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Impressed by Sensitive Handling of Complex Issue!

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 1:03am | IP Logged
As someone who has done extensive research on the devadasi system of south India (and on the way to pursue it further academically) this show hit really close to home, but I was weary of watching it because I thought that the portrayal would be simplistic and one dimensional, painting the ritual practice and profession of the bediyas, unequivocally, as a social evil and making the protagonist a heroic "saviour" so I didn't watch the first episodes of the show. But then one weekend I caught the Kahani Ab Tak recap and I have to say, I am impressed by the depth of the subject matter and the way the makers have chosen to address it.

While the lifestyle of the bediyas may seem "wrong" to our normative view of domestic society, it is a system in and of itself which has its own set of codes regarding wrong and right. Neither are the bediya women necessarily victims, nor are the thakurs necessarily oppressors or criminals. Naturally the system has certain limitations, and the protagonist happens to be a woman who is against these limitations and wants something different for her own life. She wants to get married.

But what I like about Sugni is that she is not ashamed of where she comes from and not ashamed to allow it to shape who she is becoming. She may be against sar dakai, but she still uses the means of her ancestors, dance, to make her living. She is not rejecting the totality of the lifestyle, only those aspects which make the bediya subservient and dependent on the thakurs. She is unwilling to forgo the independence and autocracy, being a woman, that her lineage gives her. I strongly believe that being the daughter of the sole breadwinner of the house plays a part in her attitude towards life and society.

Secondly, I like that they do legitimise the relationship between the bediya and her patron and don't just reduce it to some sort of aberration. It may not be a relationship of equals but there is a relationship (LOVED that scene between Gulabiya and the Thakurain) and rights involved, as there are in any relationship. This was shown in the little scene when Jwala Singh hears that Gulabiya is ill and while the messenger is relaying another implication to that message, JS asks how she is. In the thakurs life, the wife is not the only woman who holds importance and marriage is not the only sanctified form of man-woman relationship.

Lastly, I just loved the history they gave to Aditya yesterday. Just as Sugni villanises the thakurs in her life's narrative, Aditya villanises the bediya, which is what makes their impending relationship so interesting (and I don't just mean romantically). Aditya has seen a case where the bediya overtook the importance of the wife, which shows the many varying possibilities even within this one system. Thakurs can be evil and oppressive but they can also become your true love, and marriage does not have to be the only way to realise that love in this community. Similarly, bediya women can be manipulative but at the same time it is because they do what they have to to keep their income steady and their family fed. It is a very interesting set of issues and questions and this show brings all of them to light without judgment. So far I am really impressed with the sensitivity in handling an issue that I happen to be very sensitive about. I hope they keep this standard up!

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 1:45am | IP Logged
Hey Sam,  great seeing your post her on this forum!

I agree this issue has been handled really well by the CV's thus far and I do hope that it continues in the future as well.  I myself was not sure if this was a show I wanted to watch when I first heard about it but as I was not aware that this tradition/culture/lifestyle still existed today I was intrigued so I thought I would give this show a go and I have to say I too was impressed!  In fact I believe it was the second show that really got me hooked where the female lead says I too forgive you to her Thakur father.


I am still trying to read up more about the lifestyle of bediyas as I'm sure there will be some artistic licensing taking place during the show to make it more interesting to watch but either way I am glad it is it being shown so more of us are aware of their existence.

As for Aditya, I loved how they have already shown his history and the reason for his hate for bediyas and for the village.  I am looking forward to the seeing what I am sure is going to be a roller coaster ride between Sugni and Aditya with Thakur Vikram possibly playing the role of peacemaker in the future.

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 2:19am | IP Logged
Parm, Ditto! Nice to see familiar faces. Big smile

Yes, that was a powerful moment indeed, when she raised herself to a position of equality with her father the thakur. I love that she is unapologetic for her heritage and refuses to accept that it makes her inferior in any way.

How could I forget to talk about Vikram Singh, silly me! He is really interesting and I think they are going to make him imperceptibly negative. This is my prediction based on the third promo where he claims he will do her sar dakai. I think that Vikram Singh might propose doing her sar dakai himself to "save" her from the system. Everyone will pressure Sugni into this, probably even her mother because it is such a good chance, her family is happy and she is free, win-win, right? But it will be a test for Sugni as to whether she can stand by her principles when her ends can be achieved in a much easier way, that is by accepting Vikram Singh as her patron. So when I say I think they are making him negative, I don't mean villanous, but just a force that will tempt Sugni back into the cycle she is trying to break out of. I see interesting things in store for Vikram Singh...

