Jai Santoshi Maa – Divine Miracle

When a film achieves a certain success, it becomes a sociological event and the question of its quality becomes secondary – Francois Truffaut.

Jai_Santoshi_Maa_1975_01The motley crew of foolhardy, second rung film professionals who collaborated to make box office history only had divine benediction to rely upon. There was no plan B. The miraculous maturing of this coarsely executed mythological film into a phenomenon bewildered the industry’s self-appointed fortune tellers as it passed into Bollywood folklore. Its success story is still often recounted by hardened strugglers while sipping tea outside Mumbai’s numerous studios. ‘Jai Santoshi Maa’ (1975), which started out as a negligible little mythological film, grew into a box-office bonanza five months after its release, showing simultaneously in 130 theaters across the country. To compare, the previous year’s box-office sensation ‘Bobby’ had a simultaneous run in just 103. The audience would prostrate at the entrance of the theater as they would at a temple, burn incense, throw flowers and coins on the screen, break their Friday vrat (fast) inside the hall and perform ‘garba’ in the foyer.

Producer Satram Rohra, desperately clutching at straws, was on the brink after the failure of his début film, ‘Rocky Mera Naam’. He had to recoup the losses before the debts got called in.  Then he reportedly met a lady who offered him Rs.25,000 provided he made a film on the deity Santoshi Maa. Satram apparently didn’t care which goddess he focused on as long as he made a film. He grabbed the opportunity.

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Producer Satram Rohra

With films on his mind, three decades earlier, Pandit Priyadarshi had migrated from Haridwar to Bombay. Well versed in literature, he had to settle for bit roles before the writing assignments came. Starting with stories for a few socials, everything he touched turned to dust. It seemed his bad karma had chased him across the Gangetic plains. Switching to mythologicals, he wrote Sati Sulochana, Dev Kanya and Naag Mere Saathi but his luck didn’t turn.. Then he penned Jai Santoshi Maa.

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Director Vijay Sharma and Writer Pandit Priyadarshi

Vijay Sharma and Priyadarshi’s friendship was nineteen years old and Sharma harbored just one compelling desire; to be known as the director of a hit film. His first ‘Mahapavan Teerth Yatra’ didn’t do it for him as hope floated away. Rohra hired this cheap talent on tap but the amount hardly sufficed for a few reels as the production stalled and in desperation, Satram went looking for a buyer. Willing to sell the film at a throw-away price, fortune finally smiled on him when he found no buyers.

One day distributor Sandeep Sethi and his partner Kedarnath Aggarwal first heard of this film in a suburban hotel where they met Rohra. The film had every flaw needed to discourage buying but Aggarwal’s wife heard the film’s story and urged them on. She had her reasons. After 20 years of their married life, the Aggarwals had no children. Mrs. Aggarwal then started the Santoshi vrat and was blessed with what she accepted as Maa’s ‘prasad’, a baby girl. The next day the two partners bought the distribution rights not just for Bombay but all major territories.

The final flourish of color was infused by two men who ended up claiming a large chunk of the film’s success. Decorated with the title of Rashtrakavi (National poet), Pradeep’s glory days had ended with the sixties as patriotic fervor gave way to uncharacteristic cynicism. As western pop music influences became the norm, Pradeep’s straight jacketed purist Hindi lost favour. Filmdom’s producers had no work offers for the man who had penned, “Aye Mere Watan ke Logon”, “Chal Chal Re Naujawan” and “Door Hato Ae Duniyawalon Hindustan Hamara Hai.”

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Composer C Arjun and Lyricist Kavi Pradeep

Destined for a lifelong combat with the quicksand of C grade films, music director C Arjun never compromised with his craft. Giving lilting melodies suitable for more respectable films than for low-budget quickies like Susheela, Punarmilan and Ek Saal Pehle (some starring Jagdeep and Sujit Kumar in lead roles), Arjun was often called the poor man’s Madan Mohan. Along with the languorous quality of his compositions, his intuitive knack of picking the right pitch for a singer was outstanding. Due to budget constraints, when he chose the lesser known of the Mangeshkar sisters, he lucked out. A Santoshi Maa devotee, Usha Mangeshkar only had one condition – let the recording begin on the deity’s day, a Friday.

