Hindi Cinema and maa have an intimate association. The maa in cinema has played a crucial role in moulding the characters, especially the male characters and in the progression of the narratives. On her own, she might not have a lot to offer but the moment our hero in the film gets deviated from the path of righteousness, she becomes the most powerful character of the film who either becomes a channel to bring him back to the right path or to end his life if it is too late. Some fine examples that come to one’s mind are of Nirupa Roy in films like Deewar and Suhaag, and Nargis in Mother India. The baap, however, did not get as much as weight as maa, but has been an important component on his own.
The characterization of the father has varied from submissive (Om Prakash in Do Kaliyaan) to the victim of situations (Balraj Sahni in Do Bheega Zameen). Showing the father as a controlling and staunch patriarch was not common in films unless he was the villain in the films. In fact, the villain fathers also often softened up when it came to their children. But as time progressed and Hindi Cinema welcomed a stream of romantic-family dramas, the rise in the family patriarchs in films saw exponential growth. The fathers were often shown being tormented by their children who wanted to live their lives on their own terms, wanted to marry the people they liked and got really hurt when the children had any sort of agency in their lives.
Remember Balraj? Amrish Puri in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge who emotionally manipulates Simran and brings his London born and brought up daughter to Punjab to marry a Punjab-da-gabru-jawaan, Ranjeet? Neither Balraj nor Simran have any idea what Ranjeet is like, what he does for a living or anything at all. Earlier in the film, Balraj tells his daughter when he sees her praying that, “People say that parents with daughters have their shoulders bent. But if their daughter is like her (a praying Simran), their shoulders will not be bent down but will be up in pride”. This dialogue is not just sexist and extremely regressive that has a tendency to make every girl question her existence and feel guilty as to how and why is she making her parents ashamed – but also has religious and cultural biases that put a Hindu girl on a higher pedestal.
The fathers were often shown being tormented by their children who wanted to live their lives on their own terms, wanted to marry the people they liked and got really hurt when the children had any sort of agency in their lives.
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge was released in 1995 and 12 years later – there was another film drawn on similar lines – a desi father bringing his videshi-born daughter to Punjab (India) to get married. But while in DDLJ, the audience was made to empathise with Simran – in Namaste London (2007), when Jazz resisted and refused to marry the man of her father’s choice, she was shown as a tormentor.
Let us throw some light on the plot of Namaste London. A man tricks his daughter and brings her to India in the context of showing her the country but starts looking for grooms for his daughter. The father wants a Punjabi Jat with desi habits and without talking to his daughter even once – shares his desire with the prospective groom’s father of getting his daughter married to his son.
When the daughter objects, he rebukes her and asks her to give the answer soon and that the answer should be yes. And the marriage does take place. How is this plot different from that of Pakistani film, Khuda Ke Liye (2007) that narrates the tragic tale of a young London-born Pakistani girl, whose father tricks her and takes her to Afghanistan to get her married and then places her under house arrest? Mind you, Khuda ke Liye is a tragic drama. But Namaste London is a comedy film where Jazz somewhat becomes an antagonist and her father becomes a ‘victim’.
Indian cinema has completed a century and yet not a lot has changed. Our films still have misogynistic undertones and it is visible through the portrayal of fathers in films.
In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), when the proud patriarch (Vikram Gokhale) discovers the love affair of his only daughter-cum-pride, Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) – he becomes the saddest person on the earth, while his wife’s only concern is whether Nandini is a virgin or not. They fix her marriage without her consent (again!). All this while, an extremely upset Nandini tries to commit suicide, falls down the stairs, is frantic and has evidently sunk into depression, but somehow – it’s her parents who are the most troubled ones.
Subhash Ghai’s directorial Pardes (1997) depicts the story of Ganga who leaves the country she dearly loves for America after getting engaged to her father’s best friend’s only son. Pardes has many scenes that are problematic in nature, like Ganga being used as a pawn in a bet where the winning party gets to marry her. This bet gets permission from her father! Later in the film when her fiancé tries to rape her, she beats him unconscious and comes back to India with the help of her friend, Arjun. Her father, however, still wants to talk to his best friend who manipulates the situation to his accord and blames Ganga and Arjun for having an affair. The father is then unconvinced that his daughter only is the culprit and picks up a sword to kill her!
Indian cinema has completed a century and yet not a lot has changed. Our films still have misogynistic undertones and it is visible through the portrayal of fathers in films. Though one might argue that the characters draw parallels to the society and its people – the issue is glorifying these fathers, making them look like the ultimate heroes who are weighed down by the children who dare to dream for themselves. It is time to call them out for their regressive and patriarchal attitude. So the next time when you watch Namaste London, do not feel bad for Rishi Kapoor’s character and try and see what he actually did with his daughter.