In English Vinglish (2012), Sridevi’s portrayal as a mother who is trying hard to keep herself and everyone else happy is still etched in our hearts. In one of the film’s best scenes, her character is furious because of her daughter’s misbehaviour and says “kya haq banta hai bachchon ka apne maa baap se iss tarah baat karne ka … izzat ka matlab nahi jaante. Bachche masoom hote hain … yeh kaisi masumiyat hai jo harr waqt humari kamzori ka faayeda uthaati hai” (What right do children have to disrespect their parents? They say kids are innocent, but what kind of innocence is this that makes them take undue advantage of their parents?).
These are solid words by a filmy ‘maa’. She is calling out her child for her rude behaviour! A departure from Bollywood’s age-old problematic depiction of mothers as divine figures, with their demeanor dripping with kindness and their faces with a perpetual river of tears.
With evolving themes and storylines in Bollywood movies, the stereotypes are being shed and mothers in films are becoming more progressive, real and replete with lovely flaws. This Mother’s Day, let us look at a few films that made mothers break out of old, rusty moulds of ‘pyari maa’.
The cool mom with no drama
In Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu.. Ya Jaane Na (2008), a coming-of-age romcom drama starring debutant Imran Khan and Genelia D’souza, Ratna Pathak Shah stole the show as Savitri Singh Rathore, the hero’s mother. As the widow of the Rajput warrior Amar Singh Rathore, Savitri wants to ensure that her son has none of the testosterone-charged patriarchal traits of his father. She is the ultimate cool mom who has no qualms in discussing her son’s love life, the romantic adventures of his friends, and taking potshots at outdated patriarchal values.
It took us more than a decade to get a close-second in this list on Bollywood again – with Vidya Balan as Tara Shinde in Mission Mangal (2019). As the project director of Mangalyaan mission who works late into night, she could have been the cranky or indifferent mother. But no; Tara is cool with her teenage children partying late into night– and even goes for a drink with them. While her husband fusses over their son’s interest in Quran (they are a religious, Hindu family), Tara is – again – cool with it and accepts her son’s choices without drama.
The mom who accepts her kid’s sexual orientation
Tarun Mansukhani’s Dostana (2008) was the first time a mainstream Bollywood film revolved around homosexuality in a humorous way. Granted, the heroes – Kunal (played by John Abraham) and Sam (Abhishek Bachchan) – were pretending to be a gay couple; yet, Sam’s uber-conservative mother (Kirron Kher) ultimately embracing her son’s sexuality was heartwarming.
However, it was Kapoor and Sons (2016) directed by Shakun Batra and produced by Dharma Productions, which had also produced Dostana, that was hailed for its thoughtful treatment of homosexuality. The story line, which revolves around a typical dysfunctional Indian family had a stellar cast and a uniquely real portrayal of a flawed mother, Sunita, played by Ratna Pathak Shah. Without demonizing Sunita for sidelining one of her children, sensitively depicts that mothers can be biased and, yet can accept her child despite the social stigma on homosexuality.
The unapologetically independent mother
In English Vinglish (2012) and Badhaai Ho (2018), the characters of mothers have a unique distinction, albeit in entirely different contexts – they take control of their lives.
In the former, Shashi (a fabulous Sridevi) is often disrespected by her husband and her daughter for her lack of English skills and having no career. But instead of accepting herself as the failure they made her out to be, Shashi works on herself and gains her family’s respect by standing up for herself without being resentful about it.
In the latter, Neena Gupta as Priyamvada Babli Kaushik is not your stereotypical mother who sacrifices her happiness and makes her choices as per the pressures from her family and society. She stands her ground and goes ahead with her decision to have a baby at her age, come what may. The role reminds one of Vidya Balan’s character in Paa (2009), an unwed mother who brings up her ill child in her full capacity as a mother and doctor, not worrying about societal conventions and ridicule.
The mother who refuses to be a doormat
Saand Ki Aankh (2019), based on the lives of sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar (essayed by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu respectively), garnered praise for its depiction of how two women from regressive backgrounds picked up the gun in their 60s and hit the bull’s eye at multiple shooting competitions. Not only did they achieve the unthinkable, but they also trained their daughters and granddaughters (without the male members of the household knowing) to become sharpshooters so that they did not end up with the same fate as their mothers – a dreary existence confined to toiling in the fields, rearing cattle, household chores and an arithmetic progression of unwanted pregnancies.
In Secret Superstar (2017), we meet a mother who is a victim of domestic violence (played beautifully by Meher Vij) but yet is ever-positive, and is a friend, guide and mentor for her daughter. She eventually leaves her abusive and violent husband to ensure her daughter gets to live a better life.
And, how can we forget the lovely Swara Bhasker in Nil Battey Sannata (2015) who makes her daughter fall in love with textbooks. The film is a heart-warming tale of a spirited mother who works as a maid but wants a better and successful life for her daughter.
Here's hoping we will continue to see these fun, fearless and fabulous new-age mothers on-screen! Like Ravi of Deewar (1975), Bollywood ke paas bhi maa hain … And they are a hoot!
(Copyedited by Varnika Gupta)