Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sita and Ram - That Ideal Couple-Shmuckle Thing

Very few stories in the world seem to be referenced as often as the Ramayana, which could be because of its age, although I prefer to attribute it to its versatility. Also, by the end of this essay I will likely find one more probable cause for it.

I only started reading the Ramayana (in an old 5th hand translation, so I'm sure much of its meaning was lost on me) because of all the films that are based on it or that draw parallels with it. Not to mention all the songs that talk about Ram and Sita! Yet no two movies "inspired" by it were the same, so I got to the point where I just wanted to know: ok, what the heck is the original story? Well, not surprisingly there are many original stories, so many in fact that I could not find a summary to post here and spare myself the trouble of describing the version that I read. Heh...

To make a long story short (and please help me out with a link if anyone knows of a good short synopsis), Valmiki's Ramayana (the version I read anyway) sees Sita kidnapped by the demon Raavana who keeps her captive in Lanka while trying to convince her to be his wife. Sita keeps pushing him away firmly convinced that her true husband and master Rama is on his way to rescue her. She is right of course, and he does come to save her, but after Raavana is killed, Rama tells Sita that he cannot take her back because she has lived in a stranger's house for a whole year and it is not acceptable for him to take her back. Sita then orders a fire be built as she would rather be consumed by fire than live knowing that her husband and God doubted her. However, the god of fire refuses to take her thus proving her purity to Rama who then admits that he knew she was innocent but required proof for anyone else in his kingdom who would doubt it.

The last book of the Ramayana is not universally accepted as part of the story, but of course, consistent pagan that I am, I find it quite relevant. Sita and Rama return to Ayodhya and here again the commoners start whispering and making accusations, so Rama asks the pregnant Sita to leave for the good of the people and the kingdom. She does and in the forest she gives birth to two twin sons. Years later, Rama encounters his sons and is told their story. He then asks Sita to be brought back, but upon her return, he feels that she should once again clear everyone's doubts and go through the trial of fire. But this time she won't. While lamenting her fate she calls to her mother, The Earth, to swallow her. Rama never remarries and continues to rule righteously over Ayodhya until the end of his days.

One thing I am not here to do is discuss the Hindu scriptures, as much as I am interested in finding out more about them, so I will take the Ramayana version that I have read at face value without debating the many aspects of it that I disagreed with. That is better left to scholars. What I am here to talk about is films that use the theme of kidnapping and what happens to Sita after she get rescued.

I don't watch many movies from the 80s and the 90s, which is a shame for this particular topic because I bet there is a wealth of references in those, what with 9 out of 10 films being love stories in those decades. But even if I restricted myself to the 2000s there is still a cornucopia of references and interpretations, perhaps more than it would be fit for a religious story.

Before I even get to the films I can't help but point out that most mythical pairs of lovers are given a pretty straight-forward treatment in modern films. Take Romeo and Juliet for example: from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak to Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet the story stays pretty much the same even if the post-modern coating tries its best to make the latter look like a new story.

I swear I tried to resist posting a gratuitous shot of DiCaprio, but I can never win this one...

Or if we go further back in time to Tristan and Isolde, every modern adaptation has them going through the same trials and ending in the same place. Orpheus and Eurydice are yet another example of mythical lovers whose fate has been reenacted many times (we won't count Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, because the connection is loose at best) with virtually the same result: why Orpheus, why did you have to turn? Yes, we know, because there would be no story otherwise. In the Bible there are few couples that can be seen as ideal lovers, with Adam and Eve being anything but ideal, and at any rate they are seen more as parents and family heads than as lovers. And then of course Samson and Delilah as famous a pairing as they are, would have some serious trouble if they applied for the "ideal couple" designation.

One thing is for sure though: whether we see these stories on a theatre stage, at the opera, on celluloid or on paper, the narrative follows the original story with enough fidelity to reassure us of the immortality of each myth.

However, not so with the Sita-Ram story. The more films I see referencing the Ramayana (even if not always openly acknowledging it), and specifically the love story part of it, the more twists and turns the original story takes. Out of the 8 movies I chose for this post, only one follows the story somewhat closely, but even that one adds its own footnotes thus giving it a whole new meaning. Which is somewhat baffling because in a society as irreligious as ours one would expect to find all kinds of reinterpretations of myths all over the place, while India strikes me as more conservative in the way of Gods and religion, and yet they come up with the most surprising... do I dare call them blasphemies?

Sure it's debatable whether or not Sita and Ram are seen as ideal lovers, and enough Desi people have told me that they are not, but from where I'm sitting, getting referenced in every other song about marriage and in every other movie about marital bliss puts them pretty high up on that pedestal.

And before I move on, because I always try to make sure there are no spoilers in my reviews, this paragraph is here to warn you that THERE WILL BE SPOILERS GALORE in this post for every single one of the movies mentioned. And the reason for that is: most Sita-Ram inspired stories follow the same pattern, except at the end. Here's a closer look at each of them in no particular order.

Khal Nayak (Hindi, 1993)

I have no idea why I even watched Khal Nayak all the way to the end, I suppose it was some sort of challenge I gave myself, but since I watched it, I was not going to leave it out even if it's from a decade I had no intention of including. Khal Nayak tells the story of Ballu, a criminal who has so far managed to escape justice every time. Ram is the head of the secret police (so secret in fact that he gives statements on TV regularly) who is on his tail. Ganga, played beautifully by Madhuri Dixit, is a jail supervisor and Ram's girlfriend, who decides to go undercover and join Ballu's gang to bring him to justice. After many (read 3 hours worth of them) over the top scenes and ridiculous displays of villainy (usually punctuated by fake cackles and menacing zoom-ins of the villain's face), Ganga ends up rescuing Ballu from an encounter with the police, because she has discovered the human being under the mask of the villain. However that labels her as a traitor and lands her in jail.

Ram, despite knowing her to be innocent, is ready to bow down to justice (much like the original Ram to the "justice" of his people) thus betraying her trust and their love. In this version of the story it is Ballu, the villain, who turns himself in and stands up for Ganga's purity in a speech that references the Ramayana more than once.

Tendencies to humanize the demon Raavan appear quite often in films, which is not very urprising considering there are apparently scores of interpretations that see him as a great leader of his people and a very learned man.

