2ndlook

Meet Joe Black … An Indian Story

Posted in Feminist Issues, Film Reviews, History, India, Media, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on March 11, 2008

Savitri and Satyavan by Ardhenduprasad Banerji

Savitri and Satyavan by Ardhenduprasad Banerji

Having made the decision with my mind, I am stating it with my speech, and shall accomplish it with my actions later. My mind is my authority – Savitri, in Mahabharata.

I finished seeing the re-run of movie, “Meet Joe Black” – and it is the second time I am seeing this movie. I am stuck with the ‘Indian-ness’ of this movie. Intrigued, I decided to Google for more.

What Do I Find

I discover it is a remake of an old movie – the Wikipedia informs me that it is a 1998 remake of the 1934 film, Death Takes A Holiday. It was remade in 1971 under the 1934 original title. The film stars Brad Pitt (a Joe Black), Anthony Hopkins (as Bill Parish) and Claire Forlani.

Meet Joe Black

Meet Joe Black

Interestingly (not surprisingly), Wikipedia tells me this film did well overseas and not in the USA.

This Story Is A Lift …

This film could have been titled Savitri and Satyavan in New York. How so?

Savitri meets Satyavan (Brad Pitt as Joe Black) in a coffee shop – and it is love at first sight. After the meeting a ‘lost’ Satyavan meets with an accident and dies – of which Savitri knows nothing.

Savitri (Claire Forlani) is the perfect daughter of Bill Parish (Anthony Hopkins, as a rich business tycoon) – instead of the royal father-in-law. Yamaraj (Brad Pitt) takes the form of Satyavan (Brad Pitt again) and comes visiting Earth, to take away Bill Parish, whose time has come.

But Yamaraj, offers Bill Parish a deal, whereby Bill Parish will get some ‘extra time’ in return for giving Yamaraj, a guided tour of life on earth.

While the guided tour is on, Bill Parish loses his kingdom – just like the original Indian story. Yamaraj is maha-impressed by Savitri – like the original Mahabharat story. Yamaraj restores life to Satyavan – just like the original story. Yamaraj also helps the father (instead of the father-in-law) to get back his kingdom.

Yama-o-Savitri by Nandalal Bose. Kokka woodblock print Photo - Mukul Dey Archives (Click for larger image.).

Yama-o-Savitri by Nandalal Bose. Kokka woodblock print Photo - Mukul Dey Archives (Click for larger image.).

The differences

Bill Parish is the father instead of the father in law. It is set in New York – instead of India. The West may find it maudlin or cloying – since, women (Eve) are the root of all evil.

From an Indian perspective, it was well done. The focus was more on Bill Parish and Joe Black – than on Savitri, which figures.

Rather like the Bappi Lahiri vs Dr.Dre case, I thought.

PS – The story of Savitri is known in Western arts. Gustav Holst (1874-1934), a British musician born in Cheltenham, Britain, composed his Savitri Op. 25 in 1908, for chamber orchestra.

Considered “revolutionary because there are only three characters and the accompanying orchestra consists of no more than 12 musicians. Savitri was the first English chamber opera since the end of the seventeenth century.”

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3 Responses

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  1. Parag Tope said, on March 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Lift might be strong word – influence – sure.

    There are two important elements of Savitri’s love for Satyavahan. First, her insistence on marrying him – despite being warned that he will die early. Second, her protracted negotiations with Yama after his death, and her success in getting his life back.

    As in many Indian stories – there are many variations that exist. Have you heard a variation from this theme?

  2. Anuraag Sanghi said, on March 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Indian creation is anonymous – no one knows who the historical Valmiki, Ramayana, Kalidasa are or were. Ajanta paintings are done by anonymous artists. Wootz steel was made by many in India – and there was no hoarding of knowledge.

    Western ethics insist on authorship and taking credit of paramount importance. Hence, as per Western ethics, if this was inspired or influenced, it should be acknowledged.

    There was no mention anywhere – and that was intriguing.

    Onto the film – the specifics of the story were modified. The spirit of the woman, which comes from movie and the Savitri-Satyavan story are the same.

    Did you see this movie? I thought it was rather well done.

  3. Parag Tope said, on March 11, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Yes – I did see – and as you said, it did intrigue me as well. I liked the movie. Brad Pitt was a terrible choice though.

    About your other comment:

    >>Indian creation is anonymous – no one knows who the historical Valmiki, Ramayana, Kalidasa are or were. Ajanta paintings are >>done by anonymous artists. Wootz steel was made by many in India – and there was no hoarding of knowledge.

    There are two elements embedded – one is the credit and second is the hoarding. I think that Indians are keen on giving credit where it is due. In cases where it has become anonymous is because it was lost – not because it was not a part of the Indian model.

    About hoarding you are right. Knowledge in India could not be hoarded. Patents and copyrights require active enforcement by the government, that goes beyond enforcement of contracts. Indic polity and the role of kings was never to actively participate in enforcing untenable laws. Modern economists claim “efficiencies” that arise from “intellectual property” rights, but these are largely to disrupt the real free markets and allow the power to shift to the few.

    Indian society was based on principles of freedom and the role of the kings (rajdharma) was limited to defense and enforcing contracts. Individual property rights were respected, and land did change hands. But because no economic models of slavery existed, owning large amounts of land was inefficient.

    Marxist historians have twisted this data to portray India in exactly the opposite colors.


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