In one of the most memorable scenes in the recently released Kapoor & Sons, a grizzly and ailing Rishi Kapoor is shown sharing a drag of what is presumably hash, with his two grandsons played by Sidharth Malhotra and Fawad Khan. The brothers are also seen sharing a round of drinks with their onscreen parents Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor, at home, either over mindless laughter or heated discussions on family finances to extra-marital affairs and even sexuality.
In Dil Dhadakne Do, yet another family drama, one of the prime sequences saw the sibling duo played by Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra, take on their parents on how they have failed them. In Piku, Amitabh Bachchan was the free-thinking father having candid conversations about his daughter’s private life — a far cry from his “Raichand” baritone and persona that reeked of family parampara in Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, circa 2001.
Parents have grown up. Once an integral part of commercial Hindi cinema, the quintessential maa and pitaji have largely faded away from the silver screen. Gone are the days of the patriarch and in some cases the matriarch, whose very presence on screen would stand for a symbol of authority, whose words their wards dare not disobey.
In fact, the conflict in the plot, would more often than not be introduced by the parents, who would be generations apart in their thinking and behaviour. While the stereotype is largely intact on the small screen, Bollywood seems to have taken a huge leap from sanskari to ultramodern. Both Farida Jalal and Alok Nath say that actors like them are out of jobs because they don’t fit the “parental” roles that are being written in films these days. In fact, Alok Nath, better known as celluloid’s most sanskari babuji, says today is the age of the “yo mums and dads.”
“Things change so fast and suddenly the kind of roles I used to do have waned. Films are deprived of the conventional elderly figures now. They are more into yo moms and dads. In television, we are still catering to the middle class audience, I would not say regressive, but rooted in traditions. They still have babujis and dhoti-kurta clad characters. But in films the maas and babujis don’t exist anymore,” says Alok Nath. A slightly amused Farida Jalal also rues how the ultra-modern onscreen mother wears a backless choli nowadays. “The roles that we did don’t exist anymore. The ultra-modern mothers wear all sorts of clothes that I will not get into. If the makers and the audience think they have had enough of the traditional parent, it’s okay. Change is inevitable and we must accept it and walk along. I cannot change my profession at this age — acting is all I know and I love what I do. But yes, once in a while I do wonder why we don’t have a single film like the old times,” says the veteran actress.
Reema Lagoo, who defined the onscreen sanskari ma all through the 90s, points out that films have to change with the society. “We must consider the fact that our society has changed drastically over the last five years. There is a heavy Western influence on our culture, more than ever before. So a change from traditional to modern tropes is natural. But what I feel has also happened is that the substance of such roles have reduced over time. There are films like Neel Battay Sannatta which still show a beautiful mother-daughter relationship, but they are few in number, and don’t even count among mainstream Bollywood films,” says the actress.
She talks of how the onscreen mom went through several stages leading to her current avatar. “It began to happen right at the start of my career. Senior legendary actresses had played struggling mothers, having to support their children. With me and my contemporaries, the mothers became more kind and friendly, also because the heroes too were 18-20-year-old characters who would be close to their mothers. But still, we wouldn’t be ultramodern.”
She welcomes that the small screen is still traditional. “I think that’s also because they are targeting a different audience. I am glad that the traditional maa and babuji are still around on television, because we need to remember our cultural values, no matter how modern we become,” she says. Shefali Shah, who played a mother of 20-year-olds in Dil Dhadakne Do, has been leading the pack of avant-garde mothers for a while now. She says, “Parents today talk about every single thing to their kids, they’re more friends than parents. So it’s to be expected. When I played a mother in Hasratein, it was the first time that menstruation was discussed onscreen,” says the actress who also played a mother in Waqt,
Gandhi, My Father. She agrees that Hasratein was an exception and television otherwise has not mirrored the change in films. “The majority of small-screen audience comprise 50-plus women, who perhaps still prefer conventional figures as opposed to big screen productions which are aimed at a younger audience,” she adds.
Suhasini Mulay too agrees that the change of filmi parents is more a marketing trope than societal. “India has world’s largest youth population today. Hence, the scripts too are catering to this class. And if the films are made for the youth, you obviously need to make content which will appeal to them. A traditional-mother or father won't fit in.” She continues, “Films like Kapoor & Sons, Piku, Dil Dhadakne Do are welcome exceptions where the role of the parents are realistic. These films cater to the urban youth. A Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan movie, which belong to single screen theatres, still have the typical mother-father characters in the film. The change of course is welcome. Mothers are no more shown praying in temples all day, or being dependent on their sons. Even in Dil Chahta Hai, it was a film where everything about it was exceptional. So the role of the mother wasn’t any different. It was ahead of its time,” she says.
Ronit Roy, who is one of the most sought after onscreen fathers today, says that despite the changes in cinema, 80-90 per cent India still lives in the ma-babuji zone. “On the small screen, those characters need to exist. Cities like Mumbai and Delhi may have changed but the small screen caters to a wider audience still entrenched in the ma-babuji culture. I am an actor in 2016, and that’s why I end up playing the cool parent today. The world has changed and so has parenthood. The cool parent is more relatable now. However, films of the past have not always shown stereotypical parents. An example that comes to my mind is that of Naseeruddin Shah playing a father in Masoom all those years ago.”
Agrees Rajat Kapoor, who played the father in Kapoor & Sons, “In the 70s we were addressing a different audience, in the 90s a different audience and now in 2016 a totally different audience. So what has changed is the audience. When the audience has changed, we also try and mould ourselves accordingly.”
Inputs from Asira Tarannum