I just loved Aditya's characterisation and the dialogues he said yesterday about the hate-monster that surfaces every time he visits the village. He has tried to push his past down by living a life that is diametrically different from the one that ruined him but when the suppressed anger and fear resurfaces it spews hot lava all over the place. It will be symbolic if Sugni becomes part of his healing.

Finally, also forgot to mention that I really like that they stuck Adi's GF in there. She provides an excellent perspective from an urban angle. She is oblivious to the customs and undermines their significance as novelties. It makes the whole story more real and present to see a city girl of today placed in it, almost like a scale on a map, if you know what I mean.


Edited by Samanalyse - 10 May 2012 at 6:30am

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 3:20am | IP Logged
Nice post infact I like Sugni's guts and not hesitating to call a spade a spade whether in family or outside and also the way she tries ti find solution for everything. Very good acting by her I liked her very much when she tells TJS I also pardon you  and I know your limitationsLOL his face and expression was worth watching.
 
I also liked her in the hospital scene when he refused to take more then 100 as she felt she was not entitled to take more then that. Her guts to go and do Rai when her mother was sick as her hukum mama had already taken the money and there was no alternative.
 
Again i liked her yesterday when she kept on looking into TVS eyes when Aditya was blasting her and she only left only when Vikram avoided her eyes and looked down till then she looked with hope that he will rescue her from this uncalled for blasting as she was innocent.
 
Yes the complex issue has so far been well handled and also like the way the story is progressing the bediyas issue and life which is coming out in different occaions and also the way they all are together, supporting their life and opposing whoever goes against the system. Even the truck driver who acts as a agent between the bednis and Thakurs looks quite suitable for his role.

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 5:19am | IP Logged
Dear Subhaian, 

What a lovely post, I loved reading it and your reflections and observations was a treat to consider , Please do contine writing as I live and breath for reading. Btw What is Devdasi kind of community. 
Iam not an indian myself but I uderstand hindi, I have heard the name Devdasi before but I dont know anything about them, if you have time please do explain it briefly if you could :)



Originally posted by Samanalyse




But what I like about Sugni is that she is not ashamed of where she comes from and not ashamed to allow it to shape who she is becoming. She may be against sar dakai, but she still uses the means of her ancestors, dance, to make her living. She is not rejecting the totality of the lifestyle, only those aspects which make the bediya subservient and dependent on the thakurs. She is unwilling to forgo the independence and autocracy, being a woman, that her lineage gives her. I strongly believe that being the daughter of the sole breadwinner of the house plays a part in her attitude towards life and society.



In red: 
I was so happy and that Sugni was true to her character when she said that she has got nothing to apologize for because of being from a Bedni tribe, I just loved that dialogue of hers: "Is baat ki mafi hum baghwan se bhi mafi nahi manglenge" (I hope that I have written it right, grammatically)  It still echoes in my head. What a dialogue, just amazing from the writers part to include that scene and dialogue. Her pride at that moment of  rage and anger was comepletley out of the ordinary, a treat to watch. And yes her mothers upbringing and values have made her the young girl that she is, she has a fighting spirit that is not easy to find! 
And Gulkis acting is awesome! 



Lastly, I just loved the history they gave to Aditya yesterday. Just as Sugni villanises the thakurs in her life's narrative, Aditya villanises the bediya, which is what makes their impending relationship so interesting (and I don't just mean romantically). Aditya has seen a case where the bediya overtook the importance of the wife, which shows the many varying possibilities even within this one system. Thakurs can be evil and oppressive but they can also become your true love, and marriage does not have to be the only way to realise that love in this community. Similarly, bediya women can be manipulative but at the same time it is because they do what they have to to keep their income steady and their family fed. It is a very interesting set of issues and questions and this show brings all of them to light without judgment. So far I am really impressed with the sensitivity in handling an issue that I happen to be very sensitive about. I hope they keep this standard up!

in purple: Word! Both Adi and Sugni have their typical prejudices and categorisation and sterotypes against each other, itwill be very interesting to see how Adis point of view changes when gets to know Sugni, a bedni who does not at all fit in his already decided view. 

But also inetersting for Sugni as she is in the process of actually realizing that she and her tribe can be hated by a young guy from the Takur clan, She was quite shocked that a man from Takur family can resent her for being a bedi WhenTakurs "like" bednis for selfish reasons and amusement.  As I mentioned in another post that when these two colldided by the river, it was a collision of values, norms and perspectives etc. 


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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 6:23am | IP Logged

Cyrine do go to this link and read you will know something about the devadasi system and how its misused over the ages

 

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

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 7:23am | IP Logged
@chalhov: Yes,  I loved the way she kept looking at VS yesterday and not really paying attention to Aditya. She had come to talk to VS, not Adi and she was very clear on that. Nothing Adi said applied for her because he had nothing to do with her. It was only when she realised that VS wasn't going to do anything about the raging stranger before her that she decided to go, though not without feeling slighted. I love this girl's self respect!

