A mother is the cradle of civilisation. We are what we are because of them. And, in Indian cinema, they are the scene-stealers. And, also the cause for your samosa and popcorn getting oversalted, as your tear up in the comfort of the dark watching gung-ho males quivering their lips and warbling: “Maaaa!” Harini Calamur peeps into her bioscope to rewind Bharat”s history and Indian cinema”s solid theme on the special day and for Lokmat Times” continuing series on 100 years of Indian cinema
Aai! Maa! Mom! Mother. The term that is laden with emotion. An emotion of security and safety. An association of being well-loved. A memory of being scolded for doing wrong. A taste of your favourite meal. The comfort of hiding your head in her lap and wailing. The sensation of being protected, comforted and safe. A flash of her sitting next to you when you study. The vision of her bringing you a glass of piping hot tea, when you used to wake up really early to study for your board exams. And yes, a flash of her disapproving, which translates thus: “Look at something you have done!” All these memories are distilled in us as various threads that we can call on when we need it the most. These memories are indeed special. Almost every culture in the world has one day in the year dedicated to celebrating mothers, motherhood and the love that is showered on you. The logical question is why only one day, what about the remaining 364 days. And, the answer is quite simple — one day in a year helps create an ‘event’, sell cards, market chocolates, and create a warm & fuzzy feeling around motherhood.
In India the cult of worshipping the mother is as old as time. The Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Birth Mother, Adoptive Mother, Step Mothers, Mother of the heart – the epics had them all. The ancientIndusValleycivilisation had depictions of the mother Goddess. Hindu theology is replete with stories of the Mother of the Universe destroying evil and saving her children. The epics, the puranas have given us some fabulous role models as the epitome of motherhood. And, till today those ideal types endure. Indian cinema has given them a lease of life and converted these to stereotypes we all know and love. So, on Mother’s day –here is looking at you, mother!
The Mother as one who endures. The child gives birth to a mother, goes a popular saying. It is almost as though a switch is turned on. The moment a woman becomes a mother, her tolerance for all things increases exponentially. She endures for the sake of her child or children. She tolerates almost anything, until such time an invisible line is crossed. When that happens she takes action that is fairly final, including taking action against a child who disturbs the lives of her other children. . In legend this is the role played by Bhooma Devi or Mother Earth. She who endures till she can endure no more. Movies have tried to build this epitome of motherhood through their narrative. All movie mothers built on this stereotype don’t necessarily have to kill their kids, but they definitely endure all sorts of travails and troubles while being good ‘marg darshaks’ for their children. The most famous of all Indian films based on this role model is Mehboob Khan’s film Mother India – starring Nargis. From the word go the movie is about a woman who endures everything that the universe throws at her. Death of a husband, extreme poverty, a salacious money lender, being a single mother, having to manage on her own – everything is taken in her stride with equanimity . The iconic poster of Mother India wielding a plough to farm on her meagre land and provide for her children reinforces this image of the Mother. And of course, the final scene in which she shoots her son to maintain ‘dharma’ is a hark back to the most ancient narratives of the mother. She has to do what is right for the good of the social order.
The Mother as the Guru, the teacher of values. A mother is the guide who forms the child’s character, teaches him between dharma and adharma. And, in this regard there is no mother greater than Kayadu, the wife of Hiranyakashyap and the mother of Prahlad. This tpye of mother is a pillar of goodness and decency and will stand up against her husband and disown her son, if need be, if they deviate from the path of righteousness. Indian films have honoured this form of mother in many movies. One of the most enduring Marathi Movies is Shyaamchi Aayi, based on the book by Sane Guruji. It is the story of a mother who teaches her son, through personal example, the importance of values. Till today, the movie and its message resonate with audiences. Another mother in the same mould is Nirupa Roy in Deewar. She brings her sons up, with great difficulty –enduring poverty and manual labour to give them a chance at a better life. When her favourite son – Amitabh Bachchan (Vijay) in one of the most powerful roles in Indian cinema – strays from the path of what is right, she disowns him and goes to live with the good son – Shashi Kapoor (Ravi). When Vijay taunts Ravi, in the film, with his wealth and possessions and asks Ravi what he has,Ravi’s retort “Mere paas maa hai” is a reminder of the values most mothers expected us to follow, and the acute disapproval when we didn’t follow those. The same is the case with both variants of Agneepath. The mother’s disapproval of the wrong path chosen by the son is evident, as is the need of the son to be accepted by the mother. All three films end with the death of the errant son in the lap of the mother. As symbolism it can’t be greater – Motherhood will not accept wrong doing by the child and the imparting of values is as important as feeding or giving love.
