Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book-launch reminder (and an excerpt from "Milky Ways")

A final reminder about the launch of the motherhood anthology Of Mother and Others at the Jaipur lit-fest on January 25. (The invite is at the bottom of this post, but just show up if you're at the festival; some of the contributing authors will be present, and Shabana Azmi, who has written the book's Foreword, should be there too.)

And here, as a teaser, is a short excerpt from my essay about mother depictions in Hindi cinema:

Around the late 1980s, a certain sort of “liberal” movie mum had come into being. I remember nodding in appreciation at the scene in Maine Pyaar Kiya where Prem (Salman Khan) discusses prospective girlfriends with his mom (played by the always-likeable Reema Lagoo). Still, when it came to the crunch, you wouldn’t expect these seemingly broad-minded women to do anything that would seriously rock the status quo. In her younger days Farida Jalal was among the feistiest of the actresses who somehow never became A-grade stars, but by the time she played Kajol’s mother in Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jaayenge, she had settled into the role of the woman who can feel for young love – and be a friend and confidant to her daughter – while also knowing, through personal experience, that women in her social setup “don’t even have the right to make promises”. The two young lovers in this film can be united only when the heart of the stern father melts.

Such representations – mothers as upholders of “traditional values”, even when those values are detrimental to the interests of women – are not going away any time soon, and why would they, if cinema is to be a part-mirror to society? A motif of the 2011 film No One Killed Jessica was a middle-aged mother as a figure hiding behind the curtain (literally “in pardah”), listening to the men’s conversations and speaking up only to petulantly demand the return of her son (who is on the lam, having cold-bloodedly murdered a young woman). It seems caricatured at first, but when you remember the details of the real-life Jessica Lal-Manu Sharma case that the film is based on, there is nothing surprising about it.

But it is also true that in the multiplex era of the last decade, mother representations have been more varied than they were in the past. [...] Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na featured a terrific performance by Ratna Pathak Shah as Savitri Rathore, a wisecracking mom whose banter with her dead husband’s wall-portrait marks a 180-degree twist on every maudlin wall-portrait scene from movies of an earlier time. (Remember the weepy monologues that went “Munna ab BA Pass ho gaya hai. Aap agar hamaare saath hote, kitne khush hote”?) Unlike her mythological namesake, this Savitri is relieved that she no longer has to put up with her husband’s three-dimensional presence! Then there is the Kirron Kher character in Dostana, much more orthodox to begin with: a jokily over-the-top song sequence, “Maa da laadla bigad gaya”, portrays her dismay about the possibility that her son is homosexual, and she is even shown performing witchery to “cure” him. But she does eventually come around, gifting bangles to her “daughter-in-law” and wondering if traditional Indian rituals might accommodate something as alien as gay marriage. These scenes are played for laughs (and in any case, the son isn’t really gay), but they do touch on very real cultural conflicts and on the ways in which parents from conservative backgrounds often have to change to keep up with the times.

[The book will be available on Flipkart and other online stores very soon. Look out for it.]


  1. Do you talk about the mother (and grandmother) in Vicky Donor who fancies a drink or two? I'd never seen that in Hindi cinema either...

  2. Anon: I mentioned her very briefly in the closing bit (the essay had almost been finished when Vicky Donor came out).

  3. Very interesting, Jai. Love the book cover too..

  4. I remember Akshay Kumar's mom in Dil Chahta Hai came off with a strong single working woman vibe. Not to mention the Dimple character.
    Keeping up the Farida tradition was Kirron Kher in Hum Tum.
    It is great that you talk about this topic! only a while back I was lamenting the moms shown in Telugu movies are still so 'housewively' and deferring to men. Hasnt changed in 70 years of cinema:)