In a film industry that gives out the most inequitable treatment to women, the role of mother has always found some space. A male dominated industry allows female characters to survive only in relation to the “hero”, hence either as “the love interest” or our archetypal “affectionate mother”.
What started out as a “tribute to mothers” we took the road less travelled by and instead of celebrating the Mother’s Day by listing out the The Top Moms in Hindi Cinema we analyse this role. One might still call it a tribute. But tribute to a mother just cannot shape up akin to our special post on fathers’ day even if attempted, although that was not a Bollywood tribute but blatancy will throw at us mothers from Hindi film cinema while doing this.
A typical tribute will ignore the differences between the roles of cinematic fathers and mothers. Let us structure such a tribute. It can reasonably be expected to start with the quote “Mere paas maa hai.” On this journey that the author takes us on, we shall pass Deewar, Karan Arjun, Ram Lakhan among others, celebrating such character actors as Nirupa Roy, Lalita Pawar and Rakhee. A long list of movies that these have played mothers in can be easily produced. All tributes in the market keep reproducing them. But the important questions were being skipped. What made the role of mother end up as a stereotype and thus scripted the emergence of these character actors? There is something within the meaning of character actors that points to triviality. Hindi films treat mothers as something abstract. The misery of Rakhee playing mother to an older Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti is seldom recognized.
Men never faced such a stereotype. There has been nobody to parallel Nirupa Roy, someone who would have made a career out of character roles of a father. Thus if we were to pick out these poor, poor mothers of Bollywood we are not adhering to the same logic we did for the father’s day post.
The Bollywood films that could have been included (Akele Hum Akele Tum) are the ones in which fathers can still be the centre and the child’s presence is in respect with the father, with a relationship from the top. If not that, then as equals in conflict, Mughal-E-Azam, Shakti, Trishul are some of the numerous examples. In case of mothers and sons (it has to be sons because daughters too cannot be central) the relationship is from below.
While Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor save the character to be pushed into peripheral, it is Kirron Kher etc continue to play to the limits of the formulaic mother.
A careful study of the industry cannot draw a blank. Since this post is more on what does not celebrate mothers as what does, we do not cover all movies giving true tribute to mothers. Restricting it to few, Mother India we cannot not exclude.
Surely one of the best films in Bollywood ever, Mother India was made as early as 1957 and yet hardly any film in the next six decades has dealt with the character of a mother in as much depth. In Mother India, the beauty lies in the fact that various dimensions of a mother, both in the dynamism of her role (wife, widow, daughter) and also presenting the facets of her personality as a mother itself. Mother India shows the protagonist Radha as a nurturing, caring and strong mother who teaches her children the right values in life and does her best to take care of them in the worst of hardships. In contrast, she also is a person of her word and expects her beloved son Birju (Sunil Dutt) to keep his promise of not harming their exploiters in the past (Sukhilala). As he breaks his promise, Radha kills his own son to stay true to her values and promise. Mother is not at all an abstraction but is in “flesh and blood.”
It is unfortunate that not many films in the future could support a script where the mother was the lead character. Nobody is yet contesting the impact scored by the mother’s in Bollywood. Deewar’s Nirupa Roy is also very much flesh and blood. Mothers are there to instill values into their sons that will grow up to be heroes. Banally we refer to My Name is Khan. The impact of his mother on Rizwan Khan is important. Interestingly, the same film shows another mother-son relationship but here from above. Kajol may not be the lead (there is always only one), but her efforts to bring justice to her dead son are not exactly peripheral.
One can say while on a tribute that “there’s no place that reveres mothers more than Bollywood”, and describing their “adoring smiles, strokes that sooth away fears, soft voices singing lullabies and those pain-filled eyes reflecting the sacrifices made for the sake of their children”. People have done this. Descriptions such as these define the limits for such roles. Most of our criticisms are against the articles obtained as top results on Google for “Famous mothers of Bollywood”, also the widespread view.
We only wish for an equal share for women in films. Celebrating the stereotypical roles of mothers is defeatism. This mother’s day realise that your existence rests on your mother and not the other way around.