Pinjar (Hindi, 2003)

One of the most heart-breaking stories in Hindi cinema, at least for me, Pinjar revisits the Sita-Ram story over the backdrop of Partition. In this one, Raavan is Muslim (Rashid) while Sita and Ram are Hindus (Puro and Ramchand). He kidnaps her to settle an old family feud, almost against his own wishes. When she finally escapes after days of being locked up, she is rejected by her parents on the assumption that she has been raped.

Even if she hadn't been, which they are willing to believe, her honour is now tarnished and theirs along with it.

Puro must sacrifice herself for whatever is left of the name of her family, and for their lives which would be in danger if they took her back.

Leaving aside the moral issues that the parents' behaviour raises, the film succeeds fabulously in showing the gradual acceptance of her situation in a Sita forced to go back to Raavan as her only chance of survival.

Years go by and Rashid cannot come to terms with his sin, so he does everything in his power to make things right, even across the dangerous riots and curfews spawned by the recent Independence / Partition conflict. The ending is one of the most beautiful and heart draining moments that Bollywood has ever given me. I'm sure whoever has seen it will agree, and whoever has not... well, they're really missing out.

Lajja (Hindi, 2001)

A film that talks about the place of women in modern society via three women who are not really connected to each other that the main character meets. The main heroine, Vaidehi (Manisha Koirala), is an abused wife who runs away from her husband. Along the way she meets other unhappy women and puts together a very unflattering image of the woman in the Indian society. A great idea, very poor execution.

All three women in this film have one of Sita's names, but Janaki (Madhuri Dixit) is the only one where the side of the story that interests me is complete. She is showered with gifts and attention from the older owner of the theatre which effectively invites the jealousy of her chosen one,  the father of her unborn child. In the form of a play (they are both theatre actors, which makes this a play within a play within a movie) Janaki is asked to go through the trial of fire to show that "Raavan" has never touched her and she bluntly refuses.

She sees no reason to prove her innocence in front of a husband who does not trust her.

The audience cannot accept a Sita who will not take the agni pariksha, so Janaki is promptly trialed and condemned by the public who attacks her, thus causing her to lose the baby. She does not resemble Sita in her resentment of Ram, but she does resemble her in the will to raise her child/children by herself and be both mother and father to them.

Sita Sings the Blues (USA, 2008)

The animated Sita Sings the Blues is a groovy, jazzy retelling, definitely the most modern interpretation, though a rather simplistic one (understandable given the fact that it is a 90 minute 2D animation). The fate of the abandoned writer is shown to mirror the fate of the abandoned Sita in clever montages of the writer's real life alternating with segments of the Ramayana. Sita thus becomes a symbol for every other woman left behind or neglected by the husband in favour of power or ambition. The narrators' interpretations of the Ramayana seems to favour that angle as well.

To them Ram always had a doubt about Sita which is why falling prey to his ambition to be the ideal king for his people is no hard work. But make no mistake, Sita is not absolved of her side of less-than-ideal behaviour either. At one point she is shown as a blood-thirsty puppeteer out to get Raavana killed, instead of saving herself. Nonetheless, Sita Singa the Blues is the most faithful retelling of the Ramayana, even if oversimplified, as it takes the story all the way to its finale where Mother Earth swallows a Sita who has essentially had enough.

Hey Ram! (Tamil / Hindi, 2000)

Hey Ram! is a tricky one because while it focuses on the Ram versus Raavan conflict (and turning the tables on it a couple of times too), there is very little Sita in it. By the way, this is the article that prompted me to watch this movie and include it in this post, as it may not be evident at first glance that the film even has anything to do with the Ramayana (at least it wasn't to me). The Sita in this story is about as passive as the Sita in the Ramayan, though to be fair, the fact that she is murdered somewhere in the beginning during the religious riots in Calcutta has a great deal to do with that. Nonetheless, she is instrumental to the plot on the one hand because the memory of her murder is what motivates Ram Saket throughout the entire story, and also in a more active role she comes back as a vision just as Ram is chosen to fight the demon (in this case Mahatma Gandhi) to make sure that he does not stray from it.

One could say that this is the most blood-thirsty Sita we have seen, even though she does not have an actual physical presence in the story.

The parallels however stop here because the rest of the story focuses on partition and on Ram fighting his demons.

Khuda Kay Liye (Pakistan, 2007)

Khuda Kay Liye has to me the most interesting treatment of the original story, a very unexpected one even if not entirely realistic. Mary, the daughter of a devout Muslim living in England with his white common law partner (right, well, the word "devout" only applies to his expectations for his daughter, he is clearly exempt from any kind of laws - of Islam or otherwise), gets tricked into going back to Pakistan where she is forcefully married to her cousin, a radical Muslim. She is in a very dangerous and remote part of Pakistan, so escaping is virtually impossible. During her 2 year captivity she makes friends with the women of the household but she is also raped and impregnated by her now husband.

She goes from being a bundle of energy and optimism to an empty shell kept alive only by thoughts of revenge and by her baby.

When she is finally rescued by her British fiance, she does her own killing of Raavan by bringing her husband to justice. However, when all is said and done and justice has been served, she takes the surprising decision of going back to the village where she had been held captive. She doesn't think she is the same person that "Ram" loved before, the captivity has changed her. This is the first Sita who never even gets to the trial of fire because she has trialed and convicted herself long before that. Considering one of the central themes of the film is broken spirits, this ending is appropriate, showing us a very down-to-earth Sita, stripped of all her Godlike devotion and indulgence, just a woman who has lost all hope in mankind.

Raavan / Raavanan (Hindi / Tamil, 2010)

Mani Ratnam's recent venture, Raavan / Raavanan, shows us a less celestial side of Ram, in the shape of Dev, a police encounter specialist (so a modern version of the killer of demons). This Ram is not the type to just bow to his father's wishes, which is probably why he has no other father than the IPS uniform. Nonetheless he goes to war in order to find his loved one, and is helped or hindered along the way by characters that mirror (some more faithfully than others) the secondary characters in the Ramayana. This one too turns the tables on the traditional characters and presents us a Raavan full of humanity and pain against a Ram full of hatred and ambition.

The twist, because of course there must be a twist, comes after Ram recovers his Sita (Ragini) and accuses her of impurity, knowing that this will push Ragini back towards Beera (the Raavan of our story) in a search for answers. In this version of the story, Ram believes Sita, but decides to use her to reach his goal of killing the demon. Much like in the original story, that proves to be his undoing and he loses her to his ambition.

