From Baghban To Darlings: How Portrayal Of Indian Parents Has Changed In Films

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Bollywood has left no stone unturned in its efforts to percolate the ideas of true ‘Indian-ness‘ through movies. One of the ideas close to this cause is the parent-child relationship. There was a time when desi parents were projected as gods with no faults, but true is that? The sensibilities have changed in the last few years, with filmmakers choosing to present parents more realistically. Here’s looking at how the portrayal of Indian parents in films has evolved, with help of two films, that were released almost two decades apart.

Hindi films reflect the changing narrative of the Indian parent-child narrative aptly. From Ravi Chopra’s blockbuster hit of 2003 Baghban, which went over-the-top with the idea of loving thy parents, we have come a long way to Darlings starring Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah, where parents are partners in crime.

The lens of individuality 

Baghban is every Indian parent’s promised land, where children are expected to uproot their professional pursuits and their private lives and live according to their parents’ desires. Note that to be an ‘Adarsh’ beta and bahu, you have to abide by the constructed roles of gender and submit to the proprietary notions of parenthood, which are based on control and domination by parents over children.

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A still from Baghban

In Darlings, on the other hand, Shamshunissa (Shah) never encroaches her daughter’s right to individuality. She lets her choose the man she wants to marry, and even though he turns out to be ill-suited, she never turns her back on her daughter. Many will call it modern parenting, but clearly Shamshu has her own limitations. We know that she would rather have her daughter live the tag of being a widow, than a divorcee. 

Dependent parents Vs Capable single mother

In Darlings, Shamshu raises her daughter Badru (Bhatt) single-handedly without any support from the outer world. Even though her daughter has now moved out, Shamshu aspires to run a catering business so that she has a reason to get out of bed everyday. While in Baghban, both the simply give up on their individual aspirations to live with their kids. Only when things turn sour with the kids to these parents realise how crippling dependence on children can be.

The onus of mistakes

In Darlings, we see Shamshu’s daughter Badru take many such decisions that would break a parent’s heart- from marrying the wrong guy to letting him hurt her again and again. It does come to a point where Shamshu stops talking to her daughter when she refuses to see the reality. But when she does, Shamshu is back by her side without any complaints or eyerolls. She supports her daughter unconditionally hereon, even if she doesn’t agree with her all the time.

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Shefali Shah in Darlings

While in Baghban the focus is always on parents being right and children being wrong. Eventually children only come to realise their mistakes after a long monologue in the climax, but we never even get to discuss how wrong the parents were expecting their children to live in a way they deemed right. The film paints a black and white picture of parent-child relationship which couldn’t be further from reality. 

The call against patriarchy

You will find that in Baghban all the characters who exercise their freedom to live life on their own terms are painted as guilty and evil. There is an entire sequence about a young woman getting harassed at a night club, implying that the incident wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t stepped out at night. In 2022, with evolved our feminist sensibilities, we know this scene reinforces patriarchal values and policing of women.

While in Darlings, Shamshu doesn’t police her daughter’s life and instead encourages her to be independent. She sees her as a partner in their catering business. Towards the end, we also see Bardu watch a film and ride a scooty all on her own at night, which implies that while Shamshu supports her daughter, she knows her limits and gives Badru ample space.

Perfect parents Vs Flawed mother

In Baghban, the characters of parents are written with golden ink. There isn’t a moment where they make a mistake that causes pain to their loved ones. The film repeatedly drills the point in viewers’ head that parents are always right. That they know better. While in Darlings Shamshu is never glorified. We know she has a dark past of her own, or how she constantly encourages her daughter kill her husband- not ideal mommy behaviour. But this is where the film’s strength lies as it humanises Shamshu and makes her even more relatable.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

Suggested Reading: From ‘Satya’ To ‘Darlings’ : Here’s A Look At All Of Shefali Shah’s Memorable Films So Far