@cyrine: I just love how proud she is of her mother, and why shouldn't she be when Gulabiya is the best at what she does, takes care of the entire house and is a good person? Whatever she does, she does it with honour, pride and conviction and I think this is what Sugni should be and is most proud of. I agree, GJ is really wonderful! I love her eyes especially!

Right? I too am loving the paradox of Aditya-Sugni.

As for devadasis, Wikipedia is really good for a general overview but for a deeper understanding of the social complexities system, you should read an article by Amrit Srinivasan, if you by any chance happen to have access to JSTOR. If not, here is a summary I wrote of it which gives a good idea of the ins and outs of the devadasi system.


Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and Her Dance

Article by: Amrit Srinivasan
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 20, No. 44 (Nov. 2, 1985), pp. 1869-1876
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4375001

The article is summarised below, giving an overview of the temple performers' community as well as a glance at the reasons for which it could not be accepted in the context of an ideal, united, moralistic India.

In her article, Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and her Dance, Amrit Srinivasan clarifies the origins of the word devadasi.  It is derived from the Tamil word, "tevaradiyal", which translates most accurately to, "at the feet of god".  These women were linked to the temple deity through marriage ceremonies, many of which closely resembled the ceremonies of Brahmin weddings. Girls could be married to the deity at a young age, but the union was complete only when she matured. While being a temple performer was a hereditary profession, girls could not be committed to the deity if they were not adequately qualified. A committed devadasi, upon maturity, her marriage to the Lord made official through a ceremony, was considered "nityasumangali", or one who could never be widowed.  It was at this time that she gave her first performance. A patron, who could later expect her favours, both sexual and emotional, most often funded this. 

The patron, one of the most important figures in a devadasi's life, had to meet several exacting specifications: he was expected to be rich, of a higher caste (preferably Brahmin), the eldest son of the family and already married.  Thus he had to have a strong normative lifestyle to support his extra-conjugal relationship with the temple woman.  As devadasis were married to gods, rather than men, they were not expected to follow the normative rules of chastity prescribed for women in a domestic context; they could own land, walk freely in public places, gain education on par with men, and have relationships with patrons in order to support their families and the temple. The children born of these relationships were integrated into the community of temple servants and could stake no claim to the property or wealth of their fathers.  Those women of the temple community who were not eligible to be pledged to the deity, married into other, similar families to propagate the growth of the community.
           
The temple community was divided into two groups, based on the nature of their performance art and gender: chinnamelam, or sadir, the graceful, feminine, solo dance performed by women who were committed to the deity along with their musical accompanists, and periamelam or nagaswaram, instrumental music, played by men.  Sadir was the more popular and lucrative form for the temple as it attracted more patrons and hence, more funds and donations. This created a matrilineal system, where the women were the primary breadwinners, and the men dependent on them.  When a man of the temple-performers' community became independently wealthy, he left his mother's or sister's home and sought a home and land of his own. Hence women dominated the household sphere, while men dominated professionally as gurus, or teachers who were always male and commanded unconditional devotion and obedience from their pupils. This was ensured by the rule that aspiring temple performers had to train under a man of a different family.  Thus, members of the same family were at once teachers to some and students to others, creating an extremely delicate balance within the community.  Marriage between two families was one of the means by which this balance could be strengthened.
           
This social system practiced by a well established though marginal population did not adhere to the model of either a colonial Christian morality, or a reformist-nationalist ideal of chaste propriety. The devadasi's world fell with the shift of royal and noble patronage which began to see modernization as an empowering discourse and pragmatically sidelined those elements of the earlier feudal order which it felt were dispensable. The women, who had previously possessed the right to education and wealth, were banned from their profession by the Madras Devadasis Prevention of Dedication Act of 1947. They were encouraged to marry, but many, barring special cases like M.S. Subbalakshmi, were unable or unwilling to do so.  The tradition of temple performers was changed beyond recognition when the nagaswaram performers were encouraged to aspire for greater power within the temple in order to silence their female counterparts, and were given the land, previously allotted to the devadasis, as incentive to do so.  The now disenfranchised devadasis came to be associated with prostitution, and their situation was politicised heavily on the grounds of self-respect campaigns. Their art was conceptually distanced from them and revived in a "purified" format by middle-class Brahmin women who sought to adapt it to the nationalist ideal of a united India.


Edited by Samanalyse - 10 May 2012 at 7:25am

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Posted: 10 May 2012 at 10:13am | IP Logged
Samanalyse I like the way you quoted from the EPW that article and EPW is a really serious magazine which   not all read it

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