This ﬁlm is a generic mixture of the mythological, devotional and the social in the manner of a vratkatha or story about a fast to propitiate a speciﬁc deity rather than a story from the Sanskrit repertoire. In this ﬁlm, a young woman, Satyavati (Kanan Kaushal), is victimised and bullied by her in-laws and is helped by Santoshi Maa (Anita Guha), a mother goddess, and is ﬁnally restored to her husband (Ashish Kumar).80 It is often said that Santoshi Maa was a new or local goddess who became popular as a result of the ﬁlm but there seem to be popular images of her from the 1960s by the well-known ﬁrm, Sharma Picture Publications (Pinney 2004: 154–5). Although there are vratkathas associated with Santoshi Maa, her origins are not clear.
Santoshi Maa is not the daughter of Ganesh in the Hindi book as she is in the ﬁlm. Gokarn mentions a Marathi version of the vratkatha in which she is an incarnation of Mahalaksmi but Ganesh seems to have been added as a popular ﬁgure. In the ﬁlm, Lakshmi is a rival of Santoshi Maa, but Gokarn points out that the vratkatha does not give the names of the three jealous goddesses (Brahmani, Lakshmi and Parvati), nor does it have the curse to make a husband forget his wife, which allows the typical ﬁlm device of the ‘other woman’. Narada is also introduced in the ﬁlm as a busybody; the vrat is cut from sixteen consecutive Fridays to twelve.
Although the ﬁlm is set in some vaguely north Indian village in roughly contemporary time, the cult of Santoshi Maa has become strong in the cities, in particular for lower-middle-class women, for whom this is a fairly easy vrat, as it requires only the avoidance of sour foods and removes the need for intermediaries and large expenses.82 The story of the goddess is also appealing to women as it takes up the popular theme of saas-bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law), which has become a staple of television soap operas.
Jai Santoshi Maa is a modern version of the goddess story, in which the goddess is not a form of shakti (‘power’) as she does not ﬁght nor does she want anyone destroyed, but is a benevolent ﬁgure who only requires the suffering of a single devotee as her sacriﬁce. Satyavati is a sati ﬁgure, whose sacriﬁces and vrats (‘fasts’) force the goddess to intervene and fulﬁl her personal desires.