Twenty years ago whenever you heard the hero of a Hindi film say “Ma” you knew immediately what to expect.- a lady in a white sari, coughing away and working her sewing machine. The mother in question was almost always played by Nirupa Roy who had perfected the long suffering mother’s  expression  over the years that she was mother to all those middle heroes like Amitabh, Shashi, Shatrughan etc. She was this woman who had foregone a lot in her life to bring up her son so that he could either announce in his introductory scene that he had passed  his BA with a “first class first” or become a angry young man seeking vengeance!  There were others before her  but no one could  really  beat Nirupa Roy at this !

Over the years there were some new faces that portrayed this mother – Nutan and Waheeda Rahman being some of them. But Nutan as a mother often did more than work on a sewing machine, she was usually a widow  with two sons- one who was actually not hers but that of her husband’s mistress and another who was her own. As a good “bharatiya nari” she had forgiven her husband bringing into her life the son of the “other woman” ( after the death of both her husband and the other woman) , giving him as much love as her own son. Her son ofcourse was the “bad boy” among the two and she lived with the turmoil of having to deal with that – remember “Main Tulsi Tere Angan ki” and “Naam”?  But yes, she kept that image alive – white sari and a grey wig.

But somewhere along the way towards the end of the 1980s the image of the mother changed. The first actor to portray this changed role of a mother was Reema Lagoo in “Ashiqui” where she was single mother who worked  in an office( asking her son Rahul Roy to remember to pay the electricity bill)  and then  of course  was “Maine Pyar kiya”. The interesting change in both these cases was not just in the physical appearance of the mother ( she was well dressed, looked good etc) but the portrayal of her relationship with her son. She was not this dependent creature who was overcome with emotion when  her son got his “naukri” and asked her to stop working because he would look after her. Neither was she badgering him post “naukri” to bring her a “bahu” so she could retire from her responsibilities. She was more of a friend to her son, his confidante  teasing him often about the girl who he was interested in, encouraging him in wooing her, sometimes conspiring with the girl in question to help the relationship reach its natural conclusion. I absolutely adore the “Antakshari  scene in “Maine Pyaar Kiya”  where you actually see this fun mom- something we have not seen earlier on the Indian screen.

However my favourite on screen mom is Ratna Pathak in “Jane Tu. “where she plays mother to Imran Khan. She is your absolutely ordinary 21st century mom wearing track pants at home and asking her son to make breakfast on a weekend. She is friends with his friends and he discusses his girl friends with her. She has opinions about his relationships but prefers not to discuss them with him. She converses in English and is obviously well educated.

I find it very interesting how this portrayal of the mother on screen has over the years followed the changes in society.  In India, a mother is almost treated like a “goddess” ( though it is another matter what she undergoes in real life). People speak of motherhood, and mother in very respectful tones. There is this thing about a mother being able to do anything for her children – which is true but in the process I think somewhere our film makers had  turned her into a sad creature!  She was desexed and made to mouth very clichéd dialogues and almost made into some sort of an object whose sole mantra in life was “sacrifice”.

Though the  journey from Nirupa to Ratna via Reema shows that we as a society are today more open to looking at the mother as a real person engaged in more realistic pursuits there are some subtle changes particularly around her appearance that are interesting to note. She has not just discarded her white sari and grey wig, she actually looks glamorous!. The perfect example of this is of course Hema Malini in “Baghban”

If films have changed over the years advertisements are not going to be far behind! There is  this ad that I saw recently on TV about an overbearing woman who is shopping for a surprise gift for her son and finds herself without cash or credit card when she reaches the billing counter as a result of which she has to call her son for assistance. The son looks to be in his thirties which presumes that his mom may be in her fifties. But the model playing the mom  in question is very attractive and smartly dressed looking far younger than the fifty plus years that the  ad would have us believe.

I think, I like this trend- the fact that our society is beginning to accept this image of a mother as an attractive person – a woman with her own identity.

 But some may argue that today a pleasing appearance seems to be becoming more and more important and this is what is getting reflected in the image of the mom being portrayed by the media. It has nothing to do with a change in the social perception of the mother and what she stands for in our culture!

While reflecting on the above, I would like to state that it is not appearance that is important today but the spirit and image of youthfulness! People like to look and behave younger than they are and the younger generation seems to want it of their parents – particularly their mothers!

But coming back to the world of films, I think it is time that the changed image of the mother should be used positively to portray a change in values. There is no point if an attractive on screen mother still continues to celebrate “Karva Chauth” albeit dressed glamoursly.( remember Jaya in “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam”)  I remember this wonderful film “Astitva” where Tabu plays mother to a grown up young man. In the climax not only does she ask her husband some hard questions but also her son. The movie shows her closeness to her son’s fiancée and the mutual respect that both women have for each other as individuals.

