Second Sunday in May

God made mothers because he couldn’t be everywhere—Yiddish proverb.

It is said these days that if the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. The reference is mainly about the economic strength of that country, but America has influenced the world culturally too, in music and cinema, in consumerism and language and much more. The idea of celebrating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day started there in early 20th century and by the end of the century had got a cultural hold in our country as well. So if your mother is around, make it extra nice for her today. It doesn’t take much to make mothers happy.

In India, thanks to the power of cinema, it was Nargis who became the face of the ideal mother through her extraordinary portrayal in Mother India (1957). She played the role of a patient and industrious woman who suffers much, loves her children, maintains her dignity and holds high values. For a long time, she retained this image of the ideal Indian mother. For many, she is still number 1. But for most of the generation that came later, she was replaced by Nirupa Roy, the quintessential Indian mother, especially for the number of roles she came to essay in that capacity. Nirupa Roy died in 2004, aged 73 and with about 200 films under her belt.

But other ladies in our films did admirable work as mothers too. Here we list women who did exceptional work as mothers, with just one film per person, along with the actor or actress they played a mother to. The list is alphabetical.

  • Achla Sachdev was the mother to Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor and Raj Kumar in Waqt (1965)
  • Anjali Devi was Daisy Irani’s mother in Devta (1956)
  • Aruna Irani was Anil Kapoor’s mother in Beta (1992)
  • Bina Rai was the mother of Dilip Raj and Kashinath Ghanekar in Daadi Ma (1966)
  • Dimple Kapadia was mother to Salman Khan and Arbaz Khan in Dabangg (2010)
  • Durga Khote was Dilip Kumar’s mother in Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  • Farida Jalal was Kajol’s mother in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
  • Hema Malini was Master Alankar’s mother in Andaz (1971)
  • Kamini Kaushal was Manoj Kumar’s mother in Shaheed (1965)
  • Kirron Kher was Aishwarya Rai’s mother in Devdas (2002)
  • Lalita Pawar was Shammi Kapoor’s mother in Junglee (1961)
  • Leela Chitnis was Dev Anand’s mother in Kala Bazaar (1960)
  • Leela Mishra was Guru Dutt’s mother in Pyaasa (1957)
  • Mala Sinha was Bindu’s mother in Anpadh (1962)
  • Maushumi Chatterjee was Akshaye Khanna’s mother in Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (1998)
  • Meena Kumari was Daisy Irani’s mother in Ek Hi Raasta (1956)
  • Nargis was the mother to Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar in Mother India (1957)
  • Nigar Sultana was Mala Sinha’s mother in Do Kaliyaan (1968)
  • Nirupa Roy was the mother of Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar (1975)
  • Nutan was the screen mother of Kumar Gaurav and Sanjay Dutt in Naam (1986)
  • Pearl Padamsee was the mother of Tina Munim and Ranjit Chowdhury in Baaton Baaton Mein (1979)
  • Rakhee was Amitabh Bachchan’s mother in Shakti (1982)
  • Ratna Pathak was Imran Khan’s mother in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na (2008)
  • Reema Lagoo was the mother of Madhuri Dixit and Renuka Shahane in Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994)
  • Rekha was Hrithik Roshan’s mother in Koi Mil Gaya (2003)
  • Shabana Azmi was the mother of Urmila Matondkar in Masoom, 1983
  • Sharmila Tagore: with Rajesh Khanna in a double role, she was the mother to one in Aradhana (1969)
  • Suchitra Sen portrayed a double role, a mother and her daughter in Mamta (1966)
  • Sulochana was Shashikala’s mother, and Nutan’s foster mother, in Sujata (1959)
  • Waheeda Rehman was Jaya Bhaduri’s mother in Phagun (1973)

Many of these ladies were lead or supporting actresses before they turned to playing maternal roles. For some like Sharmila Tagore and Shabana Azmi, roles of a mother were just excursions before they came back to play in leading capacities. But whenever the idea of mothers comes up, the mind just has to think of Nirupa Roy.

This is the lady who is most remembered for a scene in Deewar, which doesn’t even feature her in the frame. Her two sons—Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan—are in serious conflict, and confronting each other. In the scene, the unscrupulously successful son Amitabh announces to his brother that he possesses so much, a villa, wealth, car, bank balance. Now, “what exactly do you have?” he asks his sibling. After a pause, Shashi offers a disarming reply: “Mere paas maa hai” (I have a mother), which line is followed by the shrill whistle of a train, with visuals of a compartment being jolted hard. All that dramatizes the dialogue and makes the line a meta moment not just in the film; it has been universalized and immortalized for all of us, with people always thinking of Nirupa Roy.

