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 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-05-13
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.