The Unwed Mother – Happiness mana hai - Ever since Kunti invoked the power of Surya – the Sun God to have a child, and then abandoned that child, Indian stories have had the motif of the unwed mother. The unwed mother will know no joy in her life. Her life is one of struggle and tears. Her overwhelming guilt at breaking societal rules and at abandoning her child cripples her actions, and allows her to believe that is her only fate in life is misery. The Tamil film Dalapti, is a modern day interpretation of the friendship between Duryodhan and Karna – but the tragedy of the Mother is as much a pivot of the story as is the friendship. Sri Vidya plays mother to Rajnikanth (Surya) the son she abandons at birth, and Arjun, (Arvind Swamy) the son she brings up. Her character, throughout the film, only expresses various degrees of acute unhappiness. The Hindi film Aaradhna and its Tamil Remake Sivakamiyin Selvan- have the lead female protagonist going through hell for act of having a child out of wedlock. However, the bonds of mamata are stronger than anything the universe can throw at the woman and she (Sharmila Tagore in Hindi, Vanisri in Tamil) stands like a rock to protect her son. In Paa, the heroine Vidya Balan, decides to be an unwed mother, and while society and her family is kinder to her, her child is afflicted with an illness that can only lead to tears all around. More modern films like Kya Kehna do not heap so much unhappiness on the unwed mother, but they are exceptions and not the norm.
Annapurna – the mother who feeds. Annapurna in Hindu theology is the goddess of food who takes great joy in seeing her children (all of us) fed. In Indian films. Maa ke haath ka khaana is one of the most oft repeated clichés. The mother is for ever making and feeding her children with the choicest of dishes. It is almost as though the love with which the mother makes the gaajar ka halwa or the garma garam phulke gives the hero a suraksha kawach with which the bullets of the bad guy are deflected. A mother, in Indian films, can look at her child and know his hunger. It has almost ruined most Indian children’s diets. The mother looks at her child, decides he is hungry and stuffs him with the most cholesterol ridden food. After all, if you cannot show your love through food, how else will you show it?
The Adoptive Mother – ever since Vasudev let Krishna with Yashoda, on a dark and stormy night, motherhood implies the woman who nurtures and brings you up – not just the mother who gives birth to you. Movies like Naam, Parvarish, Amar Prem – talk about a feeling of ‘mamta’ that is beyond birth pangs. Her maternal instinct can embrace the whole world and still have enough maternal love left over for some aliens. In the film Anari(1959), Mrs.D’sa looks upon Raj Kumar (Raj Kapoor) as her own son, and he reciprocates that deep affection and feeling. Salma (Waheeda Rehman) brings up Sunny (Rishi Kapoor) with the same love that she had bestowed on her biological child Iqbal (Amitabh Bachchan) in the film Coolie. In Karan Johar’s film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham – Jaya Bachchan’s character loves her adoptive son (Shah Rukh Khan) just as much as she cares about her biological son (Hrithik Roshan) . Movies such as Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Kannathil Mutthamittal (a peck on the cheek) deals with adoption in the modern era with a lot more sensitivity. But, it is an exception. By and large the old hindi film dialog “aaj se tu mera beta aur mein teri maa” (From today you are my son and I am your mother) holds more true than taking a nuanced look at adoption.
