Guess what? The Hindi film mom is no longer the archetypal white-clad widow, plying her beloved son with the gaajar ka halwa that she made with her own two hands (come to think of it, how else could she have made it? With her own two feet?).
The filmi mother that’s entrenched in our consciousness is the suffering, sacrificing ‘ma’ who often lay on a rickety cot, coughing pathetically. She begged the heartless owner of the local atta-chawal shop to give her credit, promising to pay him back as soon as she could.
But even in those days, though ‘ma’ may have doted on her ‘laadla beta,’ she was a tough cookie. Remember the ‘ma’ of all ‘maas’: Nargis in Mother India? Though she loved her sons to distraction and vice versa, she was a disciplinarian who didn’t hesitate to shoot the wayward son who strayed from the straight and narrow.
The loving but righteous mother famously appeared in Deewar — Nirupa Roy turned against her gangster son (Amitabh Bachchan) even though he was her favourite. In Agneepath, the mother (Rohini Hattangady), strongly disapproves of her son (Amitabh, again) because of his criminal ways and throws him out of the house.
Sometimes, Hindi film mothers could be avenging angels too, content to overlook a bit of inconvenient violence in their pursuit of justice. In films like Ram Lakhan and Karan Arjun, the mother, played by Raakhee, wants her sons to be the instruments of her vengeance. <b1>
Let’s face it, this filmi ‘ma’ didn’t have much of a life. Maybe that’s why she always looked like she’d swallowed a particularly bitter karela. Perhaps she had a lighter, sweeter, fun side, but we never saw it. Was she a working mom? Um.. yes, but the work invariably consisted of slaving away over a sewing machine or carrying stones on her head (Waheeda Rehman in Trishul); in short, enduring all kinds of hardships to bring up her son. ‘Filmi mothers’ and ‘good times’ didn’t really go together.
But over the last 10 years or so, the Hindi movie mom has chilled out. (She’s also gone up in life — mainly because Hindi cinema as a whole has gone up in life. No one’s scrounging around for scraps of roti any more).
Take Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Though Kajol’s screen mother (Farida Jalal), is a traditional mom, she’s warm and sympathetic. Even independent, modern working mothers are making their presence felt (Dil Chahta Hai) and they’re allowed to look glamorous too (Rati Agnihotri in Hum Tum). In the recent hit, Jab We Met, Shahid Kapur’s mother (Divya Seth), leaves her husband for another man (gasp!) and her son eventually realises that she is entitled to a life of her own.
Hindi films have changed. The tearful mother would seem anachronistic today. The self-righteous, stern mother who sees nothing wrong in slapping her grown-up son would also find little resonance with the present cinema-going audience.
Today, if any screen mother were to suddenly metamorphose into Nirupa Roy, her screen son would probably turn around and ask, rolling his eyes, “Why’re you behaving like such a filmi mom?”