Retake: Representation of mothers, sons and servitude in Indian cinema – Entertainment News , Firstpost – Firstpost

In a scene from Yash Chopra’s Dharamputra (1961), two mothers vie for the right to be killed by their son. “Tum jaanti ho maa, bhagwan ke baad main bas tumhe manta hun. Par agar sachai ke raste se hataaya, toh main tumhari bhi parvaah nahi karunga,” Dilip played by a stunning Shashi Kapoor declares. Dharmputra, as the name alludes to, is a story about two different types of servitude – one in honour of the mother and another in honour of the state otherwise eulogised as the mother. Even within the film a birth and foster mother work together to mend a wayward, poisonous son. Much has been written about the mother’s figurative place in our cinema as the one burdened with moralism and responsibility, but in recent years at least, she has been relieved to an extent of both her duties as selfless guardian and purveyor of life’s ultimate truisms.
In Bimal Roy’s Maa(1952), two sons, diametrically opposite in moral conduct grow up under the guardianship of the same mother. Surprisingly, the one who is wrongfully convicted of thievery (Bharat Bhushan as Bhanu) is the one who eventually turns out to be reliable. In the context of motherhood, possibly no other film is recounted more than Mother India, the sagely portrayal of a mother who goes to all lengths to provide for her ailing family. But rarely has Hindi cinema, has shown the conflicted side of this familial equation. In Dharmputra, for example, a Muslim woman secretly accommodates the fact that the son she chose to not carry and nurture has turned into a bigot. It reeks of gullibility, even devotion in the face of tenuous moral dilemma.
During the 60s, motherhood manifested on-screen as a reflex to the uncertainty surrounding a young country. Independence had been won, but moral aptitude was an everyday battle. To choose to fight it also meant to be caged by its rigors. Naturally, it fell to the feet of mothers to salvage and save unreliable men. The 70s, however, saw the birth of tragic mother, the helpless widow whose condition inspires a kind of rage against the system. The role was of course iconised by Nirupa Roy, who mothered various versions of Amitabh Bachchan’s angry man avatar (Deewar being the most iconic). Deprived of agency, this wronged ‘bechari’ version of the mother inspired in her sons the will to punch above their socio-economic weight. They chased truth, while she remained home happy to be imprisoned by its many unsaid reckonings.
In between these years of evolution, the mother-son relationship has also become susceptible to the powers of greed, desire and control. In Khoobsurat(1980) for example, a dictatorial mother’s control over a large household is unintentionally questioned when the chaos of defiant, young blood is fed into its system. Selflessness or sacrifice, control or liberality, mothers have raised men that fall on different spectrums of acceptability. The nature vs nurture debate holds true here to an extent because in both Maa and Dharamputra, the presence of motherhood doesn’t guarantee moral clarity, but simply the late chance to salvage something. In Vaastav, for example, Reema Lagoo’s endearing presence can’t quite save her son from devolving into self-annihilation. In Baghbaan similar things can be said of multiple childrenn, whereas in Pardes, the absence of an earthly mother figure renders a man both rootless and devoid of etiquette.
The mother-son relationship has reached the kind of evolutionary standpoint where mothers are allowed to be something other than reflective mirrors for their sons. To the point that the two exist in our cinema of their own accord, and not as the co-dependent emotional hook that makes either’s involvement inseparable from the other. Kirron Kher (Hum Tum) introduced the cool, will-not-always-give-you-a-shoulder-to-cry-on mom who references her son’s life as a matter of concern, and not her own sustenance. Sridevi’s late roles, in films like English Vinglish forayed into a mother’s own search for agency outside the ambit of looking after and raising the heroes of tomorrow.
The mother-son relationship has undergone change, with stories beginning to acknowledge a woman’s desire to live outside of her functional requirements. New-age mothers will quite possibly question her son’s choices, talk to him about issues that go beyond the cursory definition of good and bad. In Aarya, for example, a mother has to, in moments of need, entrust her reluctant son with duties she would, in a perfect world, never ask of him. The tables have flipped, and the burden of baggage lies on the shoulders on men for a change. It’s a collective scrambling-free from under the weight of handbooks about motherhood. It does, in a way, mirror the birth of this country.  From carrying us with the promise of possibilities, to now asking to be pulled along with a sense of survivability, even defiance.
Manik Sharma writes on art and culture, cinema, books, and everything in between.

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