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Mummy Ho Toh Aisi: Bollywood’s Spunky Mothers

Move over Nirupama Roy, let's celebrate the unconventional Bollywood mother

Bollywood mothers who defy the script – women with depth, nous and shades of grey. 

Margarita with a straw Mothers Daughters

Of the many stereotypes that Bollywood loves, perhaps the most pervasive is that of the sacrificing, overflowing-with-love mother. It’s easy for our generation to joke about Nirupama Roy’s “Ek baar mujhe maa keh kar pukaro beta” and Rakhi’s “Mere Karan Arjun aayenge”, but frankly, Reema Lagoo and Jaya Bhaduri in the countless Sooraj Barjatia-Karan Johar movies are no different when it comes to depicting the perfect mother who dotes on her sons (and yes, it’s usually the son who mops up the devotion).

So this Mothers Day, here are some Bollywood Maas who defy the storyline. They enjoy drinking Scotch, read feminist novels  and don’t do a “Kantabai” when confronted with homosexual love. Our favorite kickass Bollywood Mommies, in no particular order.

Shabana Azmi in Masoom

A seemingly perfect marriage with two perfect children is marred by the arrival of 8 year Rahul – the husband’s son from an affair he had while his wife was pregnant with their first child. Shabana Azmi’s Indu  refuses to play the forgiving wife, but that doesn’t mean that she is the evil stepmother. Instead, Azmi beautifully depicts the real emotions that any woman in this situation would experience – from hurt and anger at the betrayal to gradual acceptance and affection. Nowhere is this portrayed better than in the scene where Rahul involuntarily screams “Mummy” after accidentally hitting his hand with a hammer, only for Azmi to snap back: “I am NOT your Mummy!”.

Zohra Sehgal in Cheeni Kum

They may be single, silly or smashed, but Bollywood mothers are rarely eccentric. Kudos to Balki for giving us the first screwball Bollywood Maa in Zohra Sehgal’s Mrs. Gupta. When she is not drooling over the  rippling muscles in WWF boxing, she is busy ribbing her son, whether it’s about his fitness, his culinary skills (so what if she’s a terrible cook and he is London’s top Indian chef) or his unexpected tenderness when he falls for Tabu’s Nina. With her acid wit and the irrepressible twinkle in her eyes, Sehgal brings to the screen the joi de vivre that she exemplified in her real life.

Ratna Pathak Shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

She is the mom we can relate with, the one who lies curled up on the sofa reading “The Female Eunuch” while casually reminding her son that it’s his turn to make breakfast, the one who doesn’t miss a thing but refuses to play the “I know what’s best for you” matchmaker, the one who provides a shoulder to cry on with a dash of humour and quiet strength. One of our favourite scenes from the movie is her easy quip in response to Aditi’s ” College ke 5 saal kaise beet gaye pata hi nahi chala” :

“Phone pe beta, phone pe”

Vidya Balan in Paa

Until Preity Zinta’s defiant Priya Bakshi in Kya Kehna, single mothers in Bollywood were equated with slut and shame. Vidya Balan added to the growing tribe of self-reliant single mothers with her delightful take as Dr. Vidya in Paa. She’s intelligent, successful, adventurous and brave enough to chuck the man she loves when he suggests an abortion of their unborn child. One of the most touching scenes in the movie is this  conversation between Vidya and her mother (Arundhati Nag):

Dina Pathak in Khoobsurat

She loves order and discipline and demands the very best of her children. But Dina Pathak’s Nirmala Gupta is not a monochome martinet who only cares about terrorizing her husband and children. Despite her excessive love for authority, she shares a warm and balanced relationship with her husband and is quite a softie at heart. Dina Pathak was not only the antithesis of the indulgent Bollywood mom, she was also much closer to the working, middle class mothers that many of us grew up with.

Tabu in Haider

In Tabu’s Hamlet inspired Ghazala, we have one of the most deliciously complicated mothers in Bollywood’s 100 year old history. She loves her son to bits, who in turn is devoted to her, so much so that there are hints of an Oedipal relationship between the two. But she also feels ignored by her idealistic husband, and does not hesitate to find love in the arms of his younger brother after he goes missing, conveniently ignoring the fact that her new lover may be behind her husband’s disappearance.

Dolly Ahluwahlia in Vicky Donor

The Punjabi mom trying to nag some sense into her good-for-nothing son has turned into something  of a Bollywood cliche, but Dolly Ahluwalia’s  breaks the trope as Mrs. Arora in Vicky Donor. Her beauty parlour provides the money needed to run her home, and after a tiring day of threading and manicuring Lajpat Nagar’s demanding aunties, she unwinds by sharing a whiskey with her mother in law (Kamlesh Gill as Biji).Watch this brilliant exchange between the two:

Revathy in Margarita With a Straw

Our favourite movie of 2015 has the immensely talented Revathy play Shubhangi aka Ai, the hard working, classical music loving mother of Laila, a girl born with cerebral palsy. Laila may travel in a wheelchair and have trouble speaking, but her sharp mind, ready wit and radiant smile are a tribute to her gritty and no-nonsense mother, who is determined that her daughter chase all her dreams. There are several tender and funny scenes between Ai and Laila, none more than the one in which Laila hesitatingly informs Shubhangi that ” Ai, main bi hoon”, only for her mother to snap back: “Main kya kam Bai hoon!”, followed by a litany of her chores.

Kiron Kher in Dostana

Kiron Kher has donned the mantle of the devoted, emotional, sometimes over the top Punjabi mom in recent years, but we have to applaud her for her comic acceptance of gay love (or what she thinks is gay love) in Dostana. It may not be perfect, but it’s a welcome progression from Karan Johar’s Kantabai in Kal Ho Na Ho.

Seema Kaushal Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana

We’ve declared our love for Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana and its madcap cast of actors on these pages before, and now is as good a time as any to applaud Seema Kaushal’s Lata Khurana, the most realistic small town, middle class Maa in Hindi cinema. As a Punjabi, I could imagine several of my feisty aunts as the simple but spunky Lata Chachi. From her lusty discussions on vest and underwear sizes with London returned Omi to her gentle unraveling of family confrontations and the inimitable “Bakwaas mat kar, Titu”, she, more than anyone else in Bollywood, comes closest to depicting the real Punjabi mother.

Honorable Mentions:
Nargis in Mother India

For being the first on-screen Bollywood mother who kills her own son for abducting a village girl.

Lalita Pawar in Anari

We’ve come to associate Lalita Pawar with the villainous step mother / mother in law, so it’s worth remembering her turn as the warm and compassionate Mrs. D’sa in Raj Kapoor’s  Anari.

Aruna Irani in Beta

Despite the clichéd and regressive storyline, Aruna Irani gave a stellar performance as the hardy and manipulative stepmother in Beta.

Image courtesy: Zee News

1 Comment on Mummy Ho Toh Aisi: Bollywood’s Spunky Mothers

  1. Awesome list! Love it!!! I wouldn’t change even one!!!

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