Where have the good old filmi mothers gone?

By Subhash K. Jha

The portrayal of mothers in Hindi cinema has undergone a huge transition - from the sacrificing ones of the 1960s and 70s to the working and even single moms of today. But the roles of mothers has somewhat got diluted over the years - a few exceptions apart, of course.

Last week's terribly unfunny comedy "Mr White & Mr Black" tried to get funny about the mother's role.

The film had Ashish Vidyarthi as a weepy, broken-hearted don grieving for his mother whom he killed by accident. He then sits around weeping buckets while watching sentimental films about the mother-figure. This includes "Deewar" where Shashi Kapoor shuts Amitabh Bachchan up with Salim-Javed's classic line "Mere paas Maa hai", and that little boy in "Raja Aur Runk" who sings "O maa tu kitni achi hai...".

The song, sung by Lata Mangashkar in her 40s for a 10-year-old boy, remains a tribute to so many luminaries who played mom in Hindi cinema.

Nirupa Roy by far remains Bollywod's mummy no. 1, thanks to her all-giving, all-sacrificing maternal image in almost all her films.

But moms needn't be angelic. In B.R. Ishaara's "Kagaz Ki Nao" 30 years ago Helen's daughter Sareeka fainted with fright when she saw her widowed mother with a man.

"Why do we presume our mothers to be deities?" Helen had pleaded in this poignant look at the way moms used to be.

When did the portrait of the mother as the last word in resilience and sacrifice change? When Shabana Azmi throttled her lover's son in Ishaara's "Log Kya Kahenge"? Or when Aroona Irani plotted against her doting step-son in Indra Kumar's "Beta"?

Hindi cinema's best-known and best-loved moments of magic on the screen are mother-oriented - from Mehboob Khan's "Mother India" and Suchitra Sen in "Mamta" to Sharmila Tagore in "Aradhana" and Yash Chopra's "Deewaar".

Pravin Bhatt's "Bhavna" saw a powerhouse performance by Shabana Azmi as a mother who becomes a hooker to make her son a doctor.

Apart from Nirupa Roy, Sulochana, Leela Chitnis, Kamini Kaushal and Achala Sachdev also played great mothers. Remember the 40-plus Rajendra Kumar in O.P. Ralhan's "Talaash" sobbing in his mother Sulochana's lap as Sachin Dev Burman sang "Meri duniya hai maa tere aanchal mein".

With a new breed of below-30 heroes came the younger hipper moms like Reema Lagoo, Anjana Mumtaz and Beena.

But somehow one hardly gets to see the large-hearted, all-giving mother any longer.

The last of the truly great all-giving screen moms was Raakhee Gulzar who could bring in a great deal of empathy to roles that would otherwise have ended up as clichés.

When did the screen moms begin to get mildewed? Was it when the Nirupa Roys and Sulochanas were replaced by the Waheeda Rehmans and Raakhees to make the mother more glamorous?

Moms in our films are a threatened species and more often than not they're victims of clichéd portrayals.

(Subhash K. Jha is a well known writer on films. He can be contacted at subhashster@gmail.com)

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