New Delhi: The always tired woman in white slaving over a sewing machine, the sacrificing one wracked by coughs but lifting load after load at a construction site or the doughty worker who won`t stop at even murder to save her child. The mother figure was for long an enduring cornerstone of Hindi cinema, but not any more.
From Nargis and Nirupa Roy to Rakhee and Jaya Bachchan, actors down the ages have played powerful mother roles in hallmark films. Can anyone forget cop Shashi Kapoor`s famous `Mere pas maa hai` to his smuggler brother Amitabh Bachchan in `Deewar`, where Nirupa Roy as mother was the pivot the film revolved around.
The most iconic film till date is perhaps Nargis in Mehboob Khan`s `Mother India` (1957) as the fiery single mother who brings up two sons in the face of near impossible odds and doesn`t hesitate to fire a bullet when she finds the younger one, now grown up, going astray.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Leela Chitnis and Durga Khote were amongst those who reigned. In the 1970s, actors like Nirupa Roy and Kamini Kaushal took on the mantle, their characters being central to the plot. In the 1980s and 1990s, Raakhee and Waheeda Rehman evolved from lead actors to mother roles. A memorable film from that era is `Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa` (1998) that saw Jaya Bachchan in the lead.
`Maa` (1952), `Chiraag Kahan Roshni Kahan` (1959), `Aradhana` (1961), `Gharana` (1961) and `Beta` (1992) are amongst the mother-centric films that became hits.
Now, in most films, mothers have become marginalised, mere props instead of propelling the story on.
Filmmaker Onir says that with the advent of nuclear families, the importance of the mother as an individual has decreased.
"The viewership pattern in our country is very democratic. There is a lack of women-centric or mother- centric films in specific because not many people want to watch such films. The trend of catering films on mothers has seen a drastic dip," Onir told reporters.
Divya Dutta, who played the role of a surrogate mother in last year`s `Life Express`, feels the glamour quotient has taken over the industry.
"Such films are not being made now. The cliched mother syndrome has died. Due to the high glamour quotient in the industry, actresses today are hesitant to play mothers on screen. They need a lot of guts to do it," Divya told reporters.
Film critic Omar Qureshi feels with the small screen flooded with family- oriented shows, filmmakers are experimenting with other important subjects.
"The films that were made at that time (yesteryear era) had family values as the focus. But today all of it can be seen on the small screen. That`s why there is a shift and filmmakers are moving away and trying new subjects on the big screen," said Qureshi.
He further added that filmmakers are hesitant to make mother-centric films because they fail to set the cash register ringing.
"Recently, women-centric films have not done very well on the box-office; so filmmakers are shying away. But I am sure if they get a good subject they would definitely make it because the importance of a mother can never die," said Qureshi.
Onir feels the film industry has much more to offer to men.
"The roles are demanding and strong in comparison to women, who are somehow sidelined in the script. There are very few filmmakers and very few films that try to work it out around mothers."
Amongst the newest lot of films where the mother-child relationship is in focus is `Paa` (2009), where Vidya Balan is seen as a mother to a progeric child, played by Amitabh Bachchan. In some way, Supriya Pathak`s sympathetic portrayal of a mother trying to understand and keep up with her wayward son Ranbir Kapoor in `Wake Up Sid` (2008) also attempts to explore the relationship.
A breakaway film was `Kya Kehna` (2000) in which Preity Zinta is the young unwed mother who takes on society to protect her unborn child.
These are films that have tried to break the stereotype, instead of conforming to the traditional role that our cinema has given mothers.