Father, son and the Bollywood ghost
In August, last year, a TV Show on Sanjay Dutt was aired the second time during the Bombay blasts trial. He was on the show alongwith his sisters and father, Sunil Dutt. The senior Dutt spoke about his unflinching faith in his son when he had become addicted to drugs. The junior Dutt tried hard to fight his tears.
In May, this year, Abhishek Bachhan had left a message on his father’s blog: “I will never forget the sight of you cheering for my house team and, more importantly, ME! I love you for being the man you are and the best father a boy could ever ask for.” Abhishek had an accident the day before and Big B reached Switzerland immediately.
Bollywood fathers have always provided for their sons, making stars out of non-actors. Ironically, in the films, the failure of their celluloid fathers made them the heroes they were. Consider the case of Amitabh Bachhan, the angry young man of 1970s. He had virtually a fatherless filmy career.
In Deewar, the film that made him, his father deserts the family and Nirupa Roy, the mother brings him up. From a boot polisher, he ends up being a smuggler. This film gave us the mother of all filmy lines: Mere pass ma hai. In the climax, comes another signature retort from Amitabh: Jao pehle us aadmi ka sign leke aao jisne mere haath mein ye likha. He had to carry the stigma of his father’s failure as a tattoo: Mera baap chor hai.
In Laawaris, he was a businessman’s illegitimate child; an orphan in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, the son of an ex-convict in Amar Akbar Anthony, and again an illegitimate son of a construction baron in Trishul. There have been very few exceptions to this trend where everything is located in the father’s failure. “It leaves the mother unprotected, which is very important in order to set up the heroism of the protagonist,” explains Ira Bhaskar, professor of cinema studies, JNU.
But why is the father always the scapegoat? “India is a patriarchal society and people understand things in familial terms. The story had to personalised, so the father’s failure was essential for them,” says director Sudhir Mishra. The father is also someone for whom duty and honour are paramount. In Shakti, Dilip Kumar, the upright officer refuses to trade a criminal for his kidnapped son. The son grows up to be a criminal, played by the Bachhan. “The dominant portrayal is that the father is absurdly authoritarian and completely non-negotiable. That’s what we see from Mughal-e-Azam and Shakti to the recent Gandhi, My Father,” says Anand Kumar, professor of sociology, JNU.
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