Devotional Transformation

Miracles, Mechanical Artifice, and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema


  • Ravi Vasudevan Centre for Developing Societies, Delhi



Hindu devotional film, Prabhat Studios


This article focuses on the specific Indian cinematic form of the Hindu devotional film genre to explore the relationship between cinema and religion. Using three important early films from the devotional oeuvre—Gopal Krishna, Sant Dnyaneshwar, and Sant Tukaram—as the primary referent, it tries to understand certain characteristic patterns in the narrative structures of these films, and the cultures of visuality and address, miraculous manifestation, and witnessing and self-transformation that they generate. These three films produced by Prabhat Studios between the years 1936 and 1940 and all directed by Vishnupant Damle and Syed Fattelal, drew upon the powerful anti-hierarchical traditions of Bhakti, devotional worship that circumvented Brahmanical forms. This article will argue that the devotional film crucially undertakes a work of transformation in the perspectives on property, and that in this engagement it particularly reviews the status of the household in its bid to generate a utopian model of unbounded community. The article will also consider the status of technologies of the miraculous that are among the central attractions of the genre, and afford a reflection on the relation between cinema technology, popular religious belief and desire, and film spectatorship.

Author Biography

Ravi Vasudevan, Centre for Developing Societies, Delhi

Ravi Vasudevan is Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and is a co-initiator of the Centre's Sarai programme on urban and media research. Vasudevan studies history at Jawaharlal Nehru University and film studies at the university of East Anglia. He is on the editorial board of the British film studies journal Screen, and a member of the editorial collective of the Sarai Reader series. He has edited Making Meaning in Indian Cinema(Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2000). Centre for the Study of Developing Societies 29 Rajpur Road Delhi 110054 India


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How to Cite

Vasudevan, R. (2005). Devotional Transformation: Miracles, Mechanical Artifice, and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 1(2-3), 237–257.