Varudu (Telugu, 2010)

The only film I have so far seen that takes the sensible approach on the topic is the Telugu movie Varudu. When his bride gets kidnapped by an evil suitor and the parents are ready to give her up as damaged goods, Sandy the groom announces that it makes no difference to him if her honour remains intact or not, she is still his wife.

Luckily nothing happens to her because the villain, much like Raavan in the original story, turns out to be a softy at heart and gives her some time to think. I always said that a more determined villain, who does go through with his evil plans, would make a very interesting, albeit commercially doomed, film.


It's interesting to note that most of these films, when the characters invoke Sita, the ideal woman, make it sound as if she accepted to put herself through the trial of fire, whereas that does not seem to be the case in the text that I read. The first time she asks for death, but is saved from it by the Gods, while the second time she practically refuses. How is it then that lesser humans expect their Sitas to go through a trial that the Godess herself only took by chance and not by will? The movies had given me a much more submissive version of Sita, so I was surprised when reading the book to find out that she did in fact have more strength and pride than I had given her credit for.

The movies also tend to vilify Rama beyond the facts of the book. Rama turned out to be less than ideal in many other instances, but the first time around he does not ask Sita to go through the trial of fire, he merely accepts it as her wish to die. Which is of course no small transgression, but all his other failings seem to constantly give way to the big one that endured: the request for proof of purity.

Why is it, I wondered, that films seem to favour this interpretation then, when it's not even based on the facts of the book (if we assume that the last book is not considered part of the scriptures)? Why is it that Sita is martyred when she turned out to be a much stronger character in the book? Why is it that submissiveness comes through as Sita's strongest trait and self-righteousness as Ram's? And how can this couple still be considered ideal despite all that?

Many questions that may never find an answer as I am sure a desi's interpretation will be completely different than mine, or any outsider's. I'm sure I also missed a lot of subtleties that a Hindu would just take for granted. Which is why I never claimed to have my own interpretation of the story (ok, I do have one, but have no intention of writing about it).

But the fact remains that films keep going back to this story, over and over and over again, only to alter its ending. Could it be that the reason why it has been reinterpreted so many times is because its original form is far from ideal?
How ironic a conclusion would that be?


mm said...

Hi Dolce, I wrote a detailed comment which was too long for your comment box. Even breaking it into two parts didn't help, even though I checked that it was under the character limit (barely). Since I couldn't find an email address for you, I'll just keep my reply until I can figure out how to break it up, or even how to cut some of it out (and I thought I had condensed it to the minimum already! :) )

Dolce and Namak said...

:( Hmpf!! That's annoying! I was kinda looking forward to you taking me to school on this post. Maybe break it into 3 parts then? I do want to read it. :)

mm said...

All I'll say for now, Dolce, is: (1) Thank you for taking the trouble of reading the original Valmiki Ramayana; and (2) not every story with a kidnapping angle is necessarily a retelling of, or even influenced by, the Ramayana.

More later. :)

Heroine No.1 said...

Dolce this is an absolutely fantastic post. The thought you've put into it is seriously impressive. I haven't watched all of these films, but I have read several versions of the Ramayan, and I definitely recognize what you are trying to say. I would recommend you read Ashok Banker's series of books on the Ramayana as well, if you're really interested in the subject and want a contemporary, irreligious view on it. The Tamil version of the Ramayan (Kamba Ramayanam) is also worth reading.

I think the kind of rich and varied interpretations we see of the Ramayan might have to do with the fact that unlike R&J which is a literary tragedy, The Ramayan is one of the most important religious texts in a deeply religious and tradition-bound society (where the average Indian thinks the actions and fate of the characters are not tragic but commendable and to be glorified) and that Sita with her typically less-than-empowering characterization is often held up as the ideal woman. Many historians attribute the beginning of India's extreme patriarchy to the idea of a perfect woman as a chaste, self-sacrificing shadow as first propagated by the Ramayan, although this is obviously the most extreme simplification possible. But its quite understandable that different people would have radically different takes on an epic that is considered a cultural cornerstone as far as the treatment of women in one of the world's more misogynistic societies goes.

I will respectfully disagree with mm and say that you are probably right in presuming that the films you write about are influenced by The Ramayan, at least on some subconscious level, given the immense cultural proliferation and glorification of the epic in India. I think it would be near impossible for some one who has grown up in India (or even lived in the country for some time) to make a movie set in Indian society with this kind of a plot and not be at least subtly influenced by The Epic.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dolce, here are some random thoughts.

First, thank you for actually reading the original Valmiki Ramayana (your summary of it is quite accurate).

Next, to answer your question on how "conservative" India has so many variations of the Ramayana -- this is due to the nature of the tradition labeled by outsiders as "Hinduism" (I've just had a loooong discussion with someone else about this, hence the emphasis on terminology). It doesn't really even fit the definition of "religion" as it's commonly understood by those shaped by the three religions usually called "Abrahamic" ones (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). I put this term also in quotes because it is sometimes used as a pejorative term. In any case, questioning and reinterpretation is encouraged in Hinduism, and there is no such concept as "blasphemy." There are many, many versions of the Ramayana, mainly because different people at different times wrote their own versions of it, and tried to apply it to their life and times. This is not in itself seen as anything wrong. Nowadays, not many people are even aware of what is in the original Ramayana written by Valmiki, or they think that whatever version they know is the original version.

Among the more well-known of those other Ramayanas is the "Ramacharitamanas" written by Tulsidas in Hindi. For most Hindi speakers, this is the version they know, and this, btw, is the version that has shaped most Hindi films. In this version, Sita is much more passive, and more of, for lack of a better word, a "victim." She doesn't display the agency she does in Valmiki's Ramayana.

As you noted, it's not established that the last chapter, consisting of the life of Rama and Sita after they return to Ayodhya and he is crowned king, was in the original Ramayana. There are far more versions of just this part of the story (which is where you'll see the most variations). It is, in fact, the subject of about half a dozen classic Sanskrit plays, each with a different spin. One of them has Rama fainting about every second scene, every time he is under emotional stress. :) (He faints when he realizes he has to banish her, he faints thinking about her fate in the forest, he faints when he sees her in a dream, he faints when he sees his sons, he faints when he finally sees Sita again, and of course he faints when she goes into the earth.)

