‘Mere paas ma hai’ is the mother of all comebacks. And not just to shut up your gangster sibling.
The mother is the hero of Bollywood. Even when her only contribution seemed to be the gajar ka halwa made with her own two hands, she was in fact laying solid groundwork to add context: She was the ideal; she had suffered a great loss (a dead husband, penury) but raised a good boy – and his job (and the film’s) was to make mama happy in the end.
In the ’90s, emerged the ‘modern’ mother who was also a friend, she encouraged love or suggested elopement (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge). Now, she talks sex and gets drunk (Vicky Donor). This is an ode to them.
The Sanskaari Ma
Who: Reema Lagoo
Prem: Ye fark nahin toh kya hai, ma? Sautelapan Vivek bhaiya ne nahin, tumne nibhaya hai!
Why: In the ’90s, when Reema Lagoo played mother/samdhan/saasu-ma, she was in her thirties. Magazines celebrated her as the ‘modern’ mother: She was ‘mom’ who giggled and teased when the kids fell in love (Maine Pyar Kiya).
Last we saw her: Sidelined by all the attention her perennial Rajshri husband Alok Nath received for being so #Sanskaari, she became Facebook Pe Mummy– in Aditi Mittal’s hilarious video about mothers on Facebook. In real life, she is “technologically updated – on Facebook and Whatsapp.”
Also seen in: An underwear ad where she is using both her hands to stretch out a pair of underpants.
Who: Jaya Bachchan
Scene: Ma: *Holding a thali*
Rahul: *wagging finger* Ae Ma… mere aane se pehle tumhe hamesha kaise pata chal jaata hai?
Ma: *Sniffles, does teeka*
Background: Kabhi khushi kabhi gham…
Why: She hasn’t played too many mothers – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Fiza. And she’s been Shah Rukh’s mum only once, but she was such a wonderful (and clairvoyant) mum in the film, that when we think of the Bachchan family, we think of the Raichands of K3G.
You probably didn’t know: Apparently, when a photojournalist addressed her daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, by name, Jaya shouted: “Kya Aishwarya Aishwarya bula rahe ho; tumhari class mein padhti thi kya?”
Who: Farida Jalal
Scene: “Jab ladki jawan ho jaati hai na ... toh maa uski maa nahi rehti ... saheli ban jaati hai”
How: Farida Jalal was everybody’s sister in the ’70s. In an interview, she had said, “I was much in-demand as Dilip Saab’s sister. Every hero wanted me to play his sister.” And she did – until, like Lagoo in her thirties, she started playing mother. DDLJ was a game-changer; after it, “I could quote any price.”
She liked playing ma: “When I was doing the sister’s role... I would object to certain scenes. But there is nothing you can object to in a mother’s role,” she has said.
The mum who became a meme
“Mere Karan Arjun aayenge”
How: Shashi Kapoor once said that you could either write poems about Rakhee’s eyes or drown in them. But quite early on, Rakhee began playing mother to men she had previously played lover to. In Shakti (1982), a 35-year-old Rakhee played 40-year-old Amitabh Bachchan’s mother. She became a sort of angry Nirupa Roy figure – her suffering was followed by vendetta.
What she is up to now: Her last Hindi film was more than a decade ago. In an interview, her daughter, filmmaker Meghna Gulzar had said, “She is done playing the weeping mother.” Rakhee herself thinks, “There’s too much noise and technicality now, I don’t fit in,” she said.
Who: Kirron Kher
Jeete raho ... phulo phalo ... khair chodo
How: It actually really started with Devdas in 2002. But starting in the Noughties, she is mostly Punjabi, and mostly hilarious – from giving kangans to her son’s gay boyfriend in Dostana to Skyping and being on first name basis (“No, yaar. Manju meri ma”) with her daughter in Khoobsurat.
Who: Smita Jaykar
“Beti toh hoti hi hai patang ki tarah ... shaadi ke pehle apne chatt par udhti hai ... aur shaadi key baad dor kisi aur ke haath mein”
How: She has played ma to Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Ranbir Kapoor… Her IMDb page lists her characters in most movies as so-and-so’s mom. So it is not surprising that actors “call me ‘Mom’ on set and off set.”
Trivia: She is a motivational speaker, and ‘can talk to spirits.’
Who: Ratna Pathak Shah
“Paanch saal baad tum dono yahaan saath aaye ho. Yun janwaron ki tarah behave karna zaroori hai kya?”
How: She’s called the go-to modern mother – because, well, she is. Last seen in Kapoor & Sons, Shah has been setting motherhood goals since 2008 (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na). Her mothers are fiery, bitingly sarcastic, but overall, chilled out in their own way – it is how she is in real life.
On being a stepmother: Shah has two sons, and a step-daughter (Heeba, Naseeruddin Shah’s daughter from his first marriage). Their relationship, she says, “was, of course, a struggle for both of us in the beginning! But we became friends. There were problems, like all mothers and daughters – I fought with my mother a thousand times more! But Heeba is a tough one, she took it and she gave back.”
Ma knows it all
Who: Tisca Chopra
Tujhe sab hai pata, hai na, ma?
How: Taare Zameen Par, says Tisca Chopra, is still paying her bills – and she will always be thankful to this film. We’re thankful too – because dyslexic little Ishan Awasthi and his lovely mum sniffling to Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics made us rush to our mothers to tell them how much we love them.
The cutest anecdote: The cast was often thrown into one room to bond. “Darsheel was a brat and so was Sachet (Ishan and Yohaan in the film). I had to use jungle tactics. We were playing Uno – I didn’t know the game. So they kept making up rules. They were hiding cards under their shirts – they thought they’d get away with it. I held them by their legs, hung them upside down, and all the cards fell out. Then, I threw them onto the floor, put a cushion on them and sat on them,” says Chopra.
Who: Swaroop Sampat
“Sex ho gaya na? Important before commitment”
How: In the ’80s, Sampat – Miss India, 1979 – quit acting to take up the full-time job of being Mrs Paresh Rawal, and raising their two boys. So we don’t generally associate her with motherhood on screen – that is, until Ki & Ka.
Trivia: Sampat is a PhD – she wrote her thesis on education, drama and learning disabilities.
The Punjabi mom
Who: Dolly Ahluwalia
Kitni baari twaanu kaha hai, ki drink karte samay Vicky ka naam mat liya karo. Saari uttar jati hai.
How: Ahluwalia is called the stereotypical Punjabi mom, but has said, “It is like every household cooks aloo ke paranthe but some prefer to add anardana while others ginger-garlic paste... each Punjabi woman I have played is different from the other.”
Trivia: She has never had alcohol, doesn’t have children, never had a mother-in-law. Go figure how she did Vicky Donor again.
Who: Aruna Irani
“Aaj ke baad woh jagega toh maa kahega, soyega toh maa kahega, jeeyega toh maa kahega ... aur marega tab bhi maa kahega”
How: “For actresses my age,” Irani said in a 2013 interview, “There’s no work in films anymore. None of my contemporaries are active and not because they don’t want to work. Today the story revolves around four friends.”
How she became MA: Irani rose to fame as a mother-vamp in Beta. The film was made by her brother – Irani was not his first choice. So, “During every shot, the thought uppermost in my mind was, ‘You didn’t think I could play this character, I’ll prove you wrong.’ There was anger and vengeance in my mind and eyes throughout.”
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From HT Brunch, May 8, 2016
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