Of fathers and sons in Bollywood – and life

I have watched Zoya Akhtar’s “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” a fair number of times, even though it’s just a travel postcard from Spain – on celluloid.

One particular scene is my favourite – the awkward meeting of Salman Habib (Naseeruddin Shah) and his son Imran (Farhan Akhtar). They’re seeing each other for the first and the last time. Salman impregnated Rahila (Deepti Naval) many years ago, but refused to share the future with her and the baby. They never married either.

So, here he is, Imran, playing hide and seek with the possibility of seeing his father in Spain, the man he has never met or spoken to before. But little did he know that despite his evasiveness life would bring him face to face with his father in a prison.

It so happened that Imran, with his buddies Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) and Kabir (Abhay Deol), ended up in jail after a drunken brawl at a bar in Spain. Imran, desperate to meet his father, calls him up to come to the police station and rescue them.

After being freed, Salman brings them over to his house. Imran’s friends, aware of the past, leave Imran and his father alone.

There is a lot of artwork in the background – Salman is an artist. He talks about his unwillingness to start a family with Rahila as he wanted to become a painter. He is cold, and has no intention of being in a father-son relationship with Imran, who walks off the scene in tears. I thought it was quite an unpredictable moment in a Hindi film, known for its overwhelming separation-and-reunion sagas.

There’s another scene in “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani”, when Kabir’s (Ranbir Kapoor) father is struggling to let his only son pursue higher studies in the U.S. The scene is an extension of an earlier sequence when the old man is unable comprehend a young man’s passion for a trek in the mountains. Yes, it is just a trek. I wanted to get up in the middle of the show and shout, “Man, it is just a trip, not a war assignment.” But I forgot, he is an Indian parent. Still, it is a beautifully written scene, probably the best in the entire film.

You must be wondering why I am so enthusiastically rambling about films that have no retention value. When I write about these scenes, I think of a father-son relationship in real life. How is it different from the one that a mother and her son share? Does it always have some gaps or unspoken words that compromise warmth and intimacy? What is this wall that doesn’t chip away, if not break? Is it the burden of a social stereotype one lives for a lifetime?

Or perhaps men are like that only. Maybe it is in the upbringing. Real men don’t cry, they’re supposed to be brave. Don’t you remember? And they should refrain from talking or expressing too much – that’s the sole prerogative of girls. Outdoors is where they belong – playground or father’s business, maybe. And they should definitely play with other boys of the neighbourhood. They must look a certain way. They must walk and talk a certain way. They must behave a certain way. They must use their limbs a certain way. They must not take up humanities as a subject of advanced education, for example. And they must pass on this legacy of how to be a man to their sons, who will further give it to their sons and so on.

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Ankush Arora

Delhi boy; dreamer, nature lover, photographer. Development communications professional. Ex-Reuters, NDTV. This is a personal blog.

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