Irficionado | Movies | Parents: Missing in (Lights, Camera,) Action

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Had sent this piece to thREAD, The Hindu’s online segment. The article came out today! With some edits, text and visual. The link is below and the original piece below that.

This piece on thREAD

I had been waiting for the DVD of Tamasha to come out for two reasons. One, to enjoy my favourite movie of last year all over again. Two, to check whether Deepika Padukone’s character, Tara, had parents in the movie. For we just see a glimpse of her kin in one song, Heer toh badi sad hai, and then too, it’s not clear if they are her parents and family or rather guardians and their family.

I watched the song a few times to verify, and the most I could discern was that there is a senior male figure in her life, but going by the displayed behaviour between them, he seems to be a caring uncle at best. In contrast, Dev’s (Ranbir Kapoor’s character) parents are well established, as a key part of the movie involves them.

And then I started thinking of other romantic movies (aren’t all our movies around that warm, fuzzy feeling?) in the recent past with a young urban setting or story, to check a developing theory.

In Wake Up Sid, my favourite movie of a few years ago, Ayesha’s (Konkona Sen’s character) parents find mention only in a wall photo of her Mumbai rental and in a late-night call to her mom back in Kolkata. This movie too pivots partly on Ranbir Kapoor’s (Sid) parents, but the core (love) story takes off when Sid moves into Ayesha’s apartment.

Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen-Sharma in the latter's room in 'Luck By Chance'In Luck By Chance, my favourite movie of all time, the parents of both the principal characters (Vikram, played by Farhan Akhtar, and Sona, again Konkona) live in cities away from the city in which the characters have come to pursue their Bollywood dreams.

Nithya Menen and Dulquer Salmaan in a scene from 'O Kadhal Kanmani'The roster continues… Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani: screen time of three minutes max for Deepika’s mom and none for Kalki Koechlin and Aditya Roy Kapur’s parents; I Hate Luv Storys: Sonam Kapoor’s parents appear for around six minutes overall and Imran Khan’s mom appears for five minutes in the second half; and looking at Kollywood – and from the limited Tamil movies I watch and understand – in last year’s O Kadhal Kanmani (OKK): no parents again for the girl, Tara (Nithya Menen), and an elder brother and his family at the most for Adi (Dulquer Salmaan).

My theory, or rather, query was ripe: Where are the parents in today’s movies? Or better put, why are they missing? Contrast this with the time when movies were all about Mother India and her mamta and which bhai ke paas maa hai.

Poster of 'Deewar' (1975) with the mother, Nirupa Roy, holding centre-stage

The reasons, it would seem, are both reel and real.

Reel first. The dynamics of both movie-making and watching in India have changed. Movies are no longer three-hour-plus backside-burners but of a more palatable two or two-and-a-half-hour duration, leaving little room for elaborate back or side family stories. Going to the movies now is also less of a family affair and more a hangout with friends or a significant other, and since these happen more in multiplexes, these folks don’t want to see movies with the “baggage” of, well, folks – the people they have left outside those multiplexes. Also, a majority of Bollywood and many Kollywood movies are now being shot abroad – to cater to aspiring Indians and gloss-habituated NRIs – and the economics and mechanics of doing this doesn’t leave any room in the script and in the plane for the mummies and daddies.

But the real reasons appear to be the real ones.

Graphic of a Do Not Disturb door sign with text talking about the need to have spaceThe growing urban clamour among Indians first since liberalization and then globalization has seen people steadily moving from smaller cities, towns and villages to the metros and super-metros for better opportunities and hopefully a better life. And sometimes, like in Wake Up Sid, individuals move within the same city (out of their parents’ nest into their own), for space and privacy. In both cases, parents can become estranged (as Sona’s parents in Luck By Chance, who don’t like her decision to go to big, bad Bollywood, and Sid’s parents when he moves out after a war of words with his dad). Where’s the space for your progenitors when you’re busy pursuing your dreams and aspirations and fierce about your individuality and privacy? But also, as millennials would ask, where’s their need? After all, aren’t they just a WhatsApp message or Skype call away?

