Cutting across age and geography, cinema, time and again, has acted as the magical mirror that can conjure up the perfect imagery reminiscent of the ideology and times we live in – of capitalism and communism, of warring times and peace, of colonialism and freedom, of the struggles of the individual, of the fights of our collective conscience, of the battles against inhumanity, mediocrity and of the demons within and without. Owing to its form factor, it is the art-form that very closely replicates life-as-is, like no other medium can do. A quick ride through the annals of history will tell you how successful movies have been, in capturing the innate essence of our diverse country and its people, who come in varied colors, temperaments and belong to a divergent social strata.
Indian cinema has always been blessed with exceptionally talented actors, especially female. Starting from the likes of Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Vyaijayanthimala who added much needed life to our black and white movies and sprinkled our movies with the right measures of drama and emotion, to the era of Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bhaduri, Rekha, Hema Malini, Sridevi who added loads of oomph as well as substance to our movies. The legacy was continued by Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Kajol and finally in the ongoing millennium we saw an explosion in the form of Priyanka chopra, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut, Alia Bhatt etc. For the last 60 years, women have played far ranging roles covering the ambit of mother, a beau, a wife, a friend and for the audiences with an esoteric taste, even an ‘Ichadhari Nagin’!!!
Undoubtedly, the best exfoliation of female life is in the form of mothers. They have always been the most integral part of human lives and Indian cinema has witnessed some spectacular performances by its leading ladies, who effortlessly essayed the mother’s role on screen. The transformation of Bollywood movies across ages has always fascinated me and the moms in our cinema, were no exception to this. Over half a century, the character of mother has been the central point of multiple movies and peripheral for almost all. Indian cinema in the last few years has been going through this mesmerizing metamorphosis where complicated relationships are being handled with amazing élan. Complex disposition of not-so-usual subjects are dealt with unprecedented panache by the modern day film makers. Hence, it is true that even our mothers have undergone a startling evolution.
Mere paas Maa hain…The earliest memory I have of the role of a mother goes back to Nirupa Roy, who played the widowed, deprived, dejected, victim mother for so many years, in so many movies. As a 90s kid, I grew up watching Hindi movie on Friday nights on my black and white television. Nothing could ever match the romanticism, the raw connect which that wooden box delivered night after night, week after week to a young me. ‘Deewar’ would not have been a ‘Deewar’ even with Amitabh and Sashi Kapoor, had there not been a ‘Ma’. The constant internal struggles of a mother as she battled it out with herself to choose between her two sons was so aptly portrayed by her. She was torn apart as she had to take sides between her own children, all in the name of right or wrong.
Mere Karan-Arjun ayenge…The next one is of course Rakhee Gulzar, or the mother of Karan-Arjun, who was mightier than the recently known ‘mother of dragons’. The competence with which she took up the baton from Nirupa Roy, to play this quintessential victimized-by-villain mother was amazing. Her love for her sons and how her hatred for their cold blooded murderers could push her to battle the lines of mortality and bring back her kin from death is vividly depicted. The strength, the belief, the resolve shown by her is something that every mother swears by even today. The unquestionable love for their children can break barriers.
Reema Lagoo to me, has always been an under rated actor, she is beyond doubt one of the finest in the country and did a fantastic job as she played mother to a good-son-turned-gangster, Sanjay Dutt in Vaastav. As her son played puppet to destiny, she is shown dithering between the pull of maternal love and the call of justice. There is the son who wanted to make a living by selling pav bhaji and now fate has turned him into this runaway criminal. In the end, she kills her own son, a scene which is still etched in my memory. Mothers can even do that, they can free you of all the guilt, all the sin, all the pain, even if it involves taking the life out of you. She did not hand him death, she handed him the opportunity to redeem himself in next birth.
Now, let’s talk about more recent times. As I have said before, Indian cinema is going through one of its best phases right now. We have shown so much maturity in picking up sensitive subjects. How can you ever forget Tabu in Haider? Torn between playing mother and lover, she goes seamlessly from one emotion to other, both of them equally taxing. Finally the motherly instincts win, even if that involves sacrificing her life, a thread which every mother can relate to.
Shabana Azmi’s depiction of a strong, gritty, and proud woman in Neerja deserves special mention. The way she keeps on hoping for her captive daughter’s well-being, even as the news starts to go south is so reflective of the optimism shown by mothers when it concerns their children. Also, the way she handles the death of her daughter and gives that goosebump-raising monologue towards the end of the movie could be pulled off only by a veteran like her.
Even the commercial flick “Dil Dhadakne Do” had Shefali Shah playing the role of this high society woman battling her own, almost-wrecked-marriage and then her daughter’s about-to-be-wrecked marriage. The way she prioritizes her daughter’s dilemma discounting what her personal issues are, is so heart-wrenchingly true. Only mothers could do this. Put the lives, the happiness of children way ahead of personal grief and sorrow. A great performance indeed from an unexpected corner.
I will finish this by mentioning another under rated actor, Ratna Pathak Shah. She did a brilliant job in “Kapoor & Sons” where her character handles so many facets of life, equally important, equally convoluted, and equally demanding. Her inner prejudices drive a wedge into fraternal love between her sons and they are left scarred and battling to bridge a distance of light-years between them. And then, when she figures out that her ‘good’-son prefers guys, she, like most Indian mothers, finds it difficult to make peace with. The scene where she relays the guilt as she reveals how she is responsible for the tiff between the brothers is one of the best moments in Indian celluloid. Even mothers can make mistakes, they are also mere mortals at some level. It is so refreshing to see that Indian films are getting mature enough to talk about it, to make a movie about it.
This journey of cinema will surely go on and for an ardent lover like me, I just can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us. I am sure the choice of subject will be more appealing to human minds and the mothers will continue to play a crucial role in holding the hand of Indian cinema in years to come.
Nabojyoti is a true blue bengali who loves to ‘eat’ tea and lyadh. Banker by week and Blogger by weekend, his interests are travel, cooking and jogging, well the last one was a joke. His vision is a perfect 6/6 and he swears by the alur torkari which comes with Moghlai Parota!!!
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