Ravana is not exactly a "demon", which is a very unfortunate translation of the term "asura," though it is the conventional translation. As in most religious texts of Hinduism, the "bad guy" isn't bad because he has evil tendencies, he is bad because he cannot overcome his ego, and doesn't realize that the goal of spiritual practices is self-realization, or to become one with god, but uses them to acquire some powers to be used for material gain. Thus Ravana is a very devout follower of Shiva, goes through extreme and lengthy meditation to acquire various powers, but he uses all these to establish himself as supreme emperor. So he remains in ignorance, instead of becoming enlightened. He also doesn't "give Sita time" to agree to his proposition, he is cursed that he will die if he attempts to have intercourse with any woman who is not willing (he gets this curse from an apsara whom he raped earlier).


Anonymous said...

With the establishment and vigorous propagation of the Aryan Invasion Theory of India, which was disproven long ago but still holds sway in Indian education, there was a popular equating of Rama with the Aryans, and Ravana with the Dravidians, or, more distressingly, out of political considerations, Rama with North Indians, and Ravana with South Indians. Now Tamil Nadu has a long history of Shivaism, which, combined with later political developments seeking to glorify their Dravidian heritage, had the side effect of turning Ravana into their hero and Rama into the villain. Hence there are several well known versions of the Ramayana in south India told from this point of view. From this point of view Mani Ratnam's Ravana isn't so revisionist.

Whew! I think I got sidetracked into unnecessary lecturing! Sorry about that.

In any case, I have read many "revisionist" Ramayanas, that is, versions written with a social or political agenda. You'd be surprised how many of these "rebellious" versions have Sita falling in love with Ravana, probably because that is the most subversive thing the authors could think of having her do. Unfortunately most of these versions don't change anything else in the preceding story, so this development usually comes out of left field, and so fails to be very convincing to me.

As to why there are so many variations on the ending, I think it is mainly because this wasn't in the Valmiki Ramayana, so people had more creative license in coming up with the details, and also because people are uncomfortable with what they see as the inherent injustice of Rama's later actions. In the same way, there is continuing debate about the role of Karna in the Mahabharata.


Anonymous said...

As for Rama and Sita being "ideal lovers", I think they are seen as the "ideal married couple," which is not exactly the same thing. Rama is praised for being the ideal son, the ideal brother, and the ideal king -- not necessarily the ideal husband. In fact, his main claim to fame as a husband is that he was completely monogamous, unlike his contemporaries, and, even after banishing Sita, he did not enter into any relationship with any other woman. (So, if we think Sita was being held to impossibly high standards of purity or chastity, we need to keep in mind that Rama was also living up to impossibly high standards for himself. Or, in other words, he was not applying double standards for himself and her.) Sita is lauded as the ideal wife for being devoted to her husband completely under very trying circumstances-- first for deciding to follow him to the forest and undergo all the hardships of primitive living, instead of just staying in the palace as her husband wanted her to do, then courageously living through the trauma of her kidnapping and imprisonment, and then for bearing up under her banishment, all while continuing to love her husband. So the two of them are "ideal" for different reasons, and in their separate roles as individuals, but not as ideal "lovers." In other words, they were ideal in fulfilling their duties toward others, but not focused on themselves, which, to me at any rate, the term "lovers" implies.

Usually the “ideal lovers” tag is applied to Radha and Krishna.

(Incidentally, when Hanuman finds Sita in Lanka, he offers to take her back to Rama immediately, but she refuses to go with him, saying that the honor of Rama would not be satisfied unless he rescues her himself, so she will remain in captivity until he comes to rescue her. Now none of the variations I have read have ever questioned this decision of hers, or wondered why she was being such a ninny. :) It would have saved her several months of captivity.)


mm said...

Dolce, thank you for coming to my rescue! :)

Heroine No. 1, I was referring to the movies listed here when I said that not all of them can be assumed to be influenced by the Ramayana, just because the heroine gets kidnapped. For example, I doubt that Khuda Kay Liye, a film written, directed, and produced by Pakistanis for Pakistanis, was "influenced" by the Ramayana. If you want to say that a critic can take such a reading, that is a different matter. Any viewer is always free to bring his/her own interpretation to the movie watching experience. I also don't think we can talk about "subtle influences" operating on the film maker's mind, that s/he might not be aware of. This is unknowable, and I prefer not to speculate on that.

Besides KKL, I would put MHN also as not influenced by the Ramayana. There has to be a commonality of theme for one work to be considered influenced by another, not just a few coincidences in the plot. Again, of the films listed here, I think Lajja, Sita Sings the Blues, and Ravanan are clearly and explicitly influenced by or retellings of the Ramayana, while Khal Nayak, Pinjar, and Hey Ram are borderline cases. I haven't seen Varudu, so can't judge. BTW, one film that you missed, Dolce, which is a pretty close telling of the Ramayana, is Hum Saath Saath Hain. But then it doesn't "retell", so much as follow the same story line -- and no one gets kidnapped even! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey there Heroine No 1, welcome to my blog :)

And thank you for the compliment, this post has been several months in the making and I'm sure I am barely scratching the surface. I will definitely check out the books you recommended, I am always interested in people's (objective if at all possible) takes on big religious themes.

I tried to stay away from giving meaning to the various interpretations of the Ramayana from a cultural stand point only because I am not as familiar with the Indian culture and society as I should be in order to have an opinion, but I always want to know what historians and desis have to say on the topic. Also, based on what you said about the epic being at the core of India's patriarchal society, it's all the more interesting for me as a foreigner to watch movies that illustrate that (such as Lajja and Pinjar for example). Even in the situations where the actual book is not referenced it's not hard to jump to the conclusion that the society has taken their cues for "appropriate behaviour" from this particular episode. Something along the lines of "if Rama did it, so should we".

Also very much like your point about glorifying the characters rather than seeing them as tragic objects of the whims of fate. The fact that they are in fact incarnations of Gods gives them a completely different status from mythical lovers in the European culture, so where we would lament the fate of Romeo and Juliet or Orpheus and Eurydice, I suppose we can't do the same for the two main characters of the Ramayana.

Also, was planning on addressing mm's comment on the connections between some of these films and the epic, but it's nice to know you're on my side on this one :D

Thanks for dropping by and pitching in on this one. I know it's a really broad topic so really I appreciate comments on any parts of it! :)

mm said...

On a side note, Heroine No.1, I am somewhat bemused by your characterization of Indian society as "extremely patriarchal" and "one of the world's more misogynistic societies." I've just been reading a lot of articles on Dominique Strauss-Kahn's track record and the culture of the society he operated in, and it doesn't seem any less misobynistic to me. There are unfortunately too many societies in the world who can vie for that dubious description.