What an irony then that in real life too, Nirupa Roy gave birth to two sons who are now in serious conflict with each other. When she was doing well, she bought a flat in Embassy Apartments at Nepean Sea Road in South Mumbai. This was on the ground floor, a 3000 square foot, 4-bedroom flat with an attached lawn of about 8000 square feet. With increasing success she bought another apartment in Gulmarg, one kilometre southwards, just above Shyama, to whom she was quite close. Across this home, in Poonam, stayed Waheeda Rehman. But Nirupa didn’t really stay in Gulmarg, she had just provided for her family.

After her passing away in 2004, her husband and his sons continued to stay at Embassy. Then Mr Roy passed away in 2015, which is when the real trouble started. Both flats are still there, but both her sons and their families stay unhappily together in Embassy Apartments. Not just unhappily, but with smashed windows, heated exchanges, and court cases in the pipeline. The flat was bought in the same week as her film Mujhe Jeene Do was released, in 1963. It cost Rs 10 lacs and is valued at about Rs 50 crores today. So the property—the structure and spaces—has multiplied an extraordinary 500 times, but what about the human beings in her home? Has the happiness multiplied among her survivors that many times? No, in fact, it has diminished if it exists at all. Wonder if there’s a message in there for all of us.

This writer deeply feels that we should respect the dead, especially if they have given us happiness of any kind, financial or otherwise. In recent years, there has been a controversy over the authorship of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ghazal, “Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon”. Mr Javed Akhtar has staked a claim that it was written by his grand-father, Muztar Khairabadi. This ghazal was sung by Rafi in Lal Qila (1960). The film also featured another ghazal by the last Mughal King: “Lagta naheen hai dil mera ujde dayaar mein”. That ghazal ended with the couplet “Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn ke liye, Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein”. (How unfortunate I am, that I could not even get to be buried in the land of my beloved). After news of this controversy, maybe the late Mughal Emperor is turning in his grave in Burma.

Nirupa Roy too must be turning in her grave these days. Wonder if her sons have given a serious thought to Mother’s Day.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 130518 (Mother’s Day), page 13

Featured image on top: Nirupa Roy

PS: I consider myself lucky to know many people who write better than me, or think better than me, and even those who have had experiences on the subject under review. Mumbai-based Dilip Apte makes some observations which you may like. They are included in my reply to him, below.

19 thoughts on “Second Sunday in May

  1. Befitting tribute to mothers in general and acknowledgement of those in cinema, and a telling essay on the (es)tate of affairs in Nirupa Roy’s family! You’re right, she WAS the quintessential mother and one thinks of her first off, closely followed by Achla Sachdev, Durga Khote, Leela Chitnis; the last one left a lasting impression as Dev Anand’s mater in Guide and Hum Dono. And of course Dina Pathak in her superb role of the formidable matriarch in Khubsoorat!

    …”but what of the human beings in her home? Has the happiness multiplied if at all?” What use is all the money in the world if it tears families apart…so so unfortunate and disturbing 🙁 But it happens all the time all over the world and yet people are none the wiser for it. So much better to nurture a relationship than destroy one over bricks and cement.

    Always a delight to read your weekly articles Manek, keep them coming! ?

  2. Just found one remarkable mother’s name missing in your list – Nutan in ‘Naam’ as the mother of Kumar Gaurav and Sanjay Dutt.

  3. Beautiful tribute to the eternal mother of Hindi cinema. She has created a benchmark for that role. So much so that I can not imagine her in any other role. Some others have done the role very effectively. I must mention couple of names. Suchitra Sen and Sharmila Tagore who have acted as there own mother, especially when both of them were in their prime. The other is Helen who has given a performance of her lifetime in Khamoshi. Salute your dedicated tribute to motherhood. Her real journey begins after giving birth to a child …

  4. Well you have Bina Rai too ,acting has mother in ‘Daadi Maa ‘ to Kashinath Ghanekar and Dileep Raj [ just to fill in the ‘ B’ in your chronology – Manek.

