Mothers of Indian Films: The Most Powerful Films with Strong Mothers as Protagonists

I feel sad when I see them, more as a caricature than a character!

Indian films have treated mothers as a caricature of sorts. If you go back, mothers are ‘bechari’, or ‘widow’ or some other trait, so much so that they have become meme-material even after having appeared decades before the memes trend came. However, some of the films have truly given strength to the characters of mothers. Here are some of the top films from my list of favorite films where mothers have been at least as strong as they are in real life.

Nil Battey Sannata

I’ve written about this film in brief earlier. I had written earlier (in article about Swara Bhasker)

“She plays the role of a high-school drop-out, a single mother, and a housemaid living in JJ colony. Her daughter is weak in maths, and she is determined to make her study. For this, as story unfolds, she enrolls in school herself. The character is so different from Swara, but you would not find her in the film. It looks like there’s an actual housemaid who walks and talks the same way, but has a burning desire to see her daughter study and become somebody other than a housemaid. This Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s film is beautiful in itself, and Swara’s performance is something that you will take home and remember for years to come. There’s also Pankaj Tripathi as school principal – the guy who never ceases to amaze. The kids in the film are delightful too.”

In reality, this is the strongest ‘mother’ in Bollywood in recent times. Despite everything, including being hated by her daughter, this mother follows her journey to be a good mother.

Secret Superstar

Spoiler Alert: This article may contain a spoiler. Please don’t read if you haven’t watched the film.

Najma has been subject to domestic violence. Her daughter Insia is a big music buff, and wants to be a singer. Farookh, the man of the house, Najma’s husband and Insia’s father, is an absolute backward evil. The story is about Insia, who goes on to become the Secret Superstar. And about Najma, who becomes even more. In the climax, Insia mentions, ‘I’m not the Secret Superstar, my mother is’. One of the finest one-line tributes to a mother in films, that single line so much. When it comes to their children, a mother would stand up to anything. Unlike the K3G’s mother, where she needs to wait till climax to speak up, an actual mother would take a lot more. Isn’t K3G a symbol of patriotism as a whole, by the way? Bol diya, bas bol diya! Meher Vij as Najma was as good, if not more, than Zaira Wasim as Insia.

English Vinglish

A mother is being alienated from her children as they grow up. She isn’t ‘English’ enough. Made fun of, yet she doesn’t give up the conquest to be closer to her children. She learns English at a very late age, and eventually gets close to her children. Sridevi, in her last few years, left some magic on screen, and brought my generation to buy tickets to her fanclub. Another film of hers, MOM, is on list of everyone’s recommendations for this day. Sadly, I’ve not seen it yet.

Paa

Spoiler Alert

As I see it, the name looks so odd for the film. Paa had been outstanding in the film, right? It was always the Maa. Auro and the Maa (and Maa’s Maa – Naani). Dr. Vidya (played by Vidya Balan, like Kahaani, Bidya, duh creativity) is a single mother because her boyfriend wasn’t ready to be a father due to his political ambitions. She raises this child Auro who has ‘progeria’. Auro looks older than he actually is, is more mature, and yet witty, funny, and childish. Dr. Vidya goes through much to raise him, knowing he will eventually die very young. In one of the conversations with her patients, Vidya recommends them to go for a family, saying ‘being a mother is blessed feeling’. Doesn’t that sum up the life of a mother, however her child may be?

Listen Amaya

Another Swara Bhaskar film, another film where I’ll be copying my own brief. Here it goes, then,

“There’s this film called ‘Listen Amaya’. I saw the film for Farooq Sheikh (the great actor whom we all miss most certainly). Obviously he was great in the film. Obviously Deepti Naval was great too. But to stand up to those two legends like she did in probably her 2nd or 3rd year is something that is unprecedented. Even great actors don’t achieve this level so soon. You can find false notes in most of the careers of people who have excelled as actors. It seems though Swara is a different breed. The film is about a single mom (Deepti Naval) and her daughter (Swara) who run a cafe together. The story talks about the relationship between mother and daughter when the mother develops a relationship of sorts at an old age with a regular Cafe customer (Farooq Sheikh). She is Amaya in the film. Watch it to be amazed. The film is directed by Avinash Kumar Singh (feature film debut).”

What are your favorite films with strong mother characters? Why did Bollywood treat mothers so shoddily in the 80s, 90s, etc? Why is Mother India an exception and not a rule? Do share your views.

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