Posts tagged ‘dharm’

Dharm and Samskara

I have no intention of watching Dharm. I am sure I will not discover my faith after watching any film. I am just not that stupid. Anyway, I have already read the spoilers and the story doesn’t look like it’s anything new.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Dharm and Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s Samskara (1970). Padmaja Thakore writes:

“Chaturvedi is both a scholar of Vedic scriptures and other Hindu texts and also a karm-kaandi Brahman who ministers prayers and other rituals for his clients (usually these are two different tasks and not done by the same person). Talvar has also decided to disregard the codes and mores of the jajmani system in Hindu households of today where family priests cater to the common ritualistic needs of their patron households, and do not form the moral core of their universe. Instead, Pandit Chaturvedi is received like royalty in their house and is considered the last authority on dharma. In moments of doubt (his own and his client’s), the pundit is promptly seen referring to the written word, oblivious of real life’s experiences.”

Very much like Samskara, where the Acharya’s character had similar traits. But then, this is where the similarity ends :

“To suggest that violence happens because one interprets the religious scriptures too literally, and it will stop as soon as one finds the right interpretation, is to simplify the problem to the point of absurdity.
Dharm takes a similarly skewed view, where the only factor in communal riots is religion and how one interprets religious scriptures.
So I was left very skeptical when, at the end of the film, Pandit Chaturvedi successfully stops fifty-odd men, from further killing Muslims, by simply quoting two lines in Sanskrit and explaining that dharma does not allow this bloodbath. The men with bloodied swords are made to stand in statuesque poses while Chaturvedi takes away a child to safety (one suspects that after clearing a distance, Chaturvedi might have made a dash with the child before the stupefied crowd came to its senses and followed him).”

Phuss. And this is the movie everyone’s been going gaga about.

Compare this with Samskara. The film is based on the novel of same name by U. R. Ananthamurthy. Both the film and novel were deemed controversial, banned and then released. Obviously. Take the premise itself. A Brahmin has died, and the other priests in his village are debating over his last rites. Said person had broken from the order and led a deviant life which involved eating meat, drinking, gambling and a lower caste prostitute. He has also left behind a bag of jewelry, honorarium to the priest who performs his rites. The priests consult with the Acharya, their head priest who also happens to be younger than than others. Faced with this dillemna, he decides to delay his decision and consult the scriptures. At night he reads through the scriptures, but they yield no answers. The next day he decides to consult his goddess and begins a modest ritual. He prays for a day but the goddess does not answer. At this point it is quite clear how the Acharya is feeling. After he is failed by his most reververed icons, he feels the absence of spirituality within him. What follows is his descent, or rather, his ascent as he breaks every norm imposed by his religiousity. By following the path of the deviant priest he discovers the emptiness of his faith. Like Pandit Chaturvedi, the Acharya also undertakes the inner-journey transitioning from an idealized scholar to a human being with common indecency.

Samskara is an atheists delight. It speaks not only for Hinduism but for any religion and any book that people swear by. It calls on you to discover the horrors of faith. And it provides no comfort zones, no walls to put your back against. By contrast, Dharm appears to be a trivial piece of work. It doesn’t challange religion. Rather, it goads you to ‘discover’ it. It sings the same song that apologists of every religion sing all around the world. That our religion has been hijacked. That our book doesn’t say this. That our texts have been misinterpreted. Et cetera et cetera.

And I guess this is why it was accepted and praised. A mediocre film it might be, but at least it offended no one.


December 24, 2007 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment


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