Looking back at the phenomenal success stories of Jai Santoshi Maa, the only film to match Sholay’s

Looking back at the phenomenal success stories of Jai Santoshi Maa, the only film to match Sholay’s

Film critic and historian Dilip Thakur reveals the many fascinating tales of Jai Santoshi Maa. He recalls, “Jai Santoshi Maa was released as Also Run. At that time, Chandrakant and Homi Wadia used to make mythological films. Jai Santoshi Maa was released as a small film but it picked up because of its songs. Main Toh Aarti Utaaru Re song became an actual real-world aarti. People across cities and villages used to sing that song as a prayer.”
The film had become a spiritual revolution. Dilip Thakur remembers, “On Fridays, people used to remove their footwear outside the theatre before going inside the theatre to watch the film. They used to put flower garlands on the film’s poster. Temples of Jai Santoshi Maa were constructed at various places, most of those being unofficial.”
Dilip Thakur believes, winning over the validation of female audiences was the key for Jai Santoshi Maa. He explains, “If you notice, films that are liked by women become bigger hits. During those times, women didn’t get to watch movies by themselves. So, separate shows for women were organised on Saturdays because kids would have a half-day at school. Those shows used to be called Janani (Hindi synonym for the word mother) Shows. Those shows would have only ladies and their kids. Quite a few films, with similar themes, came after that but none could become as successful as Jai Santoshi Maa.”
Jai Santoshi Maa was released in May 1975. Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan and Jaya Bachchan was released on August 15, 1975. Thakur further explains the David-Goliath clash, “Sholay was running successfully. No other film managed to find its ground in front of the action epic. Sanyasi (featuring Manoj Kumar and Hema Malini), which came in October, got some success. But Jai Santoshi Maa is always compared with Sholay in terms of box office business in the same year. Amidst the craze of Sholay, the only film to stand its ground was Jai Santoshi Maa.”
Ad film guru and filmmaker Niranjan Mehta recalls the impact that the film made on family audiences and raked in phenomenal numbers at the box office. He says, “Jai Santoshi Maa used to have 11 am show at Alankar. I didn’t watch mythological movies at that time but my mother wanted to watch Jai Santoshi Maa. So, I took her to the movie. She was very happy. The film’s music by C Arjun was very good and played a big role in the film’s success. The film was made on a budget of 3-3.5 lakhs. The cost-to-recovery ratio of Jai Santoshi Maa was higher than Sholay.”
Recalling the unusual circumstances under which the film got funded, Niranjan Mehta reveals, “The wife of a certain Mr Agarwal from Calcutta was not able to get pregnant. She had kept a vrat of Santoshi Mata and later got pregnant. So, the Agarwal family funded the film to be made.” Getting the film released was another challenge. As Niranjan Mehta explains, “In Mumbai, there were at least 50 trials with distributors and exhibitors but nobody was ready to pick the film. One person picked up the film but he too didn’t have money to release it. He sold it to my friend and distributor KC Bhat. He distributed the film and earned money. I was friends with C Arjun. He used to come to KC Bhat’s office in the evenings. I also met the film’s writer R Priyadarshi.”
Niranjan Mehta also had another professional association with Jai Santoshi Maa. He reveals, “I had a small advertising agency back then. I got a call from Ashish Kumar who played the lead in Jai Santoshi Maa. He told me that some of the artists from the film were doing a Hindi play based on the film. And he wanted me to do their publicity. I went to see their rehearsals at a house opposite National College in Bandra. I didn’t think that the play would work because in the film there were elements of miracles. They did a couple of shows and I did their publicity. The play didn’t succeed.”
The lyrics of Jai Santoshi Maa’s iconic songs were written by celebrated lyricist, Kavi Pradeep. His daughter Mitul Pradeep recalls, “Mein To Aarti Utaru Re is one of the most iconic lyrics from my father Kavi Pradeep ji’s career. I was witness to making of the song, too. It was sometime in 1974 when producer Satram Rohra came to our house with music director C Arjun to meet my father. Pradeep ji reluctantly agreed to write lyrics for this project. The first song he wrote was this aarti of Santoshi Mata.”
Mitul reveals that Kavi Pradeep gave the tune to the lyrics, too. She reveals. “As was his style he tuned the lyrics. The tune was based on Gujarati garba. The music director lapped it up. My father called me and my mother to sit and listen to the rehearsal, which was taking place at our residence. My father asked us to be frank with our opinion of this aarti song. It was very simple and the tune was catchy. That was the signature sign of my father’s compositions. There was nothing amiss in the lyrics. We told our father, ‘Any person who is spiritually inclined will like this song’.”
Mitul further recalls, “Usha Mangeshkar didi came home the next day for the final rehearsal and then the recording happened in Bombay Lab in the able hands of Sharmaji. I was present at the recording. But was I aware that this song will make history and will be considered one of the evergreen bhajans by my father? Frankly speaking, I had not imagined it.”
Mitul describes the hysteria that she witnessed in theatres first hand. She adds, “This iconic song directly challenged Sholay’s popularity. Both films were in theatres at the same time. I went to watch the film in a local theatre. I was astonished to see the ladies performing the aarti inside the theatre auditorium. They were also dancing to this aarti. I believe I witnessed history being made with the success of Jai Santoshi Maa.”

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