From the stone-hearted Baldev from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to Amu’s father in Thappad, Mahavir Singh Phogat in Dangal and now Gunjan Saxena’s father in the film, Bollywood seems to be revisiting its representation of the father-daughter relationship from a feminist point of view. Bollywood now seems to have cracked that feminist fathers are an excellent representation to further the tried, tested and successful formula that is, women empowerment. However, several instances of this trope had been furthered on the backs of the mothers who seem to have continued to peddle patriarchal notions and values. Just so as to amplify the feminist fathers’ ideals, the trend seems to be to villainise the mothers. This dichotomy becomes evident onscreen in films likes Thappad, Gunjan Saxena, Dangal, and Bareilly ki Barfi. It goes without saying that films like Gunjan Saxena and Dangal are biopics inspired and/or representing real life events, the increased representation of the feminist fathers by Bollywood is still at play here.
This article attempts to question and highlight this dichotomy of the feminist fathers and conservative mothers that Bollywood seems to be cashing in beneath the claims of women empowerment.
As soon as Amrita (actor Tapsee Pannu) was slapped by her husband in Thappad, her mother-in-law and mother asked her to continue to cater to the guests to avoid publicising the issue in front of others in the party. Her mother, played convincingly as ever by Ratna Pathak Shah, is later shown explaining to Amu that this is quite common a sight in Indian marriages. Her husband is further seen justifying his action that no Indian woman leaves her home just because of a slap. And last but not the least, the domestic help at their home strengthens her belief that be it any social class – domestic violence is acceptable. Three dominant characters in this movie: Amu’s lawyer, the domestic help, the mother-in-law, and the protagonist’s mother seem to normalise the act of domestic violence.
Meanwhile Amu’s feminist father is shown exhibiting steadfast conviction in his daughter’s decision to separate while rendering complete emotional support to her. While this is a whiff of fresh air and a welcome portrayal of a father who is not shaming his daughter to return to her husband, the characterisation is no doubt strengthened by the comparatively weakened will of Amu’s mother to support her daughter. When looked at from a feminist lens, this raises the question: Why do we need to show women pulling other women down to assert on the feminist ideals of the man in the family? Will showing the mother and the father equivocally supporting Amu’s decision represent the father as any less of a feminist?
Gunjan Saxena (played by actor Jahnvi Kapoor) is shown as someone passionate about becoming a pilot and whose ambitions are nurtured by the support of her father. Her supportive and feminist father in the movie (played with so much warmth and conviction by actor Pankaj Tripathi) at one point, clearly states how women themselves cage their beliefs, acts, and freedom. Her mother, meanwhile is shown inclining towards getting her married than supporting her career.
In Dangal, it was again the father (actor Aamir Khan) who fought to train and ensure his daughters become professional wrestlers. We also see a glimpse of the feminist father’s juxtaposition against a rigid mother in Bareilly ki Barfi. The trope is also repeated in the series Four More Shots Please! where Siddhi Patel (Maanvi Gagroo) has a supportive father as opposed to a mother who shames her choices.
No, really, we aren’t being a killjoy here: We are loving the supportive, feminist fathers and how! Our point of contention is how to underline the same, Bollywood continues to show the other parent, mostly the mother, as radically opposite and therefore, conservative.
So the question really is: Is Bollywood really progressing albeit with a skewered representation of feminist mothers or is it a reflection of what we have and what is missing – actual wholesome feminist parents?
Sanjoni Sethi is a mental health scholar. She completed her Master’s Programme in Clinical Psychology (M.Sc Clinical Psychology) from Christ College, Bengaluru & Bachelors in Psychology Hons from Delhi University. Currently, she is an M.Phil scholar studying Clinical Psychology. She has worked with underprivileged children on topics of emotions and societal influence, and with elderly population on depression. She is the recipient of IJRULA award winner as the Best Revolutionist 2018 for her paper “Societal Influence on Emotional Competence”. She is also a certified First-Aid Trainer from “East West Rescue Organization”. She has been solely managing the city branch of an NGO and has been involved with various NGO’s for over 7 years. Sanjoni writes a mental health blog known as ‘TheMadnessforReal’ . She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.