“Women are born to make sacrifices for men.”
The dialogue comes from the 1995 Bollywood film “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, where the lead character Simran fell in love, but his family arranged for him to marry someone else. His mother tells him to renounce that love according to his father’s wish.
For Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry, the path to an authentic portrayal of women has been bumpy. In the Hindi film realm of India, onscreen mothers are depicted as long-time passive housewives who succumb to patriarchal pressures.
But this portrayal is being challenged. In recent years many films have featured mothers and overall women as complete and complex human beings – not melodramatic side characters, but vocal, independent leads who are in charge of their own fate.
“Tribhanga,” which Was released on Netflix in January, Is one such film. The story follows Anuradha (Kajol), an actress and dancer who has to face the demons of her past, when her mother, Nayantara (Tanvi Azmi) ends up in the hospital. Nayantara, a high-profile writer, gets to tell her side of the story in flashback, through a conversation with a disciple who is recording material for a biography.
Written and directed by actress Renuka Shahane, “Tribhanga” covers specific themes of Bollywood films, such as single motherhood, sexual abuse and open relationships. Nayantara is shown leaving her husband herself so that she can pursue her career as a mother, date and drink recklessly when she feels like it. She does not realize that one of her boyfriends has sexually abused Anu – and the cycle of trauma repeats when Anu’s daughter is instigated to be born out of wedlock.
“My mother has always shared her decline with me,” Shaheen said in a video interview last month. “The fun aspect of growing up with her was that I could see her as a human being.”
Shahane took this real-life inspiration and incorporated it into a script, which he worked on for nearly six years. For the characters, she said, portraying women as complex, if flawed, people. “They are the first ones, and they are very talented, beautiful, strong women, but they also have feelings.”
But the audience and the industry, Has not always been so welcome – Over the past decade, women-led films such as “The Dirty Picture” (2011) and “Kahani” (2012) performed well at the box office, while others, like the 2018 film “Veere Di Wedding”, did not. Nevertheless, mothers are often depicted to follow traditional gender roles, doting on their families and focusing solely on the lives of their children. In the 2001 family drama “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”, the mother (played by Jaya Bachchan) is shown to be telepathically aware of her son’s feelings and appearance, whether he physically possesses her or not. Ho. And the 1999 film “Hum Saath Saath Hain” placed the mother’s priority for her youngest son at the center of the story’s struggle.
The direction to have a more three-dimensional depiction of onscreen mothers has been developing for decades. According to Behroz Shroff, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California, Irvine, it began in the 1950s, when post-independence India was breaking the shackles of colonialism. Shroff said that in the 1957 film “Mother India”, the ideal mother was depicted as the daughter of the nation, both committed to her domestic duties and to her country. But as India spread globalization, international trends and free-market capitalism, and by the 1990s, there was a growing need to address the then bureaucratic audience. This led to conflict between showing women dutiful, as they actually are, when more viewers around the world were petitioning for more accurate representation.
Recently, women-led films such as “Tribhanga”, Shroff said that the challenge of playing the mother was necessary to make the characters more perfect for life. “A mother has to be three-dimensional, and her sexuality has to be valued. Especially when she is no longer dependent on financial support from her husband. “
In recent years, the increasing investment of global streaming platforms in India has also accelerated progress. “Capitalism in some way affects creativity and adds new voices.”
Much of this comes back to the audience. International audiences on streaming platforms, especially in larger markets such as the United States, are more open to seeing women in different roles – which makes them more logical and profitable.
Shroff said that streaming services “have a certain sensibility that they want to see in the kind of narrative they are promoting on their stage. It is for women filmmakers, women writers, behind the camera and in front of the camera for women It has been a great boon. “
Alankrita Srivastava, director of the 2019 film “Dolly Kitty and Woh Chamke Sitar” (Streaming on netflix), Agreed that this change is now happening because of women who have worked within the industry, but thinks that changes are also taking place due to the interests of more liberal audiences. “I think the audience may also have to open up a bit more to stories that aren’t necessarily the male, high-caste, ciegender heterosexual heroes at the center of the universe,” she said.
Motherhood is also a theme in “Dolly Kitty”, which tells the story of two women who are on parallel paths to self-discovery. One of them, Dolly, is a middle class mother of two who is searching for reasons she does not feel sexual desire towards her husband. At first, she blames herself – but during her journey, she questions her helpless mother, who she had long blamed for leaving the family to pursue her dreams. And in doing so, Dolly realizes that the problem is not hers, but her unsatisfactory marriage, which is holding her own ambitions and desires.
2020 film “Shakuntala Devi” (On streaming Amazon prime) Presented the life story of the famous mathematician. Devi, portrayed in the film by Vidya Balan, struggles to perform her duties as a mother while balancing her career and her passion for mathematics. Told from Devi’s daughter’s lens, the film also sheds light on the toll that intercultural trauma can inflict – Devi begins to hate her own mother and, in the end, her daughter expresses her inability to understand Devi.
Actress Kajol reiterated the importance of expanding a mother’s point of view in Bollywood films, with themes similar to the intercontinental trauma present in “Tribhanga”.
“We, as a country, put this whole idea of mother in a very small, tight box,” she said. But this type of thinking is set up for failure, and limits the possibilities for women- and offscreen. “It’s a surefire dream that you will be the perfect mother – you can’t. If you go by that parameter then there are just too many obstacles and you’re bound to fail.”