For the longest time in Bollywood, especially in the era of Reema Lagoo and Dina Pathak, there was a set template of what mothers should be like—morally incorruptible, confined to their husband's home and devoted to family. In fact, with Nirupa Roy in Yash Chopra's iconic film 'Deewar' (1975), misery and suffering became additional parts of the same template.
In the 2000s, films like 'Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehn'a (2006), 'Dostana' (2008) and 'Singh Is King' (2008) depicted matriarchs as jovial people ready to at least think beyond, if not break, societal norms. Since the audience welcomed the fresh portrayal, the filmmakers, too, were prepared to explore the new brand of motherhood.
The mothers of the 21st century are entirely fierce. They are not afraid to take control, are fiery and often blur the lines between right and wrong.
Sakshi Tanwar, who is playing the role of Sheel Chaudhary in Netflix's 'Mai,' tells DH, "A lot of representation through the years has always shown mothers to be meek, quiet and dependent."
In the web show, she plays a middle-class wife, mother and volunteer nurse who heads out to avenge the death of her mute daughter and finds herself entangled in a rabbit hole of violence, crime and power. There is no black or white for her as a mother in the layered drama.
Speaking about how steaming truly allows her to draw a parallel to herself as a mother, Tanwar adds, "Sheel in 'Mai,' shows how fierce and unforgiving a mother can be and how far she would truly go for her child. Times are changing, and it's refreshing to see mothers get their due. Today's mothers are loving, caring, and strong; also unforgiving and ruthless when seeking revenge on those they love."
Similarly, in 'Aarya' (2020), Sushmita Sen's titular character doesn't flinch before taking over her deceased husband's narcotics business for her children's safety, even if it means becoming a part of ongoing violence, blackmail, lies and betrayal from her own family.
So was the case in 'Mom' (2017), which saw Sridevi as a stepmother exacting revenge on her stepdaughter's rapists.
In another 2017 film, 'Maatr,' Raveena Tandon fights the criminal system and people in power after her daughter dies in an incident.
In 'Jazbaa' (2015), too, we saw Aishwarya Rai's Anuradha breaking the docile mother image and taking charge of things when her daughter gets kidnapped.
Nonetheless, it's not just vengeful mothers, but the idea of motherhood, in general, has changed in Indian OTT and film content. Motherhood is no longer glorified, and they are expected to have a life of their own beyond their children and partners.
In 2018, when Neena Gupta played a pregnant mother with two adult sons and a doting husband in 'Badhaai Ho,' the audience was delighted to see a woman as human as everyone else, even when her family is embarrassed about it.
Renuka Shahane's 'Tribhanga' (2021) too featured changing equations between mother and daughter in three generations of women. With tropes of abuse, open relationships and a woman's aspirations, the beauty of the film lies in the mother's imperfections.
The content has moved on from showcasing mothers as just caregivers to individuals with desires and personalities. While it would take a lot more for the audience, filmmakers and showrunners to shatter the image of a self-sacrificing mother, at least we are moving towards a more realistic representation.
(Gurpreet Kaur is a journalist who writes on lifestyle, entertainment and culture.)