And one of the first steps in that direction of changing value systems through the portrayal of the mom  would be to have a new on screen mom-  that of the heroine! We have very few examples of that.  Either the heroine’s mother is a non entity or portrayed as a negative character ( Rohini Hattangadi in “Akele hum akele tum”)

Now that is REALLY sad because even if you have a daughter you are still a mother or is that greatness of motherhood and her sacrifices take on meaning only if they are made for her son?


  1. Hii i regularly follow the posts you write and i have nominated you for Liebster Blog award. Please follow the link for the award
    All the best

  2. Hello Meera,

    yes the mother trend is changing, or it has already changed. Though the new trend is acceptable, I think the old mother image played by Nirupa Roy still has that classic appeal, and it had portrayed the typical Indian middle class mum very well, though with a bit of exaggeration.

  3. You pointed out the changes in the screen mother in Bollywood movies very aptly. And, I used to grimace seeing these mothers of yore always suffering and crying. These days they are far more realistic which is a relief. I loved Ratna's character in Jaane Tu.. I like it when women are portrayed as having sense of humor and looking real,and I don't see any harm about espousing old values too like you mentioned Karwa Chauth. I think keeping fasts or believing in old rituals or pooja path does not make one regressive or backward thinking. Too much of feminism in movies or otherwise is also putting off, don't you agree?

  4. Wow now some research has gone into that post ..
    I think films still lack a lot of REAL life, If I went ot my mother and said something what people in a movie say , she would have slapped me and said Behave :)

    I would not have got away with all that a hero gets away , especially if i brought a girl home..

    yes things are changing slowly hopefully soon they change for sure ..

    I really like the mother in maine pyar kiya , she is a good actor and she looks beautiful .. Hema malini although looked glamourous in the movie yet she was shown doing things and the dialogues that most women probably dont say to their husbands ...


  5. nice post
    you said it everything.

  6. Stereo typing has been the bane of creativity in Indian films. It is a good trend now. Mainly because films these days are made by young ones who were born after the stereo typed era of the sixties and seventies..
    But yet, if one is a psychiatrist he must sport a French beard and a school master a wide looking glass( spectacles).

  7. But Hema still had a wig I suppose as she is very conscious of her wide forehead and always wanted a wig.

  8. Wonderfully written :-)
    Good that things are slowly changing, for the better.Today the Mother is someone who is a Multi-tasker. The way she is portrayed is evolving with the changing times.

    Loved your writing style. TOo good :-)

  9. Indian films have always portrayed mothers that way and you've presented them in this post really well Meera! And what about Farida jalal's act in DDLJ? I loved the portrayal of Ratna Pathak in "Jaane Tu". Long live mothers of Bollywood!

    Wonderfully analysed and different perspective !
    CHANGE IS INEVITABLE :D and it wont change mama !

  11. Thanks folks for your comments! @ Haddock, Hema's high forehead is her USP, I wonder why she should try to cover it up ?

    About the research- no I did not do any of that. It is just top info from the top of my head- tells you what an avid movie watcher I must be.

    @ Bikram, sometimes real life mothers get inspired to behave like the screen moms!

  12. Nice evolution of on screen mothers! The only difference is while the mothers changed for better the MILs have become nastier from Lalita Pawar's time:)Good one Meera!

  13. Good one! Let us change the way Maas are. I remember another ad by Yuvraj and his mom for a detergent powder. Nicely conceived with maa clad in a tracks and sporting a happy smile. Let maas change for good:)

  14. A good read.I liked the last para,the sting in the tail.Haha

  15. Meera,

    Reel life mostly draws inspiration from real life. So the change in portrayal of mother is in keeping with the social trends. Films also have a impact on impressionable minds, so you are right when you say that they need to incorporated changes in some values which need re-look with passage of time. Foremost being what you said in last paragraph, equal status for daughters and sons.

    Take care

  16. How can one forget Vidya Balan in Paa, Kiron Kher in Hum Tum...Reema Lagoo in Kal Ho Na Ho.

    I simply loved them.Today's "MAA" is trendy...wears western clothes...and the best part is today ladies don't want to look like a MOM. They work towards maintaining their figure. I have many colleagues in my office who are mother of Two....but they look like college students...!!!

    That really shows how things have changed.
    I liked your post...!!! It made me nostalgic...and I still prefer to watch old movies..."Maa, mein pass ho gaya...."


  17. I love bollywood and the first picture was a popular face i know....indeed always the suffering Toofan, Govinda, mother indian, and so many others i can't remember now. I liked the traditional Indian films more that showed the beautiful culture and dressing, esp the marriage ceremonies and the singing....the modern films are too westernized.

    You see, it is being you are that attracts people to you, becox they want something different from theirs, and sincerely speaking i still prefer the epic /classic films like DHARAM & VEER, GHAZAB,YER VER DAH what i see now, which had quenched my interest,because it's similar to american films which i watch often.


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