Dolce and Namak said...

You're most welcome, MM, I would not want to miss a good debate for a reason as measly as a Blogger fail. :P

Yes, many of the points you made about the different interpretations (including the North vs South ones) I was already aware of, just didn't have enough room to include any thoughts on them in the post. :( What I did not know about was the curse on Raavan, which effectively explains one of the "plot holes", as I used to think of it, in the book. Now that makes complete sense. I must have missed that, so thank you for bringing it up. It makes everything so much more sensible.

And hey, you recommended me one (which I haven't seen, so that's why HSSH was not included), I will recommend you Sita Sings the Blues, because it's the only film where Sita's refusal to go back with Hanuman does get debated. With a rather funny conclusion too, but there is some depth in their comments as well, past the funny graphics.

I'll get to the movies in the next one, but before that a word on the "ideal lovers" topic. I have this conversation all the time with desis and yes, that is what they always tell me that Radha Krishna are ideal lovers, whereas Rama Sita are the ideal leaders and married couple for exactly the reasons that you named. That's why I stayed away from using the word lovers and used "couple" instead as that stands for married couple in my book. But even then it's a very blurry line because they get referenced without fail in movies whenever marriage becomes a topic of conversation. So maybe not lovers, but they *are* considered a couple to look up to in one's married life. And for me they still lack a whole lot of ideal-ness for the simple fact that there is no balance between them. Plus any husband who will give up his wife for the sake of the people may be an ideal king, but he is definitely NOT an ideal husband no matter how much he repents or faints or how many times he refuses to remarry afterwards.

Also big LOL at the fainting version of the Ramayana, I would LOVE to read that :)

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL This convo is getting totally out of hand and impossible to follow :) I pity the people who will try. But I'm totally enjoying it, so no matter :)

Ok, so the movies, mm! I admit that KKL was the one where I knew I was somewhat stretching it, but I was watching that one right after reading the book, so I couldn't help but notice the similarities (the boyfriend from England comes to rescue her with the invaluable help of the British mother - as Hanuman, and the authorities - as the army). But I am willing to give you that one, it may not be related at all.

A bunch of the other ones however specifically reference the book: Lajja, Khal Nayak (the speech at the end is all about the parallels between the doubts on Sita's chastity and the doubts on Ganga's integrity), and of course Raavan and SStB for obvious reasons.

With Pinjar I can't remember if the book does get referenced or not, but isn't her would-be husband's name also Ram? And plus to me the whole conflict about Partition pitching Muslims and Hindus against each other and having people trapped on either side of the uncrossable border (much like the sea), was very reminsicent of the set-up in the Ramayana. I have no more proof until I watch it again, but I would be very surprised if I couldn't find a dozen other clues for it when I rewatch.

Hey Ram! is, like I said, very tricky, and if I hadn't read that article that goes into 20 pages of details about the symbols from the Ramayana in the film, I probably would have found it a ridiculous claim. But the article does make a pretty good case for it, and it's not the only one I read that talks about that (though it's the best one, that's why I'm linking to it). That said though, Sita doesn't play a major part in it, so I agree that its relevance in the context of this particular post is debatable.

Varudu is one where again, I have no doubt but I can't quite pinpoint why. Maybe because I find Telugu movies to reference the two epics as well as the Geetha all the time, and I mean ALL the time, even in situations where I'll be scratching my head and going: what does *that* have to do with dharma? Or how is *that* an impersonation of Rama? But because I know they do it so often, I can bet my life this movie was indeed written with the Ramayana in mind. I also remember Geetha getting a ton of references in the film, which also helped me to reach that conclusion.

Of course in the end, like you said, it's all in the eye of the beholder, but I figure if it's so easy for me, with my *very* limited knowledge, to shout out: "hey, that's a Ramayana inspired plot", it's almost impossible for the film makers to not be aware of that.

mm said...

Yes, but what is "a Ramayana inspired plot"? To sound like one of those essay questions in high school English, what do you think the Ramayana is about? It seems to me that you are focused too much on looking at Rama and Sita as "a couple," and missing the point that it's called the *Ramayana* - Rama's story. To put it in Hollywood terms, Sita is only there to explain Rama's character. Less cynically, the motive for Valmiki to write the thing is that one day he is visited by the sage Narada, and Valmiki asks him, "Is there any man who always followed the path of dharma, and who can be held up as an example for the general population on how to live a dharmic life?" And then Narada says, "Yes, there's one," and proceeds to tell him about Rama's life, which Valmiki then turned into a book. So the focus for both Rama and Sita is to be role models on following dharma all the way in an individual's life. The reason they have so many trials and tribulations while attempting to do so is to show, IMO, that it's not easy to always follow dharma, and it requires many personal sacrifices for the greater good.

Now you seem to think that the kidnapping of Sita is the major event in the story, but again, in its framework, the main event is the killing of Ravana, and the ridding of the world of his evil influence, to which the kidnapping of Sita merely acts as a catalyst. This is why I said not every film with a kidnapping is influenced by the R. In general, the worry about a woman's "purity" after being kidnapped/raped is one that cuts across cultures and countries. In the U.S., many women who are raped find that their SO's have trouble continuing in the relationship, and it frequently ends. So any story in which a heroine is temporarily in the custody of the villain will require a rescue by the hero (that's what makes him the hero), and, given the social context for an Indian film, the question of her "acceptability" as a marriage partner afterwards is bound to come up, whether Rama and/or Sita is invoked or not. And the explicit citing of Rama and Sita is not always positive -- e.g., "if even Rama could banish his wife, it's understandable that I, an ordinary man, can make a mistake", or, "even Sita had to suffer so many hardships in her life, so we mere mortals can't complain." I can believe that the Gita is invoked much more than the Ramayana in Telugu films, since it is a whole treatise on dharma and how to follow it. If Varudu had a ton of references to the Bhagavad Gita, then it is drawing on the Mahabharata, not the Ramayana. :)

Anyway, let me echo Heroine No.1 and say that this is a very fascinating post you have put up, that shows a great amount of thought went into it.

Also thanks for that link on Hey Ram. I wasted two hours this morning reading all 20 pages. :) I don't agree with it all, and I do think the Ramayana rubric is rather forced if you try to apply it to the whole film, though for certain scenes, it works.

mm said...

