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October - November 2008



by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

“ Mere paas Maa Hai” One who has seen ‘Deewar’ cannot forget this line. It exemplifies the importance of ‘Family’ in one’s life, particularly, life of an Indian. Hindi and regional films mirror this characteristic.

Remember those old (though not all are ‘good’) films? which depicted large, undivided families.  Where there was one person, mostly elder brother (some times sister) generally good natured and bearing the burden of the welfare of the entire family. Then there are a couple of ill-natured members, who bring all the misery and sufferings. But in the end everything used to settle amicably. This was the general frame of the story line with some changes here and there to make it look different.

Characters, situations were stereotypical and clichéd, still such innumerable films were loved by Indian audience. Indian society is heavily influenced by Mythology and myths and cinema is a mere one manifestation of its psyche. So, characters are identified with some mythological figure. Hence, hero or protagonist is an embodiment of all good qualities and he is ready to sacrifice his life for others. (like Rama); ill-tempered, irritating mother-in-law is like Manthara from Ramayana. Malevolent uncle is like Shakunimama from Mahabharata, and so forth.

A woman is shown as either ever-suffering mother, supportive wife/beloved etc. There was a time when screen mother-mostly a widow-worked hard on a sewing machine to raise her children. Why sewing? Well, what a nearly illiterate or uneducated woman would do? She will not do anything, which is even remotely against ethical norms of the society, so this honourable profession. Hero or heroine of the films from 50’s and 60’s had “kid” brothers or sisters, meaning, the (deceased) head of the family had no idea of family planning? But viewers accepted it, because it was a picture of reality in many households then.

But Indian society was changing, first albeit slowly, but from 70’s the pace increased and now it is not just changing but transforming at a pace unforeseen. Films too are trying to keep pace with the times. Once even vamps were sari clad, then came smoking, swinging girls who exuded ‘oomph’. But still only ‘bad’ men and women were shown that way. Now a middle class girl also wears skintight outfits-termed as western-to collage, then who minds what heroine wears? Actually they hardly wear anything. Dress codes are deeply rooted in a culture ,so some things are not socially accepted, it is acknowledged as ‘part of’ films though.

For many years, hero of Hindi films used to declare that he has ‘passed B A’, much to the delight of his family. Nobody questioned, why this ‘over age’ looking young man could not do this at least 3-4 years earlier? It was the time ,when earning a Degree was difficult and so it carried a lot of respect. Now you don’t see such scenes, because number of youngsters, with double graduation and those having Master’s degree, is increasing. Hundreds and thousands of Indian boys and girls are studying abroad

Gone are the days of toiling mothers and their sewing machines. Not because poverty from India has been eradicated, but for the taste of viewer is changing, family is also changing. Now people are not ‘old’, they are ‘senior citizens.’ They travel, they dance, they make merry (some times marry again) and enjoy life. This is reflected into films also. Now we see glamorous looking elderly people in films and in advertisements also.

Causes of conflicts in the films have undergone a change .No more clashes between son /daughter and father over an issue of marriage to the girl / boy he/she likes. Unfortunately, things are not that rosy in reality. Marrying out side one’s community still attracts wrath of the family and many a times the end is tragic.

Now, crime, terrorism vis a vis family and / or family values are new flash points. Longevity has brought new problems. People in their twilight years long to be with their children and grand children who are staying far away, in foreign lands. Some families are dismantled just because young people do not want their old parents to stay with them.

Some films from South have handled this subject poignantly, but Hindi films have kept themselves a little away from it.

  People are deprived of warmth of relationship due to small families. Wedding or a festival is a reason for relatives to come together. They become big events, in reality and in films too. Hence grand ceremonies are part of the films. They give a sense of ‘being rich’ to a common man from the audience it also helps in promoting idea of family bonding .We all need support of family when we are depressed and we all love to share our joys with others. We like family films for that very reason.

Family is not just a concept, it is an institution. Indian mind cannot think of life without it. Times may change so will films, but family in the ‘frame ‘ will remain for generations to come.

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