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The changing face of Mother India' in cine-maa


Published on: May 13, 2023 | Updated on: May 13, 2023

Actress Farida Jalal. (Photo: DC/File)

Bollywood and Maa share an inseparable bond. She might not be Pelageya Nilovna Vlasova as portrayed by Gorky. But, she is no less. In the world of Hindi movies, from being a doting mother to a disciplinarian, she can be anything. Over the decades, this depiction has undergone a sea change. She is no longer ‘ablaa naari’. Let’s see how the image has evolved over a period of time.

The traditional maa

Just like in earlier decades, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Nirupa Roy, Sulochana, Kamini Kaushal, Leela Chitnis, Lalita Pawar (known for her ma-in-law roles too) among others created the template for Bollywood mother who was mostly widowed, perennially poor, ill, and eternally serving ‘aloo ke parathe’ and ‘gajar ka halwa’ to her grown up son. Mostly clad in white saris, the mother suffered a lot. She was a sober figure meant to be worshipped. It was Nirupa Roy's Deewar that gave us one of the most famous dialogues, "Mere paas maa hai".

Mother India

Nargis’ portrayal of Radha in ‘Mother India’ released in 1957 deserves special mention. Even though she is a sufferer, she is a woman of substance. Not only Radha is a single mom (much before the concept got popular), she proudly declares, "Birju, mein Beta de sakti hoon, laaj nahi de sakti’ and kills her onscreen son played by Sunil Dutt. To date, this portrayal remains a benchmark for the characterization and portrayal of a strong woman.

Nutan brings in novelty

Actor par excellence, Nutan easily slipped into the role of a mother when she was no longer offered the main lead. ‘Meri Jung’, ‘Naam’, and ‘Mein Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki’ are shining examples of this.

Mom gets younger

The last movie released in 1989 proved to be a trendsetter. Now was the time for a much younger-looking mother and came along Reema Lagoo. In ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ she played Salman Khan’s mother for the first time then went on to repeat the same character several times. Actors like Aruna Irani, Farida Jalal followed in her footsteps and you had gems like ‘Beta’ and ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.’ They all played moms who were educated, well-dressed mostly in saris, and were often the matriarchs of rich families.

Mother India redux

While most of them most of the time stuck to the mold of a sweet and ever-forgiving mom, it was once again Reema Lagoo who raised the bar. In 1999’s ‘Vaastav’ she aped Radha of ‘Mother India’. She kills her son played by Sanjay Dutt as he has deviated from his righteous path.

Aruna Irani

Though she played mom to Govinda and many others several times, her portrayal of the sugarcoated manipulating stepmother in ‘Beta’ till date remains one of the best.

In sync with the times

With the start of the new decade, the character changed again. Now we had working moms. A bit old, a bit new. Tabu in ‘Chandni Bar’ or ‘Haider’ showed this change very well. While Kiran Juneja, Dolly Ahluwalia brought the quintessential Punjabi maa to life, Ratna Shah Pathak, Supriya Pathak also left a mark with movies like ‘Kapoor and Sons’, ‘Goliyon ki rasleela’. The cooler versions were ably played by Smita Jaykar (‘Devdas’, ‘Hum Dil De Ke Chuke Sanam’, ‘Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani’) and Kirron Kher (‘Hum Tum’, ‘Dostana’)

Neena Gupta

Bold as ever in her choices on screen and off screen, only Neena Gupta could have played a woman who embraces late pregnancy in ‘Badhai Ho’. Later, once again breaking a taboo, she played a mother who after a bit of reluctance accepts her gay son in ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’.

Sridevi shines

‘English Vinglish’ (2012) brought Sridevi back to the silver screen. She played Shashi Godbole, a mother who is looked down upon by her children since she can’t speak English. Sridevi has played mother several times onscreen including in her last movie ‘Mom’ for which she won a national award.

It’s more fun

This all was set to change in 2018 when Kajol played Eela, a single mother who takes up education again 22 years after she left. Seeds for self-identity were sowed. And then comes ‘Maja Ma’ in 2022 where we see how the focus has now completely shifted to a hitherto unexplored angle of a woman’s sexuality. Madhuri very convincingly essays the character of Pallavi who wants to voice her true feelings and expects her family to understand her.

The recent release of Rani Mukherjee, ‘Mrs Chaterjee vs Norway’, in which Rani takes on an entire country for the sake of her children is another example of to what extent a mother can go for her kids.

More power to mothers.