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Ever Heard of Professional Mourners and Weepers: “Rudaali” Culture of Moirologists in Rajasthan

Professional Mourners - Rudaali from Rajasthan

Inequalities and Diversities Define Indian Society

Moirologists in Rajasthan, India Caste-like classifications exist in many cultures, although without the fine grades of taxonomy observed in India. India, the land of numerous customs and precepts defined along the lines of gender, religion, caste, class, ethnicity and language, sequentially brings about a relation of disparity through them. These distorted relationships collectively shape the identity of every person, through his or her associations with others and the social atmosphere. Individuality interplays with the gender of the individuals (masculine or feminine), declaring the dogma functioning in the societal milieu. A mainstream Hindu group who were against any change in traditions.

In a socially segregated society, the rank and the status enjoyed by women mirror the social order. Indian culture is a ‘caste society.’ Caste, a qualified status, is a rigid system of imbalanced associations specified by birth, endogamy and associations through ceremonial sacraments. Caste divides society along the lines of jati (a birth-status cluster), hierarchy (order and rank) and interdependence (division of labor linked to hierarchy). Indigenous groups are politicized religious communities that mark social and cultural variances between groups of people. These communities identify their caste status through division by birth, endogamy and interdependence through ritual services. Public policy in modern India showcases affirmative action systems intended to diminish inequality that stems from a centuries-old caste constitution and history of incongruent treatment by gender.

Feminism in India

The Indian society is divided up into groups that are hierarchically interrelated, with some rendered higher status than others. Classical texts talk about four castes—priests, warriors, merchants, and servants—but administration censuses and anthropological surveys have identified hundreds in South Asia. Membership in one of these groups is dependent upon birth.

'Rudaali' women are hired as professional mourners Dalits are a group of people conventionally regarded as untouchable within the Hindu caste pecking order. Contemporary India is witnessing an unparalleled rise and spread of the Dalit development.

According to a custom, in certain areas of Rajasthan, women are hired as professional mourners after the death of a male relative. These women are referred to as a ‘rudaali’ (roo-dah-lee), literally translated as a female weeper. What differ are the details that make the substance of human action and human conceptualization. The framework, within which concepts materialize and the contexts where they travel to, needs expression.

Class and Caste and Praxis: An analysis of the Rudaali Culture

An analysis of the Rudaali Culture Rudaalis in turn publicly express the grief of family members who are not permitted to display emotion due to social status. The ‘rudaalis’ make a scene crying out loud. The impact of their mourning also compels other people at the funeral to cry.

Always dressed in black, they have to sit and cry, crying out loud, beating the ground beating their chests screaming and crying. They are professional tear shedders. They get the details of the dead person, his or her near and dear ones.

Rudaali is one of those disreputable orthodox practices where bereavement was required expressions of unrestrained sentiments by rolling on ground along with songs in praise of the dead. Mostly, women who live in grave poverty and belong to the lower castes are forced to turn out to be Rudaalis.

The socio-cultural custom of hiring a rudaali throws light on the dialectical association between the upper caste and the lower caste in Rudaali. Hiring a rudaali is a status symbol and augments family pride. That the rudaali provides a funeral service in the face of upper caste women being incapable to declare their sorrow hits hard on the gender ideologies scheming obsequies among the caste. Caste defines the social status of women as pure or impure in the community.

Through the gendering of death rituals, women mourners or rudaalis verge as complicated modes of amusement for the upper classes. Rudaali throws light on the agonizing experiences of Shanichari, a widow whose life has been disturbed by hardships. Through heartrending vignettes, Lajmi deplores the appalling life of Shanichari who ultimately becomes a rudaali, giving vent to her sorrows. Meaningfully, while most feminists were disparaging of the state downgrading its commitment to the poor and vulnerable, there were conflicting views.

Kalpana Lajmi’s Movie Rudaali

Feminism endeavors to consider and solve the numerous gender-based problems. It interrogates the pre-conceived expectations about the roles that men and women should have in life. In literary text, feminism brings to scrutiny the representations of gender roles, which tend to enforce social norms, customs, conventions, laws and expectations on the grounds of gender bias.

Shanichari has always resisted the unfairness meted out to her. Toughened by the harsh realities, she can hardly shed a tear, let alone cry. Females are not required to be educated by the guideline which is adopted for men. Women have but one resource, home. The end and aim of her life is to nurture the domestic affections, to care for, to comfort, and exercise her little supervision over household economies. These insights of women’s liberation and autonomy are deeply ingrained in the Indian women’s circumstances within the socio-cultural and economic spaces and archetypes of the country.

These rituals thus uncover the cockeyed gender equations with the women of the lower caste and class consented to serve as rudaalis. On the other hand, aristocratic women, who are kept sheltered, cannot express their sorrow in public, inhibited by their social ranking. That women and not men are chosen to be mourners also exposes the gender inequalities operating within a casteist and class society. Lamentation is gendered and women become the role bearers.

Mourning as Allegory in Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali

Mourning as Allegory in Kalpana Lajmi's Movie Rudaali Kalpana Lajmi‘s movie Rudaali is an adaptation of Mahasweta Devi‘s short story, Rudaali. Published in English in 1997, Devi’s short story explains the plight of Sanichari, a woman whose suffering and personal loss informs her work as a professional mourner. Devi offers a emotional account of how this job allows Sanichari to gain a degree of independence and control over her life. Rudaali, the sorrowful tale of womenfolk fated to be funeral-goers, outlines the picture of a habit practiced by the aristocratic families of landlords and noble men, of hiring rudaalis (female mourners) to grieve over the death of their family members.

Rudaalis belonging to the lower castes and classes are convened on these circumstances, for the upper classes never openly convey their grief. Agency and autonomy are always endorsed within specific structures of constraints. The relevant point is that organizations thereby do get redefined. Dressed in black with frazzled hair, the rudaalis shed tears copiously, bemoaning over the dead by dancing sporadically and raucously admiring the deceased. Rudaali is a modern woman who fulfills her individual dreams instead of matrimonial contentment. Rudaali is a determined woman who is over-ridden by individuality and her own well-being. The movie is undeniably a subtle satire on the brutal practices that find expression within the diverse life cycle rituals, be it even the obsequies. These outmoded traditions are the offshoots of a dismembered society, where rituals are cultural power resources.

The custom of employing fake mourners, known as moirologists, begins from the Middle East and China. Professional mourning or paid mourning is a regularly historical occupation practiced in Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, and many other parts of the world. Professional mourners, also called moirologists are remunerated to grieve or provide an eulogy.

Notes: Rudaali (1992) was directed by Kalpana Lajmi and produced by the National Film Development Corporation of India & Doordarshan, the Indian public service broadcaster. Rudali is based on a story by the Bengali fiction writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi. Dimple Kapadia, Raakhee, Raj Babbar, Amjad Khan star in Rudaali.

Posted in Faith and Religion Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru: One of the Most Stirring Life-Affirming Films

When Tokyo bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) learns he’s dying of stomach cancer he suddenly realizes he’s wasted his entire life. For 30 years, he’s worked as an isolated, inward city clerk in a stuffy office stamping paper after paper. Depressed that he’s never really lived, he tries to drink his sores away until he meets an upbeat young woman who encourages him to make a difference. With a new-found purpose, Watanabe becomes a passionate activist and his touching journey in Ikiru (“To Live”) continues to inspire audiences to truly live well over half a century later.

In what could be the greatest closing shots in the cinema, in the last few moments in Watanabe’s life, he sits on the swing at the children’s park is built on a wasteland. As the snow falls over the playground, Watanabe is seen fondly observing the playground, at peace with himself and the world.

Takashi Shimura in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru

With a compelling, radical narrative structure, Kurosawa depicts Watanabe’s last months and how his final decisions affect those left behind. Ikiru is one of the Japanese master’s darkest, yet most life-affirming works.

