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On screen and beyond
From slummy to yummy, Bollywood's mummy's changed over 60 years - from Nargis' mud-covered agonies in Mother India to Nirupa Roy's grim determination in Deewar and Kirron Kher's bejewelled bewilderment in Dostana. Each of Bollywood's pathbreaking mothers depicts a particular moment in national time, a pausing of the era to frame India's vital challenges and concerns.
It all began with the 1950s when 'the disappearing husband' genre was established. Bollywood adopted the Uttar Ramayana-theme of the good/bad dad shaping a story with his absence, screen mothers left to plug the gap. Mums of the Mother India ilk didn't say die, instead displaying enormous courage and concern not only for their own but also for their communities and the progress of the nation. Towards these, they underwent tremendous hardships, even sacrificing loved ones. These weren't mums you could run to for a cuddle but rather creatures of yore to be revered.
This fibre extended into the 1970s;with husbands vanishing before the law, trade unions or mafias, mothers of the Bachchan brigade didn't lose heart. They sold their one gold bangle, gathered their children and left for the metropolis where, working as construction labour or slaving over sewing machines, they made a life of decency founded on values. Their capacity to withstand any moral temptation, any sensual lassitude, became inspiration and dilemma for their children who could never ride easy in a badi gadi. Were they violating an ethical norm, living it up while others lived on pavements ? Screen mothers were the crucial link to protagonists' growth, their ethical journeys and moral dilemmas.
The break came in the 1990s;with migrating protagonists rejecting Bharat Mata herself, screen mothers changed, becoming more watchful of community, tradition and religion, but no longer national good or social imperatives. And suddenly, fathers returned. Bollywood's 'big daddy', Punjabi, patriarchal and purse-holding, overpowered mothers and daughters with heavy lines forbidding college, freedom or fun. The mummy's position grew as shaky as chiffon;in DDLJ, the happy ending only happens when daddy literally hands his daughter over to the new man in her life. Mummyji stands waving with all the other extras, a spot in the crowd, perhaps with extra rouge on.
The urbane equivalent is a mum who wears trouser suits but only to go to the club with, who advocates arranged marriage, endorses emigration and really couldn't care about poverty as long as the servants keep scrubbing. Yet, there's hope. Going by films like Hum Tum, there seems to be a space for motherdaughter relationships to develop. Along with the nation-state, perhaps screen betas could do with a break as well. And let ma focus on someone else for a change.
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