When I read that Raveena Tandon had made a new video for Mother’s Day, I was very concerned to see that she was crying. Oh no what could be wrong, I wondered. But it was nothing. Nothing was wrong. It was just Mother’s Day.
Until quite recently, if that, mothers in Bollywood movies were framed entirely as depositories of feelings and repositories of tears, created and put in place to cry over their sons. Think Rakhee and Nirupa Roy. The modern-day equivalent of the erstwhile Bollywood mum is the Mother’s Day mother.
All is not well for the Mother’s Day mum. Women’s Day, of course, is a happy and celebratory day for all and sundry, with the likes of Renuka Shahane ditching her terminally whiny and immature husband to head to Goa with her friends in an ad. Or like in the You Can Do It Women’s Day ad that featured the woman in the iconic pose (Rosie the Riveter), but with full makeup. Or when Croma told you how strong and shiny you are.
Mother’s Day, however, is reserved for much more serious business, because motherhood, Mother’s Day, is a serious issue. Don’t mess with it.
The rasa of Mother’s Day ads is usually the same (very saline). At least this year, there seems to be a nice variety within the subgenre of Mother’s Day mothers. There’s Nivea’s foster care mother, who tells her ward to go off to her new adoptive parents while silently wiping away her own tears, and Godrej’s brittle and worried-looking mother-in-law, whose bahu gives her a Mother’s Day gift that she thought was intended for her bahu’s biological mum, Archies’ abandoned mother, who lives in an ashram in Vrindavan, and The Bag Talk’s biological mum who comes to meet her daughter who’s too busy to come meet her.
It’s weird, because all of these feel-good ads are most definitely supposed to make you feel bad. If they don’t have crying women in them (they do though), they’re designed to make you cry, or feel sad, or most of all, feel guilty. About your mom and how you treat her, or in the gross-capitalism case of Archies’ Vrindavan mom, someone else’s mom and how you treat her.
Kapruka’s Sri Lankan mothers are crying in childbirth, one of Horlicks’ many mums cries as she watches her daughter’s music performance, and Walls’ Pakistani mum is teary-eyed when her kids are bratty towards her. Practo’s ad features kids and adults crying when they get hurt and immediately think of mum. Why so much sadness yo, it’s only Mother’s Day.
On an aside, that overriding theme of guilt is of course making me think rude thoughts about the people who make these ads and their psychological relationships with their mothers, but I digress.
The ads that don’t actively feature crying women still paint a pretty bleak picture of motherhood overall. You know the ones, full of assertions that you need to start treating your poor mother right, because her daily life is so full of (willing) sacrifices and hard labours (of love), so the best thing you can give her this Mother’s Day is literally two minutes of rest or something?
Sure, that’s not how they say it, but you know what they mean when Grofers tells you that mothers don’t have any time to themselves ever because they’re working so hard around the house. Hey but don’t worry, they don’t want you to actually help her with her work or anything, just get her onto Grofers to save her the time she spends at the grocery store. Indiabulls, though, will tell you she doesn’t mind any of this, kyunki maa kabhi thakti nahi, which, like most of advertising, is a lie.
The biggest difference between the Bollywood mum and her successor, the Mother’s Day mum, is that there are no sons here. The Bollywood mum existed as an off-shoot of the Bollywood boy: his cheerleader and caretaker, the source of his strength and the reason for his righteousness. Not so with Mother’s Day. Except as a voice reading a letter aloud in Amazon’s Mother’s Day, that encourages you to turn your mother into a girl again (no thanks!), boys are prodigiously missing in Mother’s Day ads. Maybe the Mother’s Day aesthetic is just too feminine for them, I don’t know.
The way Mother’s Day is imagined by ad agencies now? It is a time for women who are not mothers to have a hard think about what the whole prospect means. And a time for mothers to feel that no one is ever going to help them clean the house, ever, and they too should reconsider their choices. Is this where the national budget for promoting family planning is hidden?
Thank god for the internet though. The greatest synergy of the Bollywood mum and the Mother’s Day mum of all time was embodied in this meme by Happily Unmarried, that features the iconic mum Nirupa Roy along with the words, “If you want to make your mother happy, just get her all her dabbas back.” At least a dabba — unlike these Mother’s Day ads — has a reason to make a hollow, empty sound.
Co-published with Firstpost.