Famed movie critic Roger Ebert included Ikiru in his list of Great Movies and wrote, in his review of the film,

We who have followed Watanabe on his last journey are now brought forcibly back to the land of the living, to cynicism and gossip. Mentally, we urge the survivors to think differently, to arrive at our conclusions. And that is how Kurosawa achieves his final effect: He makes us not witnesses to Watanabe’s decision, but evangelists for it. I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.

Over the years I have seen “Ikiru” every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

Woody Allen: Do Creative Work to Please Yourself, Not Others

Woody Allen: Do Creative Work to Please Yourself, Not Others

Folks find it hard to please themselves because they’re so busy trying to please everyone around them. People pleasing usually comes from a belief that other people’s happiness is more important than your own.

Work to please yourself, not others. Sometimes you may have a difficult boss, difficult customers, or difficult colleagues, or simply face a difficult situation. Make sure you don’t get discouraged and let your standards drop. Get out of your own comfort zone. Carry on working at a level where you feel proud of the work you deliver.

Here’s what Woody Allen had to say about creative work:

I’ve never written anything in my life or done any project that wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time. You really have to forget about what they call “career moves.” You just do what you want to do for your own sense of your creative life. If no one else wants to see it, that’s fine. Otherwise, you’re in the business to please other people.

Source: Woody Allen in an interview with Michiko Kakutani: The Paris Review, The Art of Humor No. 1, Fall 1995, No. 136.

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Women Firsts at the Oscars

Women Firsts at the Oscars

Did you know of some of the female pioneers who’ve scored big Oscar firsts?

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

Ayn Rand’s Play: The Night of January 16th

Ayn Rand's Play: The Night of January 16th

There’s a play by Ayn Rand (best known as the author of the novels, “The Fountainhead” (1943) and “Atlas Shrugged” (1957)) called “The Night of January 16th”.

The drama is set in New York City and features Bjorn Faulkner, a Swedish banker who had extorted millions out of shareholders to inflate the gold market. The stock market then crashed in 1929, and the swindler was in the process of going bankrupt even though he’d gotten a big bailout from his banker father-in-law. On the night of January 16th, he falls to his death from a penthouse suite where he’s been with his mistress, Karen Andre. The big question is whether it was murder or suicide. Karen is on trial for murder.

The drama premiered as Woman on Trial in 1934 and as Night of January 16th in 1935. Ayn Rand’s drama is said to have been inspired by the death of the Ivar Kreuger, an incident dramatized in the movie The Match King.

When Ayn Rand’s play is performed on stage, twelve members of the audience are chosen to be the jury, so the play actually has different endings when it’s staged. Rand’s play does not directly portray the events of Faulkner’s death; instead the jury are required to rely on character testimony and decide on whether Karen Andre is guilty. Rand, also remembered as the pioneer of the philosophy of Objectivism, intended to dramatize a conflict between individualism and conformity, with the jury’s verdict revealing which viewpoint they preferred.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Philosophy and Wisdom

Top 10 Movie Quotations in American Cinema

As part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years… series, a jury consisting of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selected the top 100 memorable American movie quotations of all time.

1. Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”Clark Gable playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939)

2. I’m gonna make him an offer

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972)

3. I coulda had class.

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”Marlon Brando playing Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954)

4. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”Judy Garland playing Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

5. Here’s looking at you

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”Humphrey Bogart playing Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942)

6. Go ahead, make my day

“Go ahead, make my day.”Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callahan in Sudden Impact (1983)

7. I’m ready for my close-up.

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”Gloria Swanson playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

8. May the Force be with you.

“May the Force be with you.”Harrison Ford playing Han Solo in Star Wars (1977)

9. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”Bette Davis playing Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950)

10. You talkin’ to me?

“You talkin’ to me?”Robert De Niro playing Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Book & Movie

The Hundred-Foot Journey Movie

While working as a foreign correspondent, journalist Richard C. Morais, now editor of quarterly Penta magazine published by Barron’s, often rose in the early in the morning to sink your teeth into his interest fiction writing. His persistence paid off when his first novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, was published in 2010 and became an international bestseller. The novel narrates a touching tale of a boy of meager means from India who navigates continents and traverses cultures to develop into a three-star chef in Paris.

