R.I.P. Screen Mom
By Khalid Mohamed
Friday, July 06, 2012

The long-suffering, self-sacrificing mothers of yore in Hindi cinema have ceased to exist in the present-day landscape; the mothers who do crop up once in a while are vastly different

No one has mourned her loss. The good old mother, welling over with the milk of human kindness, has become near-extinct in the movies. She no longer governs the lives of the screen heroes. Indeed, today lines of dialogue — like the classic from Deewar, “Mere paas maa hai” — evoke a yearning nostalgia for the mothers who went through untold sacrifices to ensure that their sons lived happily ever after.

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MOTHERS’ GALLERY: (clockwise from above left) Reema Lagoo, Sharmila Tagore, Nirupa Roy (in Deewar), Hema Malini (in Baghban), Dimple Kapadia (in Dabangg)

Although it was reported that Madhuri Dixit, now on a comeback spree, would reprise the role played by Nargis in Mother India, there has been no follow-up news on the project which was to be directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. Just as well. A remake of the milestone film would have been foolhardy. Moreover, today’s viewers don’t seem to empathise with the flowing tears of the quintessential film matriarch. The highest number of tickets is bought by the 18-25 age group, who want their entertainment jaguar-paced and crammed with either action or comedy.

There’s just no attention span or patience to endure the traditional ‘emotional track’ centred around the mother, which is now seen as a speed-breaker in the narrative flow. Not surprisingly, the mother quotient was merely mandatory 
in two of the top cash-earners of the year: Housefull 2 and Rowdy Rathore.  And if vendettas are still  being wreaked, it is for  a cruelly murdered father. Examples: Agneepath  and Gangs of Wasseypur, in contrast to, say, Shah Rukh Khan conniving a revenge plan for his wronged mother in Baazigar. Or Amitabh Bachchan settling scores for his discarded mother in Trishul.

So, do you miss the larger-than-life mothers? Absolutely. Especially because they were portrayed by charismatic actresses, each of who represented a specific type. Nirupa Roy, the leading lady of innumerable mythologicals and widely cherished in films like Do Bigha Zameen, always suffered in stoic silence. Besides Deewar, other films showcased her as the uncomplaining, hapless mother, as in Amar Akbar Anthony, in which her blindness was cured by divine intervention. Illogical, but the audience loved it.

Leela Chitnis was the medically-challenged one, coughing herself to a tragic death. Sulochana, most often seen as a widow in a spotless white sari, would toil away at a sewing machine to pay for her son’s college fees. The son — Dharmendra frequently — would fall at her feet to announce, “Ma, I have stood first class first in the university.” Leela Mishra, guardian to Hema Malini in Sholay, was the aww-so-cuddly sort. Kamini Kaushal, irrevocably 
widowed on screen, became the permanent mother to Mr Bharat aka Manoj Kumar.

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MA KNOWS BEST: (Clockwise from above left) Jaya Bachchan (in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), Farida Jalal, and Nargis (in the 1957 melodrama Mother India)

Durga Khote, fondly remembered for incarnating the role of Jodha Bai, the mother of Prince Salim in Mughal-e-Azam, became a much-adored mother and then a grandmom. Prematurely, Farida Jalal, who played Rajesh Khanna’s sweetheart in Aradhana, became the house-bound mother of the action-friendly Akshay Kumar, and a mum-can-be-a-buddy to Kajol in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Inevitably, leading heroines changed into maternal garb, what with Raakhee Gulzar often cast as the beloved of Amitabh Bachchan, turning into his mother in Shakti.

But Raakhee Gulzar appears to have had her fill of screen motherhood. Stubbornly reclusive, she has retreated to her farmhouse on the outskirts of Mumbai. And Reema Lagoo, identified in the public mind as the mother of Salman Khan, seems to have had enough of enacting the greying ma of heroes who are not much younger than her.

Hema Malini once in a while assents to be a mother (Baghban, for instance) but only if she has substantial amount of footage. Shabana Azmi is wary of big-budget extravaganzas in which she is asked to portray a submissive mother. She had considered the offer to be Shah Rukh Khan’s mother in My Name Is Khan but, since it didn’t challenge her as an actress, backed out to be replaced by Zarina Wahab.

Jaya Bachchan has elected to involve herself in politics, as a Rajya Sabha MP, rather than confining herself to mataji roles, as in Drona. Rekha, the recently nominated MP, has refused to play her age.

Sharmila Tagore fetches up occasionally to exude sophistication in parts of the upmarket mom. And Dimple Kapadia suddenly sprung up as a celluloid mother in Dabangg and Patiala House. Unfortunately, both the performances smacked of embarrassment. Clearly, yesterday’s Bobby couldn’t morph into Mummy Dabangg convincingly, and it showed.

Evidently, then, mothers no longer wield the power and influence they did. Some do linger on in the margins. Like it or not, no Bollywood hero has the time or inclination to say, “Mere paas maa hai,” anymore. Perhaps all you can 
say to the movie mothers, then, is RIP.

(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed 
three others.)



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