Also, I think you are viewing marriage through a Romantic lens. In Hindu culture, the traditional reason for getting married was to beget children and fulfill the duties of the householder, which means that the marital couple has the responsibility of continuing to populate the society and support it by working at its economy. Of course they were also expected to love each other, but it is not the kind of individualistic love that became idealized after the Romantic movement in European literature, and the duty to society was always of higher importance.

And, you know, with the Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn revelations of late, there has been a lot of discussion online on the topic of,"Should politicians' private lives affect how they do their jobs?" Surprisingly, most of the opinion is yes, because, "If he can't honor his commitment to his wife, how will he honor his commitment to the electorate?" Flip that around to, "If the king shows favoritism toward his wife, how can the public feel they are being treated fairly?" and you have the dilemma of Rama in the post-coronation story. So I don't find it so far fetched.

Dolce and Namak said...

No no, not at all, mm, I certainly do not think the Ramayana's main event is the kidnapping of Sita and there were many other interesting points of reflection for me when I read it (many indeed having to do with Rama as the perfect embodiment of the spiritual man and "follower" of dharma), but in the interest of this particular post I was only concerned with that side of it, otherwise this would have become an essay of Tolkien-ic length :) You're right though, I should stop saying "Ramayana inspired stories" and maybe use "Sita-Ram inspired stories", for the sake of clarity.

Also, from what I've seen, Bollywood films seem to generally be less concerned with the concept of dharma and Rama as a spiritual man, and more interested in the Sita-Ram part of the story, which makes sense since it's the more cinematic part of it. And since the point of this post was to talk about movies and not about the book, that's why my focus was also channelled that way.

I can somewhat agree with what you're saying on stories that talk about kidnapping and possible rape across cultures and religions, but the whole point here is that the rape NEVER happens in any of these films or situations (except for KKL). In a HW film if the girl were kidnapped and she said that nothing happened to her no one would doubt it, and she would be welcomed back into the arms of her family with joy. So I think it's unfair to compare a situation where the worst does actually happen (whether in a film or real life) with these films where doubt and *only* doubt seems to be the only reason needed to reject the "Sita" character.

And glad you read that Hey Ram thingy too. It took me about the same amount of time but I found it worth the time. Even if some of the events don't quite click with that interpretation (and I too have my doubts and my incongruities with it), I now find it impossible to treat all the parallels in it as mere coincidences, so at the very least it proved to me the intent of mirroring aspects of the Ramayana.

Heroine No.1 said...

mm- Nobody is denying that all societies have elements of misogyny in them. But to deny that India is one of the worst when it comes to treatment of women is to be blind to the facts. India has one of the world's lowest rates of female literacy, one of the most alarmingly skewed sex ratios and one of the highest prevalence of domestic abuse and marital rape in the world, as well as extremely wide-spread practices such as dowry abuse, female feoticide and so on. Even the rate of female malnourishment in the country is one of the highest in the world (and much higher than the percentage for men).

Countless surveys and studies right from the UN's Gender Gap Index and Gender Empowerment Measure put India amongst the worst countries in this respect. It is a wonderful country with much to admire, but to deny that it is an extreme patriarchy is pointless and to compare the treatment of women in India to France is totally futile. No one is saying India is *the* worst, but it definitely much closer to the bottom than the top on the list of gender-equitable countries.

I do not mean to offend you, but these are universally accepted facts not an opinion. As for KKL not being influenced by The Ramayan, of course you might be right in thinking so, but having seen the movie I did sense a very strong sense of reference to the epic. I do not see why a Pakistani filmmaker would be immune to creating a story arc for one of his female characters that ran parallel to one of the most widely-read and influential literary texts of a country of which his own was part of for several years and has probably inherited some idea of gender dynamics from. Again, I could be totally wrong, but I do not think it is an altogether unreasonable assumption to make. Neither do I think that it is wrong for a viewer to interpret the less explicitly stated influences on a film. Part of the fun of analyzing movies is to go beyond the obvious and form opinions of your own. :-)

P.S.- Dolce, this is Sanyogita from BollyWhat :-)

Remini said...

Great post, Dolce! and thank you, ladies, that was a most interesting read :) Dolce, was the version of Ramayana you read printed or a pdf? I've wanted to find out more about the Ramayana and Mahabharata for a long time, but I don't have the patience and time to go through hundreads of pages :( I started reading a bit about Krishna on wikipaedia... it was a bit confusing, what with all those characters being referenced out of nowhere. A link here and a link there and next thing I noticed was that I had no idea what I was reading about :P

Again, wow. I LOVED reading your 'little' debate, though I got lost a few times :D

heroine No.1 said...

P.P.S.- MM you make a very valid point about Ramayan-inspired stories vs. Ram/Sita-inspired stories. And the angle on "How can he be a just ruler if he favors his wife?" is a very interesting one (although not one I agree with) as is the point that he was celebrated for his monogamy unlike men of his times.

mm said...

That's a fair point about "doubt" vs. actual rape/consensual sex.

I can't help thinking that Indian films have regressed over the last 30 years or so, because back then women were at least actually raped before being deemed unmarriageable, even though still worthy of rescue and rehabilitation. The "doubt" plot wasn't so popular, IIRC, but then it's not as if I have an encyclopediac knowledge of films.

BTW, I bought a Telugu book called the "Sitayanam" a few years ago -- the Ramayana story told through Sita's POV. But I only got through a few chapters before putting it aside. Maybe now I'll take another look at it. I don't expect it to be "subversive" in any sense, though, because the author is quite a traditionalist.

Dolce and Namak said...

Oh gosh, mm, Romanticism is the last thing anyone could accuse me of :) Especially when it comes to marriage / relationships. Though I also believe the planet is overpopulated and the idea of our sole purpose on this earth being to make babies is at this point antiquated to say the least. But I won't digress, that's a topic where I have a lot to say, so better not get me started :)

Back to Rama's dilemma: we're saying the same thing - Rama has to choose between being just to his people or being fair to his wife. He chooses his people. That's why I would never deny his ideal king status. Or his relationship to dharma and the fact that he was an example to follow. But that also makes him a less than ideal husband, no? It's the ideal husbandry part of it that I would argue, not the other names he gets across various interpretations.