When the film was all set for release, the distributors took up the Santoshi Maa’s vrat fasting for 16 successive Fridays and on the 17th Friday they went to Ujjain to conclude the vrat at the Santoshi Maa temple there.

1975 was a bumper crop year for Bollywood. The big banner offerings Deewar, Pratigya, Sanyasi and Sholay jostled for onscreen space with middle of the road cinema like Julie, Aandhi Chupke Chupke and Choti Si Baat. And on 30th May, slipping under the radar between all these, arrived Jai Santoshi Maa.

No one in the industry took notice. As the weeks progressed, the legend started to gain momentum.

The air conditioning plant of a theater in Baroda which had long been behaving erratically reportedly worked full blast throughout its two-week run. At a Surat theater where no film had ever run for more than one week, members of the Sabarmati Mahila Mandal reportedly distributed ‘prasad’ {gur (jaggery) and gram} in the interval to mark the conclusion of the Santoshi Maa vrat. After four weeks, the collection stood at over Rs. 1,00,000.Jai_Santoshi_Maa_1975_LP

With HMV getting repeated requests for records of the film, it was compelled to press an LP. Unique in HMV’s history, it was the first instance that an LP was released for a mythological film. The record of the film broke every known record.

By the tenth week over two million people had seen the film in Bombay. In the Bombay territory alone it grossed over Rs. 25 lakhs within the first 18 weeks. In the Delhi-U.P. Circuit the grosses were compared to those of such giants as ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ and ‘Anarkali’.

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Kanan Kaushal and Ashish Kumar

Kanan Kaushal, the film’s heroine, had her name mis-spelt in the film’s publicity after which she insisted on sticking to that version – Kaoshal – as it brought her luck. So with Ashish Kumar, the hero became Asis because that is how it went into credits. The Kaoshal – Kumar team were referred to as the Hema – Dharam of mythological films.

Anita Guha, who played the eponymous goddess in the film, frequently found herself mobbed by women wanting to touch her feet in the traditional gesture of veneration. Rumors had it that she became a teetotaler.

Publicity_Poster_-_Jai_Santoshi_Maa_1975The film’s publicity, in a class by itself for which the distributors spent over Rs. 1 lac was the highest ever for a ‘devotional’ film. They were made to appear as religious announcements. To announce the film’s 17th week run, the ads said: “The vrat of 16 Fridays completed in Bombay. Millions of devotees got blessings of Santoshi Maa in Bombay”. It is as though going to see the film was like dropping a coin in the wishing fountain.

“Satyawati got her husband back after much suffering because she kept her fast for continuous 16 Fridays.  Santoshi Maa – the goddess of satisfaction is in no way less than other goddesses. You can also have your wish fulfilled. See the miracle packed mythological picture.” And the distributors described themselves ‘Mata Santoshi Ke Bhagyashali Bhagat’. Announcing the release in Bengal was this advertisement, “Mata Santoshi will make her divine appearance today in West Bengal”. The cine-goers were not an audience anymore – they were pilgrims.

For a few years thereafter, Basant Studios in Chembur, where most of the mythologicals were made in the old days, once again buzzed with hectic activity with artists dressed in celestial costumes loitering in the grounds, waiting for their shots.

In May 1976, Jai Santoshi Maa entered the second year of its combined run at Alankar cinema in Bombay. And after Sholay, it was the second highest grossing film of 1975.

For a detailed plot outline and socio-economic aspects of the film, please visit THIS link.

And here is one of its famous bhajans – Yahan Wahan Jahan Tahan – Singer Mahendra Kapoor

 

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