    However am more enamoured with Nirupa Roy,who played mother to many actors and actresses along with Achala Sachdev. I am sure with the longevity of our filmy heroes being well documented, there are instances , where heroines have also played mother’s roles to the same actor. Like for example Rakhee, who was heroine to Amitabh in’ Barsaat ki ek Raat and mother in Shakti. Similarly Waheeda Rehmaan was the wife and mother of Amitabh [twice over ]in Mahaan. More about Nirupa Roy in messenger – Manek

    1. Valuable in thoughts, Dilip. I knew about Bina Rai and a couple more moms, but was running out of space when submitting my story! And really grateful about you story in messenger, and am grateful you are letting me use it here, coming up next _()_ 🙂

      1. I thank my learned friend Dilip Apte for his private chat with me in facebook messenger. I am grateful he has let me use parts of that chat here, for it is so relevant!

        For those who are unaware, BMC is Bombay Municipal Corporation.

        Dilip: “Regarding Nirupa Roy.

        I had the opportunity to visit her apartment in1968-69…
        I was working in the BMC then on a temporary basis.

        The area I was entrusted was Napean Sea Road, Ridge Road, Napean Road, Mt. Pleasant Road, Little Gibbs Road etc. The work was to serve notices to defaulters of taxes and recover them.

        One fine morning at 7.30 I landed at Embassy Apartment. As you have mentioned her huge flat was on the ground floor adjoining a swimming pool.
        I introduced myself to her husband and told him the reason. He asked me to wait on the chair in the open area of her premises.

        Within 5-10 minutes a Mermaid like beauty came out of the swimming pool dripping water. She was looking stunningly beautiful in a one-piece swimming costume.

        I was at a loss of words for a few seconds when she questioned me with her eyes. I gathered myself and explained to her my purpose of visit. She asked me to wait till she changes her clothes.

        She came out in a pant-suit within fifteen minutes and a servant carrying the Tea tray. She herself made the tea. It was awesome full of cardamom.

        Till today I have not forgotten that beauty walking out of the swimming pool.
        One more thing– She was continuously chewing some scented tobacco and all her front teeth had blackened.

        Of course she paid the money immediately without any hesitation, making an excuse that she just forgot.”

        Furthur: “She didn’t speak much English- so I continued in Gujarati, which was her mother tongue’.

        I asked Dilip; “You were stunned?”

        His reply: “She was stunning and I was just 20-21” 🙂

        The smiley is mine.

  5. Manek Sir thank you for this article. It touched me a tad more as my mother is with me for two-three days.

    This article sent me thinking. The celluloid instances largely replicate our realities. I was thinking what could be an ideal mother – son relationship. Whether it has to be out of duty – wherein my care for my mother becomes an expression of gratitude. Or it has to combine natural love with extending her conveniences. But the question is whether while doing that am I conscious of that ? In films, in my very humble opinion the relationship that evolved between Madam Disa ( Lalita Pawar) and Rajkumar ( Raj Kapoor) could pass for the most sublime mother -son relationship even though they were not connected by blood, even though their interface almost gave an impression that they were man and woman in love. Whenever they came onscreen they emoted. In Anand also, the same mother model was attempted but it could not create the intensity of emotions of Anari.

    And if I have to pick up a mother-son song that always emotes me, it has to be one from film jagriti …Chalo chalein Maa sapno ke gaon mein. This song also emoted as it looks beyond the immediate ; it carries the premonition of a tragedy.


    1. That Lalita Pawar role was absolutely stunning. Mrs D’Sa, the landlady and her broke tenant. Sure…wonderful portrayals all round. And that song is divine too, Chalo chalen maan…sadly I couldn’t add songs in this story, or else would have featured this one and Usko naheen dekha humne kabhi…must haves Gaurav 🙂