The Step Mother – ever since Kaykeyi moves into the kopagruha (the room of anger) and demands the exile of Ram and the coronation of Bharat – the role of the step mother has been looked at with suspicion. One of the earliest films from Kerala – the movie Balan dealt with a boy and a girl exploited by the evil step mother. They run away from home to find love elsewhere. In the Hindi film Beta – which is based on earlier Tamil (Enga Chinna Rasa) and Kanadda ( Mallammana Pavada) films deals with a step mother out of hell. Anil Kapoor’s character loves his step mother (Aruna Irani) and would move heaven and earth for her. She on the other hand wants him out of the way so that her own son can inherit everything. More recent films such as ‘We are Family” based on the Hollwyood film “Step Mom” take a more sensitive look at this issue – but frankly, it is far more fun to see an evil step mother on screen than have watch a much nuanced film on the same.
The Single Mother – The prime example of a Single Mother who brings up her children with the best of care and nurtures them is Sita. She brings up her children alone, after her husband, Shri Ram, exiles her. When they grow they take up the issue of their mother’s humiliation with their father fairly effectively. Kalidasa’s Shakuntala touches on the same theme. The woman rejected by her man and her fight for her child’s patrimony. The boy is Bharat – the emperor after whom this country is named. What greater tribute to a single mother. Indian films are full of stories of women who are abandoned by their men because of social pressures. For example, in the film Trishool – Sanjeev Kumar abandons Waheeda Rehman. She moves away – into exile – and brings up her son. The son grows up to be Amitabh Bachchan and settles the score on his mother’s humiliation.
The Conflicted Mother – The bond of the mother and the child (son), as portrayed in legend so strong that it can sometimes threaten the authority of the man as the head of the household. One of the earliest example form the epics is the story of how Shiva decapitates his son for following his mother’s (Parvati’s) instructions .It takes a unleashing of Mother’s powers to get the Mahadeva to restore his Son’s life, albeit with an elephant’s head. That family lived happily after. But, most women have faced the conflict of choice between the two most important men in their lives – husband and son. In the film Moghul-e-Azan we see the depiction of the fight between Akbar (prithviraj kapoor) & Salim (Dilip Kumar). But the most imporatnat woman there is not Anarkali (Madhubala) but Jodha (Durga Khote) – the wife and the mother who is put in a position of having to choose. A similar predicament is faced by Rakhee in Shakti – her husband (Dilip Kumar) a cop and her son (Amitabh Bachchan) are estranged – and that takes a toll on her. She does, in both these cases, choose the husband – but the cost of her choice is high.
And finally even nature cannot compete with the power of motherhood. Death bows before her. As is evident in films like Karan Arjun – where Rakhee’s character wills her dead sons to be reincarnated to take revenge on those who wrecked her life. The power of motherhood is a magic wand, it so impacts those who see it that even the wicked transform. In the film Dada (1979) gangster Fazlu (Amjad Khan) comes across the abandoned wife Tara Dharamdas (Seema Deo) and the way she brings up her son (Vinod Mehra). He is so moved by the power of that love that he turns new leaf and becomes ‘good’. The song “’Allah Karam Karna Maula Tu Reham Karna’ tells of the point of transformation of the bad into good through the power of mother hood. magic of motherhood is that it recognises ‘its blood’ even through blindness and does not need complex DNA tests. The line “meri mamta yeh keh rahi hai ki woh mera beta hai’ epitomises the woman’s link with her child. In the film Amar, Akbar, Anthony –a sightless Nirupa Roy gravitates towards all her three lost sons without even realising that they are hers. Motherhood sees no religion, no race, no looks. It just loves without questioning.
Indiais a young country – our median age is 26. In such an era film makers are tending to make films about the lives of 26 year olds and their trials, tribulations and coming of age. The mothers too have become more modern. Less traditional and more ‘cool’. However, when a film comes along that harks back to the traditional mother – the mother with the gajja ka halwa, the mother who soothes your brow, the mother who waits up for you to get home, the mother who yells at you because you are doing the wrong thing – it still resonates with the audience. Nothing stops us from celebrating Mother’s day all year long, but today is extra special. The day, that maybe, you tell you mother about all the little things that made your growing up years so very special.