Also, I know I'm slowly getting dragged into this, but I really had no intention of discussing the Ramayana. I'm only looking at it through the lens of the films that I have watched. Not to say that discussing the epic doesn't interest me, but I am certain you are far better equipped for it than me, so I'm in danger of making many assumptions or ignorant statements that can be argued. That's why it's best I shut up on that topic now :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Aaah, Sanyogita, I should have guessed :) If not the first post, that second post was a dead giveaway :P Welcome aboard!

In the interest of staying on topic (er... somewhat :)), I can only say that's hard to blame all of India's mysoginy on one book, as influential as it is, though I do agree that there is a fair amount of unbalanced gender dynamics in the Ramayana. However, on this side of the ocean the Bible also has its fair share of mysoginy, and its fair share of having shaped the Western society into what it is now, and yet women are nowadays treated in a fair manner. So it's hard to judge just how far the influence of a scripture goes. And I promise I won't get into that past this statement just because that would put me waaay off topic.

I guess we can all agree to disagree on KKL. I would not take it out of the post because it's the only film I've seen that has such an interesting resolution, but I'm willing to accept that the similarities may have been more in my eyes (and yours, Heroine No 1) than the film makers. It's a matter of interpretation in the end, which I agree is not the same as the author's intention, as Umberto Eco would happily point out.

mm said...

Dolce, my absolute last post for this morning, as I *must* get some work done! :)

I thought I pointed out in one of my first posts that Rama never was given the "ideal husband" tag, for all the reasons we have been mentioning here. He was only considered "ideal" in all the other roles.

Also, sorry if I dragged the thread off track into a general discussion of the Ramayana. Now that you've explained why you're focusing on just the kidnapping and aftermath part of the story, it all makes sense.

Dolce and Namak said...

Remini, you're a hero! You actually read all that? :) Respect!

Well, the book I read was indeed a book, and it was translated via German from Sanskrit into my mother tongue (I prefer to read such works in my mother tongue because as much as I claim to know English I am still not skilled enough in it to pick up on all the subtleties, which seem quite important in such texts). So you see how a whole lot of the meaning could have been lost along the way. But one thing I can say is that it is a very detailed retelling, I've seen a few American versions and they seem pretty minimalistic to me, whereas the one I read seemed to be a direct verse to prose translation.
But to answer your question: I don't have a good online resource for it, so I actually recommend you do what I did: go to the used bookstore and buy a version in Slovak. You'll probably find it a lot easier to read in your own language too. I know I did.

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL mm, you and me both! Though my work is probably more pleasurable than yours. And absolutely no worries about derailing to other things too, it was a great conversation! Maybe one day I should (or maybe YOU should *hint hint*) do a whole post on the Ramayana and continue the debate :)

And just to answer that last point, if we take out the ideal husband tag (which I have seen applied, especially in films, that's why I brought it up), then we are pretty much in agreement about Rama. :) Now off to work, both of us! :D

Dolce and Namak said...

PS for MM: if you do finish that Sitayana book, do let me know if it's a good read. (that is, if it's been translated to a language I could actually read :P).
And random fact of the day: Sita Singa the Blues was also intially going to be called the Sitayanam. Who knows, the two could make for an interesting parallel.

Remini said...

Whoo-hoo, I found a Czech publication of Ramayana, Mahabharata AND a two part book about Krishna. Off to order :)) I feel somewhat silly, the possibility that they might have been translated into our obscure languages never occured to me :D

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL I know, I always think of this option last too! It's probably gone through either French or German before getting to Czech, unless you had some great Sanskrit scholars in your parts of the world who took the time to translate directly, but at least you'll enjoy reading it more than in English. I was having a ton of fun with all the old pompous words used :D

Heroine No.1 said...

Oh, I definitely do not subscribe to the view that The Ramayan had a huge hand in shaping the gender dynamics of modern Indian society, like I said I think its an oversimplification. :-) I just meant that it is a popular view that some social anthropologists (whose work I've read) hold. And given that train of thought, it makes sense that filmmakers would have interest in re-intepreting the story to make a point about the dynamics of Indian society as a whole.
Like I said before, excellent post Dolce. I think I have blogger envy now because I am at such a loss on what to blog about, and your posts are all generally pretty thought-provoking :-P

mm said...

Just a note to Dolce and Remini, there is a lot of scholarly work in German on Sanskrit texts, done by people who learned the language and devoted their lives to research on Indian texts, religion, and culture. So, either the original works in German, or translations thereof into Eastern European languages, is a possibility. Another is that most major works in India (including a lot of contemporary literature in all Indian languages) were translated into Russian, so again you have the choice of reading them in the Russian or other Slavic languages they may have been translated into.

Dolce, on the Sitayana book, I don't have access to it right now, but will in about a month or two, so can try to finish it then. I doubt that it would have been translated into any other languages, especially outside of India, as it was a very small printing, essentially done by the author himself, as is the case for most books in Telugu, unfortunately. And, given that the author is a traditionalist, as I said, I doubt that it would have much in common with SStB. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Heroine No 1 - You are at a loss for things to write about??? Excuse me if I find that very hard to believe :D But I will take the compliment and thank you very much for it.

And yes, it's always fun to see what film makers choose to pursue out of the many religious texts and myths. Wouldn't it be cool if they made a book about Bollywood and religious texts? I knwo I'd read it :)

@ MM - Oh bummer, Telugu is not going to be a language I read any time soon :)

Good translations are hard to find. I have Geetha in verse and a very good translation with lots of footnotes (which were extremely helpful), but I wish I could find something similar for the Ramayan and Mahabharat. The search continues :) Of course there's always the option of learning Sanskrit. :P Just kidding!

Suja said...

A very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it and all the comments too. I too, like your other commentators, do not think that all the films you name are actually inspired by the Rama-Sita story. Nor do we Indians think of them like Romeo & Juliet (their equivalents exist - Sohni & Mahiwal, Heer & Ranjha for example).

You mentioned blasphemy, so I would like to point out that in all Hindu texts the incarnations of Gods are shown to have their weaknesses and we do not consider it blasphemous even to write highly erotic poetry like the Gita Govinda to celebrate the Radha-Krishna love story. Radha is Krishna's love but he goes on to marry Rukmini whom he kidnaps!!:)

Ramayana can be considered mythological, allegorical, historical or sacred just as there is both a historical and sacred aspect to the story of Jesus. Rama's period was Treta Yuga and experts vary widely in how to interpret the time. Generally, life on earth is considered to be in cycles of time of thousands of years, each reaching its peak and then declining and disappearing to start yet again. In fact, references to flying vehicles, weapons of mass destruction etc in Ramayana are considered to attest the fact that civilisation had been very advanced but in a different way. My point is that the Dharma in each epoch was different, it would not be right to judge it by today's standards. Filmakers who are inspired by the story, take it and place it in current context are free to interpret the actions by today's Dharma (which again is country/relegion/culture dependent). There is no right or wrong here.

mm said...

Umm, Suja, just a little correction to your note on Krishna and Rukmini, if you don't mind. Krishna doesn't "kidnap" Rukmini -- she writes to him to come and get her, as she doesn't like the groom her family has picked for her, so he comes and they elope together -- hardly a "kidnapping" in the sense in which that term has been used here, and certainly not at all like the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana.

BTW, Dolce, I wanted to ask, have you looked at any stories where a man is kidnapped by someone (not necessarily a woman)? The film need not be from South Asia.

Dolce and Namak said...

Suja, thank you for chiming in on this one! I'm always happy when I write one of these posts and end up learning so much from you guys! You made a good point there that MM had also touched on in that looong post above and I neglected to reply to that side of it. It's sometimes hard for me to distinguish between the religious value of a text and the mythological one and I suppose because I refer to the Ramayana as a scripture in my head, I tend to see it as more strict than it really is (so more religious than mythological). So thanks for bringing that up about the freedom to reinterpret these stories, I can see how if this is what people are encouraged to do then no one would have fatwas issued for them or go into voluntary exile (thinking of Rushdie and Saramago and their works of fiction reinterpreting scriptures a little too much for the taste of the two religions). That's a great little detail that I should not forget anymore going forward.

In regards to the pairs of lovers and their equivalents in Hindu mythology, you said it very well: "we Indians don't think of them as Romeo & Juliet". No, but we foreigners watching your films do. I suppose filmmakers trust the viewers to know enough that, when Ram and Sita get mentioned, they can fill in their own blanks, but for me as a non-Indian viewer, whenever they get mentioned in the context of married life, whether it's to wish someone a long and happy one, or to give examples of how certain hardships should be endured, the end result is an image of this ideal couple that always gets referenced. So when you haven't read the Ramayana and don't know their story from your childhood, you do, as a viewer, get stuck with this image whether that was intentional on the filmmakers' part or not. Perhaps that's a point where I needed some more examples because I get a feeling you guys don't really see it the same way.

And I won't even start to address your point about dharma across ages because you just said it so right on that one that I may have to think a little bit more on that separately :)

Thanks for coming by! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ MM - What kind of scenario do you have in mind? Are we still in the love stories realm? So someone would get kidnapped for love, or are we talking kidnapping in general? That's an interesting idea if we are talking a man getting kidnapped for love and I don't remember any good stories that I've seen on that topic. Provided of course we're not talking James Bond type of movies :D

mm said...

Dolce -- I'm not sure what I mean! :) I think to begin with I did mean being kidnapped for "love", or love developing out of a kidnapping done for another purpose. That's why I didn't limit the field to South Asian films, because I wondered if there was any film, anywhere, where the genders were reversed in this "kidnapping" story. I doubt it though, not after patriarchy has become pretty near universal. Of course it's not as if I know about every film that was ever made in any country, but I do wonder if any of the world's "experimental" filmmakers thought of doing this simple experiment. The only film that might fit the bill is not one that I've seen, but that some friends mentioned many, many years ago, and that was a porn film where a man is taken prisoner and threatened by his female captors that he would be killed if he didn't "perform." (Personally I wonder how he could be expected to "perform" in such circumstances.) I also can't remember if that was just one scene in the film, or the premise for the whole film. And no, I didn't mean the James Bond type of film, but one where the male character is definitely at the mercy of the female captor.

But I also did mean kidnapping for any purpose. In this context, I can think of one Indian film, "Red Alert: The War Within", where a man is kidnapped and forced to join a political/terrorist organization. You can read the synopsis here:

Suja said...

@mm : you are absolutely right, the taking of Rukmini was very different from that of Sita. For one, Sita was very much a married woman and that made it very wrong. I used the term kidnapping in the sense 'taken from the guardian without his permission'. In effect, that was very much within the Dharma code for Kshatriyas in those times - called marriage by abduction : 'Rakshasa marriage' (i dont know if it is related to Rakshasas as a people). When Arjuna hesitates about Subhadra, Krishna advices him to 'adbuct' (term used to replace the Sanskrit word 'haranam' as this episode is referred to as Subhadra haraNam. Reference Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary. the same word is used for the Rukmini episode - Rukmini haraNam). Again the lady is willing but not her guardian, Balarama. In the case of Bhishma, when he abducts Amba, Ambika and Ambalika for Vichitravirya, the girls are not all willing and one is then let go (I forget which). I mentioned Krishna's taking of Rukmini to make a point about the Dharma of those times being different; we do not judge Krishna's actions by today's code but give leeway for the code being quite different. I bet Rukmini was underage too, by today's standards. My grandma was only 13 when she was married and a mother by 15, the Dharma even 2 generations back seems unacceptable in today's terms. However, my grandfather cannot be accused of child-molestation - those were the ways then.

Dolce and Namak said...

@ MM: well if it's the last one, then Roja would fit in here, no? The roles are completely reversed: the heroine is the one who goes searching for the kidnapped husband to rescue him. But that's about all I can think of on the topic. I once started watching that Angelina Jolie movie on a similar topic, A Mighty Heart, but never finished it. :-/

Definitely can't think of any where the whole situation is reversed with a female captor and a male captive... Though I'm sure it's been done, we just don't know about it. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Suja: speaking of dharma across different times and mentalities, just recently I was reading a passage in Midnight's Children about a navy officer who shoots his cheating wife and her lover at point blank and Rushdie makes a similar point about the officer's line of defence in saying that in older times the officer would be considered a Ram and the killing of the lover would be equivalent to Raavan's defeat. Of course, that discourse doesn't fly with the judge, but I really enjoyed the parallel.

I think what's also important to keep in mind is that when we're discussing stories that have endured across centuries, we have to accept the inherent element of drama and exceptional situations. Most myths get told and retold because there is a lesson to be learned from them, not because the situations - if reproduced - would be handled the same way. Dharma could be the same if we think of it as the right path, the order of nature, or however you define it, it's the set-ups that have changed.

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