with some reservation: Quite apart from the deliberate (even if impulsive) violence against the woman to scar her permanently (not just physically but also emotionally), the aesthetic context here is that of anger, jealousy, spite, pride, and conceit. The Swades case of the panicked Gītā striking out at Mohan with the duster is, in this sense, quite the opposite: she's already falling for him but not enough to admit this to herself and, above all, not ready to be caught by others in such a compromising situation. This would become especially clear when we juxtapose to this scene the one (that director Gowarikar rightly omitted from the movie) of Gītā nursing the wound on his forehead at home, while he complains to Kaveriamma that he was attacked by a wild cat that he had thought was tame enough to risk trying to be friendly :-) What a beautiful movie! Regards, Sunthar]

Discussion of Parvati's Awakening (in Devdâs) posted by Mattia as video-response to Gītā's fearfully expectant look from Sunthar

Though Gītā [...] bares all to his relentless gaze!

Sunthar V. "Science of Love: look into Gītā's eyes in the Homeland" (work-in-progress)

Just as a dancer [...]
does not again expose herself to the gaze of the Self.

Sânkhya Kârikâs (xvii) of Îzvara-krishna

Friends,

Sexual harassment, as every Indologist worth his/her salt ought to know, has been raised to such a fine art in the Hindu tradition that these days Indians as a whole take it to be a God-given prerogative, without which there is rarely a Bollywood movie that would survive the box-office. Perhaps the most incriminating instance of such conduct is where the 'enterprising' male, often resorting to physical force, traps the woman into a vulnerable situation so that we may all enjoy and liberally comment on her helplessness. Such macho behavior is amply demonstrated by the Hindu gods, each with his own trademarked style of politically incorrect behavior towards the weaker sex.

Krishna harassing Râdhâ:

Having inherited, transformed, and generalized the aesthetic sensibility of the world of classical Sanskrit, Swades dramatizes before our eyes the manner in which the mass appeal of Bollywood may be harnessed to facilitate our (not just male :-) ability to 'see through' the woman, not so that she may retire in shame to the most domesticated corner of the home (-land) but assume her rightful place beside the man to be gazed at and enjoyed in all her (not just physical) beauty...

Enjoy!

Sunthar