A bigger factor than the urban dream, though, seems to be inner conflict. Today’s tussles are no longer Parents vs You, Family vs Lover, Society vs Status: “You’ve got to take up your dad’s business.” “What will relatives and society say?” “You can’t marry him, he’s outside our class/caste/fill-in-the-blank.” Today’s parents know these hoary dialogues won’t budge with today’s youth, and today’s youth have scant headspace for the same. Not having a big outside demon to fight, the individual’s struggles now have all gone internal. Now vs Sometime in the Future, Commitment vs Independence, My Ideology/Dreams/Fill-in-the-blank vs Yours: “Now’s not the time – not because we’ve been seeing each other for just six months, but because I’m due for director at the firm.” “We’re somehow not compatible – I think I’m looking for something else.” “What about my dreams?” Ambitions and aspirations have become the new antagonizing amma and appa. And even where this is love, there is still conflict, because now we look at turns and shades of love. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you (or vice versa).” “I like you… as a friend; you are great to hang out with, but beyond that, I’m not so sure.” “I love you, but… (and any variety of reasons here).”

Imtiaz Ali wearing a T-shirt of 'Jab We Met'

Imtiaz Ali, Tamasha’s director, is perhaps the flagbearer of the urban-setting, inner-turmoil romantic movie. His career graph reflects this evolving graph of Bollywood – and the case of the MIA parents. In his first film, Socha Na Tha (2005), the boy rejects the girl in an arranged-marriage rendezvous, leading to parents and family on both sides turning into epic warlords. Cut to the movies after that – Jab We Met (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009) and now Tamasha – and you see how protagonists are inflicting enough torture upon themselves (with all their goals and wants) to not need the earlier lava of parents. In Tamasha, Ved subjects himself and Tara to enough heartache and heartbreak by not being able to be true to himself and his passion. In Love Aaj Kal, both Saif Ali Khan and Deepika’s characters give each other enough anguish and agony by not being sure of each other and wanting to pursue their individual dreams – in different continents and with different partners; not surprisingly, the movie doesn’t even bother featuring each other’s parents. In 2012’s Cocktail (only produced by Imtiaz), featuring Saif and Deepika again, Imtiaz makes up somewhat by bestowing parents on Saif, but still nothing for Deepika. (Hmm, no folks for Deeps in most of her movies. Is that why… she had gone into depression?)

Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham pretending to be a gay couple in 'Dostana' (2008)And then, there’s the last type of movie, or movie setting. Where the story is deemed too radical for audiences so that the milieu is changed to far away from where the protagonists hail. Dostana in Bollywood and OKK in Kollywood. Indian audiences would not accept a gay couple in even big, bad Mumbai where apparently anything goes (so what if the guys were only pretending to be lovers for the sake of an apartment?), and so Karan Johar decided to set it in Miami, far far away from both guys’ parents. In OKK, Mani Ratnam felt Tamil audiences would incant “Aiyyo, Kadavulai” on seeing a couple living in sin in even rapidly-become-cosmopolitan Chennai and so decided to set it in, no surprise, Mumbai, again far away from each other’s parents. And maybe for good reason. For we remember all the invocations (to God and godmen) Abhishek Bachchan’s mom, Kirron Kher, makes when she comes visiting, and the frayed looks Dulquer’s sister-in-law gives him when she discovers women’s stuff in his room.

But before you begin relishing (or bemoaning) the absence of parents in present-day films, remember what they say about the movies? Cinema reflects reality. If you look around, you’ll notice a new trend, especially with bugle sounds of Make In India, the growing number of start-ups in the country, and thus, a reverse brain drain: people coming back to India (after going abroad for studies and a few years of work ex), getting back to their hometowns and setting up companies there (Rashmi Bansal’s recent book on entrepreneurs, Take Me Home, showcases several such stories), and consequently… coming back to stay with or near their parents. Will these then begin getting reflected in tomorrow’s movies? Will movie Ma’s and Pa’s then make a grand comeback? Will Imtiaz Ali then make a Love Kal Aaj aur Kal? And will Son-mani’s parents be OK with he living in with his Kanmani? We shall wait and watch.

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