'The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Novel' by Richard C Morais (ISBN 1439165653) American chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain praised the book, “Outstanding! A completely engaging human story heavily larded with the lushest, most high-test food porn since Zola. Easily the best novel ever set in the world of cooking —and absolutely thrilling from beginning to end. I wished it went on for another three hundred pages.”

Four years later, the book was made into a movie with screenplay by Steven Knight and direction by Lasse Hallstrom. The movie was produced by Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Juliet Blake and features Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, and Om Puri.

I endorse the book and the movie; they will move you and renew in you a respect for people who keep trying until they get it right.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Akira Kurosawa’s Film: Sanshiro Sugata (aka Judo Saga)

Poster Akira Kurosawa's Sanshiro Sugata (aka Judo Saga)

Akira Kurosawa’s graceful debut is based on a novel of the same name by Judo practitioner Tsuneo Tomita about the rivalry between Judo and Jujitsu. Starring Susumu Fujita as the title character, Sanshiro Sugata is a thrilling martial arts action tale. More importantly, Sanshiro Sugata is a poignant story of moral education that’s archetypal of Kurosawa’s prolific career as a movie director.

Moviegoers universally identify Akira Kurosawa for his masterpieces Rashomon (1950) and the international classics that followed— Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), High and Low (1963). Or his later movies, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). The filmmaker’s incredible technique made his genre tales about samurai and cops, doctors and gangsters wildly popular and defined his enduring creative profile.

In contrast, his career before Rashomon is much less familiar, especially the four films he made during World War II, when he had to contend with obsessive government censors and the country’s physical and cultural downfall. Nonetheless, Kurosawa’s earliest movies swiftly established himself as a major talent.

Akira Kurosawa began his training at the P.C.L. studio in 1936, under the tutelage of director Kajiro Yamamoto, who regarded him as a star pupil. After a few years, Kurosawa was champing at the bit to show what he could do as a director.

Susumu Fujita in Akira Kurosawa's Sanshiro Sugata

Akira Kurosawa was thirty-two years old when he saw a newspaper advertisement for an upcoming novel by Tsuneo Tomita about the rivalry between judo and jujitsu. He frequented the book stands until Sanshiro Sugata was released, and on reading it, right away knew this was the right project for his first film. He proposed it, and when the chance came in 1942 to make the film, he did not hesitate. Susumu Fujita plays the hero, Sanshiro, with a brash and boyish charm, and Kurosawa embeds the martial arts action in a story about Sanshiro’s moral education and enlightenment.

Akira Kurosawa understood sagas of personal transformation to be profoundly compelling, and all of his heroes in his great portray such tales. In his first film, Kurosawa discovered his characteristic narrative template.

Sanshiro Sugata film astonishes with its style too. Kurosawa’s approach is assertive: he uses bold camera moves, aggressive editing, sudden changes in camera speed, axial cutting, wipes to push from scene to scene, and extreme weather as an pointer of dramatic conflict. All of these techniques and styles would become hallmarks of his work.

Sanshiro and the beautiful Sayo on the steps leading to a shrine

Sanshiro Sugata’s highlights consist of a climactic battle in a raging windstorm and an exquisite montage showing a series of meetings between Sanshiro and the beautiful Sayo on the steps leading to a shrine. Composed as a visual tone poem, the meetings between Sayo and Sanshiro sequence reveals Kurosawa’s early mastery of film form. Takashi Shimura, soon to be a customary face in Kurosawa’s work, plays Hansuke Murai, Sayo’s father, with his customary gentleness and affability. In a gesture to the militarism of the period, the villain, Gennosuke Higaki played by Ryunosuke Tsukigata, wears Western clothing.

Japan’s censors hated Sanshiro Sugata who claimed that it was outrageously British/American in its emotional response. Kurosawa also reported being criticized for the scene in which Sanshiro spends the night in a temple pond and sees a lotus flower bloom. Lotus flowers don’t bloom at night, but Kurosawa was undeterred: as he rightly knew and said, it’s a matter of aesthetics, not physics.

