We have the perfect Mother’s Day gift: What Bollywood taught us about the Maa in cinema – The Indian Express

Motherhood is perhaps the most paradoxical role that a person has to play. On the one hand, you have greatness and nobility thrust upon you as soon as you have a child in your arms, whether biological or adopted. On the other, a mother is taken for granted by her children and family on pretty much a daily basis.
Soon after I became a mother, I realised that the pressure to be a great mother rarely allowed me to have a great time. From being a regular person with dreams and a head of healthy hair, I found my body and mind altered in ways I never thought possible. The cultural influences on us have not helped matters. For very long, our cinema and television programs glorified mothers and put them on a pedestal. We were told that a woman was complete only after she became a mother, and nothing mattered more than this one aspect of her existence.
I mean we made a film called ‘Mother India’ that told the story of a woman who toiled singlehandedly to raise her children after her husband abandoned her. When one of these kids understandably went down the wrong path after a lifetime of trauma, the same mother kills him, ennobling herself further.
Over the years, Bollywood has seen a variety of mothers gain popularity. There was Durga Khote who played the kind and understanding mother to multiple Bollywood stars. After her breakthrough performance in Mughal-e-Azam as Jodha Bai, Khote was seen as a mother in Bobby, Namak Haram, Karz and multiple other films. Then came Nirupa Roy who sadly became typecast as the mother who was wronged by society and the men in her life. If there was an angry young man, there was a dukhiyari impoverished mother who remained the moral compass of the family. Roy became famous for playing ‘Maa’ to Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in Deewar and went on to play similar roles in films like Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, and Suhaag. The weeping Indian mother soon gave way to a vengeful one. Rakhee became Bollywood’s most successful angry old lady in films like Ram Lakhan, Khalnayak, Koyla and Baazigar, and Karan Arjun. Who can forget the iconic dialogue, ‘Mere Karan Arjun Aayenge’ complete with wild hair and a streak of insanity in her eyes?
The problematic part was that the lives of these women revolved completely around the men in their lives. The husband, then the husband’s enemy, and then of course her son/sons who became the agents of revenge. She had no agency or ability to get even by herself.
After many years of miserable mothers came the dramatic moms and rom-com moms. Farida Jalal and Kirron Kher were the most popular actors in this genre, playing matriarchs who were cheerful, friendly, and a tad OTT, but supportive towards their children. They were often relied on to double up as comic relief in films as well. Reema Lagoo and Himani Shivpuri on the other hand were the family drama favourites and could be relied on for tears and smiles in equal measure. Think Maine Pyaar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Hum Saath Saath Hain, and Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon amongst many others.
I realise though in retrospect, that for decades in mainstream cinema, mothers were always satellites orbiting their children. They were idolised and treated with respect, but they had no identity or desires of their own. It’s strange, isn’t it? As someone who is supposed to be the most important person in a family, in a child’s life and has a huge role to play in how a society develops, mothers in Bollywood have for decades been little more than a supporting act in someone else’s life. It has only been in the past decade or so that we have seen a huge shift in the way mothers are portrayed on screen. Social media, OTT content and perhaps a more sensitive breed of filmmakers have ensured that mothers on screen are believable people who are not defined by the fact that they have children.
English Vinglish was one of the first films to put a mother at the centre of the narrative and delve into her heart and mind. Neena Gupta (Badhai Ho, Masaba Masaba, Panchayat), Shefali Shah (Darlings, Delhi Crime and Ankahee), Sheeba Chadha (Badhai Do, Doctor G), Seema Pahwa (Shubh Mangal Savdhaan) and Ratna Pathak Shah (Lipstick under my Burkha and Thappad), have all played characters of mothers who are just human, not holy. These mothers have hobbies, careers, a past, a sense of humour and even sexual desire that they aren’t afraid to express. Most importantly, they are the sun in their solar system and are allowed to shine in all their glory.
Truth be told, mothers are just regular people who can have bad days and bad moods, be terrible cooks or wonderful CEOs. As different as they may seem, all mothers, are united in their fear of failing at the one thing they are supposed to ‘naturally’ and ‘instinctively’ be good at. Imagine having a job where every single person around you expects you to do the right thing and be perfect at all times. Seems unbearable, isn’t it?
So, this Mother’s Day if you really want to give the mothers and mother figures in your life a present, give them your empathy. Let’s lift the load off a mother’s shoulders this year and allow her to stand tall and breathe freely.

Saraswati Datar read more


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