By Jaideep Sen
Last evening as I was watching Indian Idol, I realised it was a Mothers’ Special episode which was obviously a tearjerker. Considering how emotional it was I was instinctively reminded that perhaps after Mother India, the most memorable Mother written in contemporary Hindi cinema is Sumitra Devi of Deewar. The character of Sumitra Devi was created with immense emotional depth by Salim Saab and his erstwhile partner, Javed Saab.
Another slightly lesser remembered but equally impactful character is Janki in Naam. Penned independently and individually by Salim Saab with his back to the wall when he wrote his first solo script after a forced four year break following his parting with Javed Saab. But you need to be made of a different mettle of resilience to hit the ball out of the park against all odds and that’s what Salim Saab did with Naam.
When after seeing the Indian Idol episode I spoke to Salim Saab and saluted him on his understanding of the phenomenon called mother and the emotion called Motherhood, he mentioned that he found the premise interesting and arresting, and asked me to base my next article on this. And hence, this post.
The hardships and humiliation that Sumitra Devi faces in Deewar -- Nirupa Roy Ji’s best performance ever -- are heart rending. When her principled husband is made to pay a ghastly price for his ideals, the lady has to go through heart breaking embarrassment to fend for and raise her two children literally along the walls of Mumbai’s streets. But she never lets this take a toll on her belief system. That is why when she tells her elder son Vijay who has gone astray that “Tu abhi itna amir nahin hua hain ki apni maa ko kharid sakein” it has a sledge hammer impact on the audience. In fact, a visually impaired patron would go to a cinema in Mumbai every day for innumerable weeks to hear and experience the power of Deewar.
Scene from Deewar
Moving on to Naam, the genius of Salim Saab took the emotion of Motherhood to another level of selflessness when Janki, one of Nutan Ji’s finest performances in the later years of her career, realising that her foster son, Ravi, is a far more sorted boy than her own son, Vicky, never lets motherhood override her righteousness. She showers more love on Ravi, in order to pat a worthy son’s back, even though she has not birthed him.
Scene from Naam
Having seen a photograph of Salim Saab’s mother in a book called Being Salman -- she does indeed look like an angel -- I do feel that Salim Saab’s deep rooted understanding of a mother and motherhood stems from the fact that he has been blessed to have a mother who inculcated in him such pure human values. That perhaps is the reason why he has penned the most memorable and popular line in the history of Indian cinema: “Mere pass Maa hain.”
Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling.