My father passes by my laptop and casually glances at the screen as he tries to squint and read the title without his glasses. “Arre, but what does progressive even mean for you kids?” Allow me.
Do you think Raj’s cool ‘Pops’ in DDLJ would have been as cool if he were Simran’s father instead?
The impetus for this article came when we were discussing about doing a run-of-the-mill clickbait-y listicle about progressive fathers in Bollywood. Only problem: there weren’t any.
A little research led me to some similar listicles around progressive Bollywood fathers. I would be hard-pressed to consider even two of them out of the list of ten. But I get ahead of myself.
The bar is set lower than Flo Rida’s Apple Bottom Jeans & Boots With The Fur
Do you remember back in November 2018 (Ah! what a time to be alive and outside!) when the Internet celebrated the #deepveer wedding with all the gusto of an annual county fair? Remember how Ranvir Singh, so chivalrously swept Deepika Padukone’s various sari pallus off the ground to perhaps save her from tripping and falling?
And how the entire Indian female population gaped and sighed, wondering if they would ever get a husband like that? Don’t cringe. You know you did it too.
So, in the same way that saving your partner from falling qualifies you for the “best husband of the millennium award”, shaming your daughter for being promiscuous too is apparently a marker of being “progressive”.
In front of a total stranger might I add.
Or so would listicle makers have us believe. The bar is set abominably low for the heteronormative male as far as responsible behaviour towards those around him is concerned.
Think about those endless series of films where an irresponsible, uncouth youth is married to a homely, responsible girl because biwi aane ke baad toh sudhar hi jayega. Add to that the overprotective brother whose only job throughout the film is to protect the chastity of his sister. And of course, to extract badla from her detractors. Because nothing says women empowerment better than a hyper-masculine “hero” thrashing a serial molester while being cheered on by a weeping dupatta-less “heroine” on the side.
The end result of all these plot lines is made out to be a seemingly big win for women everywhere. The uncouth boy becomes a responsible man to protect his love interest (Read: the woman is once again treated as a rehabilitation institute for badly behaved men). The misogynist goon at the end of the movie is killed and done away with.
And all of this leads to a happy ending for everybody. For the female protagonist too, of course. Not that anybody asked. But what no one talks about, is the day after the happy ending.
The bar for the baujis of Bollywood is no different too. The female protagonist spends the entirety of the film strategising copious ways to live her life without upsetting the father. And by the end, the father, more often than not, understands how wrong he was and says, “Jaa Simran, jee le apni zindagi’.
That, in no way, qualifies as being “progressive”.
Exhibit A: One of those listicles I mentioned had Anil Kapoor’s character in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga as a proud, progressive father. The same father that gives in to his son when this son calls the daughter “mentally ill” because of her sexual preference.
Another one of those listicles even had Aloknath as a relevant contender. Just going to place this thought here and move as far away from it as possible.
Continue reading below...
- Redefining the ‘mard’: 7 times Bollywood showed us the true meaning of ‘real men’
- Why are all strong female characters ‘the shrew’ who has to be ‘tamed’?
- What do they do: Why don't female characters have a career path?
- 5 times the “heroine’s best friend” was more empowered than the heroine
“Letting” your daughter live the life of her choice is not progressive, DDLJ. Spending a lifetime controlling her, having her fight you to breathe at every given opportunity, and then realise how wrong you were, is not progressive, Dil Dhadakne Do and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga!
You know what’s progressive?
Think Pankaj Tripathi’s Narottam Mishra in Barreily Ki Barfi. He understands his daughter’s scepticism to get married to just about anybody. He supports her needing some time off and places no judgement on her for having too many boys as friends.
Take Kumud Mishra’s performance as Sachin Sandhu in Thappad. I don’t remember the last time a Bollywood father was as comfortable and as empathetic about his daughter stepping out of a marriage. Or as stern about his son misbehaving with his partner.
And one of my personal favourites: Sakshi’s (Swara Bhaskar) father in the film Veere Di Wedding. I have never felt as positively overwhelmed as when Sakshi’s father so implicitly understood his daughter’s need to seek sexual gratification.
The common thread in all these cases is the manner with which the father-figure is shown to view his daughter.
These fathers don’t view their daughters as their possession. They’re not something they can control. Or something that’s a marker of their reverence and societal standing. They’re just real living breathing beings with real motivations and real aspirations.
The ‘Bauji’ Bermuda Triangle
But we don’t really think of those characters when we think of Bollywood fathers, right? We think Amrish Puri in DDLJ, Aloknath in… every film in his filmography, Amitabh Bachchan in K3G. I mean, who can forget his mind-blowing "keh diya na bass, keh diya" moments?
Not to mention his tired monologue about keeping up the family’s "parampara pratishtha anushasan" (or was that Mohabbattein? Eh well, potato potaatoh). And who can forget him berating his son for fraternising with a girl who was “beneath him” when not even two songs earlier, the revered Mr. Raichand was breaking a leg with multiple conventionally attractive dancers, while his wife watched uncomfortably from the sidelines?
That is the inescapable bauji Bermuda Triangle. One that cannot seem to evade the loop of overprotective, classist, condescending, and immensely controlling fathers.
If I do rack my brains a little more, I can most certainly conjure up a few more names for the progressive list. Slight problem: they’re all fathers to sons!
Sons in Bollywood get the coolest fathers while the daughters are stuck with performing pooja, getting good grades, suffocating their ambitions, and doing Bharatnatyam when they’d rather hip-hop.
Remember 'Hum Saath Saath Hain'? In case you didn’t notice (and I really don’t blame you if you didn’t, because it’s a severely problematic hit and miss) Sonali Bendre’s character in the film is a doctor.
A doctor. I repeat because she is a doctor. And all her father could not stop raving about is when darling Prem would marry his daughter so she could be “well settled.” Doctor.
"Jahan ghar ki aurate aur bachhiyan pyaar se humein khana khilati rahein, wohi ghar, ghar hai."
And that’s a direct quote. In case you needed some casual sexist flashbacks. The problem is with this dichotomy.
While all the male characters of the film were encouraged to “take over the family business”, the women, despite being doctors, having college degrees, and being “phoren-return” were only valued for their wombs and their cooking skills.
And if you think this behaviour is relegated to the past, Bollywood would rightfully disagree. Think about this year’s Angrezi Medium. The film, on more occasions than one, makes its female protagonist feel guilty for wanting to step out of her home, gain independence and create a life for herself. Towards the end too, patriarchy reigns supreme and she’s back home. Sentenced to live a life under the shadow of her father.
Now, I really don’t know when or how we will escape this bauji Bermuda Triangle. I’m not too sure what we need to do in order to have more Narottam Mishras or Sachin Sandhus. But I do know that the likes of Bhaskor Banerjees who parade their daughters as the “modern independent woman” only so they’re capable of supporting them in turn, will not cut it anymore.
And if I might add, no Simran, you do not need anybody’s permission to jee le your zindagi.
I once told my father about this boy I had really strong feelings for. But the kind who I wasn’t too sure of as a person. He asked me, “Do you respect him?” Before I could answer he asked, “Actually, why don’t you tell me this first: Does he respect you for the person that you are?”
And that dad, is what being progressive means.
You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Kommunity where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.