Sanshiro Sugata is an aesthetic delight, though it survives today in fragmentary form, with seventeen minutes missing from its original length. Intertitles summarize the narrative of the lost segments.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

Save Ann Arbor’s Historic State Theater

Save Ann Arbor's Historic State Theater

The future of Ann Arbor’s historic State Theater as a place to see great cinema in Ann Arbor is in jeopardy. The State Theater is renowned for playing new independent films and midnight showings of older classics.

The State Theater LLC, the ownership group that owns the State Theater and the rest of the building, has proposed to ask the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission to review plans to transition the second floor into office space. Their proposal is to be voted on by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission at their next meeting on December 12 at 7pm. The ground first floor of the building already consists of an Urban Outfitters store.

Ann Arbor’s characteristic art-loving community fears that this is part of an ever-increasing need for downtown living and office space. Ann Arbor has a wide-reaching reputation as a great city for movies, performing arts, and cultural events. That cultural profile will be diminished by the loss of the State Theater and its two screens.

The management of the historic non-profit Michigan Theater, which already manages the programming of the State Theater, has proposed to lead a community effort to save and preserve the State Theater for present and future moviegoers. The Michigan Theater’s proposal involves purchasing the second floor of the building and enhancing the interiors of the State Theater cinemas to satisfy present day audiences while remaining committed to preserving the theater’s historic use and architectural significance.

Ann Arbor's Historic State Theater Art Deco Cinema Style Theater

Facts about Ann Arbor’s State Theater

  • The State Theater is an historic and important Art Deco Cinema Style theater designed by the renowned architect C. Howard Crane (who also designed Detroit’s Fox Theatre).
  • The State Theater opened in 1942 and has shown movies continuously for 71 years.
  • The current use of the State Theater for both commercial retail and movies is viable and maintains the historic use and architectural significance of the building.
  • The Michigan Theater has programmed and marketed the films at the State since 1997.
  • The State Theater attracts over 50,000 movie goers annually, which is above average among Art House theaters world-wide. If renovated in a way sensitive to its historic origins and upgraded to meet modern movie image, sound and audience comfort standards, that attendance would double.

Impact on Movie and Live Event Programming in Ann Arbor

State Theater, Ann Arbor One of the key reasons that the Michigan Theater has been able to bring high quality films to the Ann Arbor community is the flexibility that comes with the presence of four screens. If the current proposal by the State Theater owners is approved, the Michigan Theater’s ability to provide access to those films will be substantially diminished. With film programming cut in half, this is especially significant. Ann Arbor’s movie-loving community stands to lose a large number of films that require a commitment of six or more weeks. With the loss of the two screens at State Theater, Michigan Theater will be left with its own two screens for programming—this would force fewer days available for concerts, plays, author events, business meetings and other community events currently hosted by Michigan Theater.

Impact on the Ann Arbor Downtown Neighborhood

If the State Theater is converted to office space, foot traffic in the State Street area district will diminish and surrounding retail businesses will suffer.

The proposal submitted by the State Theater makes no reference to the Marquee which, in and of itself, is historically and architecturally significant and is an icon in the Ann Arbor community. If the proposal is approved, there is n o guarantee that the Marquee will be maintained, used in an appropriate manner, or lit into the late evening.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

Satyajit Ray, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Akira Kurosawa at the Taj Mahal

Satyajit Ray, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Akira Kurosawa at the Taj Mahal

Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa at the Taj Mahal Three of the greatest auteurs of world cinema, India’s Satyajit Ray, Italy’s Michelangelo Antonioni, and Japan’s Akira Kurosawa at the Taj Mahal around the mid-1970s.

Satyajit Ray (1921–1992) was a Kolkata-born an Indian filmmaker regarded as one of the greatest auteur of world cinema. Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007) was an Italian film director, screenwriter, editor, and short story writer. The celebrated Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) was a Japanese film director, screenwriter, producer, and editor. Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of world cinema.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture