From 'Mother India' to 'Kapoor & Sons': Tracing the evolution of Bollywood mothers

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when we say Bollywood and mothers? Different generations will have different answers to this question. There's Mother India, Nirupama Roy, Rakhee and of course, everybody's favorite Farida Jalal.

However, if you really give it thought, you'll notice that the portrayal of mothers on the big screen is evolving. No longer are we referring to mothers as a liability or as a goddess meant to be only worshiped. The Hindi film industry is slowing getting to a point where mothers are also becoming strongly etched out characters (Dil Dhadakne Do), a fun supporting character (Jaane Tu.. Ya Jaane Na) and sometimes even the most powerful character in the film (Nil Battey Sannata).

And so we trace the evolution of on-screen mothers from 'mere paas maa hai' to #mothersday

'Tu Meri Maa Hai'

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Nargis Dutt in Mother India. Image from Facebook.

This list would be incomplete without our most popular cultural reference to mothers: Nargis Dutt in Mother India. This cult film traces the life of two children and their self-sacrificing, do-gooder of a mother, who would do anything to ensure her sons' happiness. Mother India is very often used as a benchmark for the portrayal of an ideal Indian mother. We can already imagine you thinking of examples.

'Mere Paas Maa Hai'

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Nirupa Roy, Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in 'Deewar'. Image from Youtube.

Nirupa Roy was probably most famous for playing the weepy, yet pious mother in films from the '70s and '80s, such as Deewar,  Mard, Khoon Pasina, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Amar Akbar Anthony. It probably helps knowing she started her career playing goddess-type mythological characters, and people would believe her persona to be an extent of visiting her home to seek her blessings. Forget "mere paas maa hai",  perhaps the more iconic dialogue from Deewar suited to Nirupa Roy would be, "Tu abhi itna ameer nahin hua beta, ki apni maa ko khareed sake (you're not rich enough to buy your mother)."

'Mere Karan Arjun Aayenge'

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Rakhee, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan in 'Karan Arjun'. YouTube screengrab

Welcome to the age of helpless mothers, scorned by the ruthless world but avenged by her son(s). Mothers could be betrayed, abused and stripped down to bare mininum, but as long as her sons are alive (daughters, who?) all is well. This sort of saviour-survivor relationship was best portrayed by Rakhee, in film such as Karan Arjun, Border, Soldier and Ram Lakhan.

Mom = BFF

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Farida Jalal in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Youtube screen grab.

By the '90s, the Hindi film industry had started to portray mothers as  the best friend of their children, but all within the familial moral code. Think Farida Jalal's Lajjo in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. "Jab ladki jawan ho jaati hai to uski Maa, Maa nahin rehti, saheli bann jaati hai." In her defence, she backs up her statement with her actions in the film. An extension of this role can be seen (portrayed by Jalal again) in Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham. 

The Barjatya Mother

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Reema Lagoo in Hum Aapke Hai Kaun. Youtube screen grab.

The typical mother in a Sooraj Barjatya universe is pretty yet matronly, mischievous yet traditional, has a past (note the creepy relationship between Reema Lagoo and Alok Nath in Hum Aapke Hai Koun) but her primary identity now is restricted to labels (samdhanji, samdhiji, etc). Reema Lagoo furthered her cause by starring in the popular TV show Tu Tu Main Main as the mother-in-law, and established that a mother is at the top of the familial pyramid. Don't you remember? (Say it out loud) It's all about loving your family. (We may be borrowing from the Dharma category of mothers, but you get the gist)

'Maa ka.. phone'

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Kirron Kher and John Abraham in 'Dostana'. Youtube screen grab.

The 2000s mother (best portrayed by the affable Kirron Kher) is sassy, loud, fun and sometimes a tad too demanding. However she has more than love to give to everyone. Even if it means her son is gay, she will gift her gay son-in-law kangans (a la Dostana). However, she will call you five times a day and demand you pick her phone in the middle of a board meeting to answer the crucial question: aaj shaam ko rajma chawal banaoo?

New-age mothers

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Shefali Shah in 'Dil Dhadakne Do'. Image from Facebook/Excel Entertainment

From Ratna Pathak Shah in Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na and more recently Kapoor & Sons, to Shefali Shah in Dil Dhadakne Do, to Dolly Ahluwalia in Vicky Donor and even Tanvi Azmi in Bajirao Mastani, mothers of today are ace at playing substantial characters. Each of these roles has a distinct quality and aren't merely filling the role of a stereotypical mother.

Happy Mother's Day!

Kirron Kher


Published Date: May 08, 2016 01:28 pm | Updated Date: May 08, 2016 01:28 pm


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