  6. A revelation of an essay. Not being up-to-date with filmy news here in the United States, all this came as a shock. Maybe not so much a shock anymore – which is a pity – since wars over land are an old and messy business in all countries where land is of a premium.
    My grandfather, a lawyer in the High Court, was against owning any kind of property. In Punjabi, he would often be heard saying “if parents want their families to remain unhappy, the easiest way is to build a house and die, with or without a will”. I guess he had seen enough land-wars among families in court.
    Mothers are special, it’s true. They are your window to the world. Your very first look at the world is through their eyes. The story of Abhimanyu in the Mahabharat suggests that the nine months of time in the womb is perhaps the most important time of all, where an unborn foetus is creating that first bond with humanity and Life.
    I agree with Lata, above. Even though, as you say, Nirupa Roy was the face of the mother, it was Durga Khote who held a fascination for me. My mind, when thinking of screen mothers goes to 2 shots always – the first is her sitting with Meena Kumari in “tora mann darpan kehlaaye” – I saw that for the first time and wanted her face :). The second is a scene that refuses to leave me – from a much later film, Karz. Where she’s brought in to garland her (dead) son’s (Raj Kiran’s) statue. Instead she turns, effortlessly, and completely artlessly to Rishi Kapoor (Raj Kiran re-born) and garlands him, recognizing him, when no one else had. 🙂 Her complete vishwaas there reminds me of a power of a mother’s faith in her offspring.
    Commendable and timely salute to mothers today, Manek. Much respect for bringing up the Bahadur Shah ghazal controversy. May Nirupa Roy’s sons take heed!
    And, yes – you got one thing perfectly – it really doesn’t take much to make mothers happy! 🙂 A hug, a smile, a phonecall… :). Nowadays, a text. Yup! doesn’t take much!

    1. Monica, from where do you get your sparks, your thoughts? I know I am oversimplifying things, because so many decades of experiences and observations make us what we become…I know…phir bhi 🙂

      And I do so agree about Durga Khote. I am in fact mesmerized by her. She was the first Brahmin in Hindi cinema, and the mother of 2 kids when she entered films in Maya Machhindra and Ayodhyecha Raja…in both of which she played the Queen, ie, central role. And I’m relieved you thought I got at least one thing perfectly 🙂

      1. Hehehe… you got it all perfectly, Manek! Being a mom myself, that was the only part I could personally guarantee and stamp!
        Your research and knowledge in so many fields remains something for me to aspire to. Your connections between disparate topics are uffff! For want of a better expression.

        Durga Khote is mesmerizing as a leading lady and also as a mother. Thank you for the details about her- perfect, also! ?

  7. Manek Sir, Your articles always stun me to silence, as much as Amitabh Bachhan was when Shashi Kapoor delivers that clinching one-line in ‘Deewaar’.

    Lekin, mere paas bhi maa ke baaremein ek para hai, I mean about the filmy mothers (extracted from my old clichéd article ‘Cliché Na Kaho’). I am taking the liberty of thrusting it here:

    ‘That reminds me of the weepy mothers’ lot of the 60s – Sulochana, Leela Chitnis, Durga Khote etc. They will smile on rare occasions … like when their over-grown 30+ son comes home jubiliantly and hugs her neck from behind the back, declaring, ‘Maa!! Main B.A (or is it Metric?) Pass ho gaya, Maa!! Main abhi naukri karoonga, Maa!! Main tumhe bartan maanjne nahi doonga,Maa!!’ etc. The mother would promptly take the son to the wall-photo of a Muchhad with a Turban and say, ‘Kaash tumhare Pitaji aaj zinda hote toh kitne khush hote!’

    Now, I don’t remember exactly from which film, was the above scene … or may be, was the same scene there in most of the films of that time?

    It always saddens me when real people in real life fight over real estate. May good sense prevail over Nirupa Royji’s sons and their families.

    1. LOL on your comments…esp the Muchhad part 🙂 Yes, we could have scripted that ourselves, you and I. But cinema is populist na Nathan? Writers need to reach out to a wide audience, read LCM, so the predictable visuals and dialogue! But listen, I have never heard celebrations for Matric…BA, MA yes 🙂

  8. Awesome essay on Mothers! You are right, Nirupa Roy was the ultimate mother in so many films, I remember her as mother of practically every important actor! Sad to hear that her children are in the courts, fighting over money issues. Values are skewed these days and people kill for new mobile phones or some silly product like that!

    A mother lives for her kids ( I am excluding Indrani Mukherjea here, for obvious reasons!) and the kids, sadly, may sometimes be waiting for her departure so that they can benefit from what she left behind. Baghban was a film about mothers and fathers yet because it was Amitabh in the film ( yes, the same Amitabh who forsook his family for wealth in Deewar) the film became about a father and his disenchantment with his kids. This because he gave away his property to his kids during his lifetime only to regret, at great cost, his trust in the untrustworthy kids.
    The best mother I have found on the silver screen is Durga Khote, watching her loving performance in Anupama, I am in no doubt that mothers are an extension of God.

    1. Lata, I agree with everything you say, including Indrani Mukherjee…and Durga Khote. The latter lady had expressions that actors can dream of…she was very simply, marvellous!

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