Is Bollywood’s obsession with iconic motherly roles over?
Mere paas maa hai,’ was, is and always will be one of the most iconic lines ever spoken in Hindi cinema. This unforgettable line, from the 1975 Hindi film, Deewar, transcends emotion… it typifies the way the ‘mother’ is embedded in the Indian consciousness – a self-sacrificing symbol of unconditional love who was revered by her sons like a demi-God. The ‘mother’ was also a symbol of righteousness to the point where she chose morality over all else, even if it meant forsaking her sons and her family.
Yes, time was when iconic moms in Hindi cinema had long and fruitful careers, which is why we will never forget the performances delivered by actors like Achla Sachdev, Dina Pathak, Kamini Kaushal, Nirupa Roy, Durga Khote, Lalita Pawar, Farida Jalal, Zohra Sehgal, Waheeda Rehman, Raakhee, Reema Lagoo and now Dimple Kapadia, Kirron Kher, Ratna Pathak Shah and Shabana Azmi. Back in the day, not only did Bollywood place ‘the mother’ on a pedestal; this role was often the driving force behind film storylines.
Times have since changed and, with realistic cinema taking over, the ‘mother role’ is largely redundant in Hindi cinema. The question we asked trade experts and filmmakers this week is, whether Bollywood no longer has room for our dear mothers or whether there are other reasons this iconic role has faded from Hindi cinema. Here’s what the experts had to say…
Today, if I create a mother’s character who is over-sensitive and emotional, it would seem like a comic character because real-life mothers have changed. Today is the time of dysfunctional families and that’s why we don’t see those quintessential mothers on the big screen any more, whereas you still see them on television. In fact, the reason you don’t see them on the big screen is because the joint family concept has moved to television. They movie-going audience has grown bored of those characters and that’s why directors and writers have moved on from these characters.
Society has changed. Youngsters want films to be intelligent and that’s why there is a tectonic shift in the types of stories we tell in Hindi cinema today. There is a sea change in the emotions in films of the ‘80s and today’s cinema. Youngsters now want to watch films with realistic stories and the way a mother is viewed in a story too is very different today. Mothers used to be more symbolic in yesteryear films. For instance, Mother India revolved around a mother who killed her son because he did wrong. In Deewar, at the end, the mother leaves her son because he was wrong, whereas in Aatish, the mother stands by her son and defends him even when he is wrong. So the definition of a mother standing up for her son has changed in every era. That’s why you don’t see many roles for mothers in films today.
The reason we no longer have mother characters or even similar character artistes in our films is that not only has cinema changed but the audience has too. Changing family values, systems, patterns and lifestyles have impacted society and this is reflected in cinema. The old, moralistic, upright, central figure or sometimes power centre no longer exists in films. Even Sooraj Barjatya replaced the ‘step-mom’ with ‘step-sister’ in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, to lure the younger audience to watch the film.
There are ‘mother characters’ in films these days as well…but what is missing is the importance of that character in the overall story. In fact even the 80’s and 90’s mother roles in most films then were just there as secondary characters.Neerja is a mother-daughter story and hence pivotal to the narrative of the film. I guess just like any other character, apart from the hero and heroine of course, only when the character is important to the totality of the film will we see more strong ‘mother roles’ like Shabana Azmi portrayed in Neerja.