Generation Gap

I am an NRI, translated into: no real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

In my humble opinion Indian cinema is the only cinema which does not have an aversion for older people on the screen. Maybe it’s because I don’t have access to projects from Africa, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Iran and other countries that produce films.

Indian cinema tackles tradition or religion, versus urbanisation, NRI’s, television, MTV, internet, beauty pageants, their perceived notions of beauty and the resulting fame and fortune, women’s constitutional rights and access to the legal system. These are just samples.

Maybe it is because scripts revolve around the family, good and bad family members. Indian cinema deals with parents’ dreams versus their children’s chosen streams. When I came back from Canada, Ma, who used to be a domestic servant for white families in apartheid South Africa said, “I thought you will come back with a Ph.D.”

She wanted me to come back with the prefix Dr. before my name. Films such as Chal Chalein made me realise that the world is full of parents like her, whose dreams do not coincide with their children’s chosen streams.

I’m generally not a fan of court room dramas, probably because I’ve seen so many Hollywood films and television dramas that look the same, but I learnt a lot from Chal Chalein. Parents in the film wanted their children to put brakes on growing up, work hard, be top of the class, take computer science or engineering and get a good job.

Navneet (Priyesh Sagar) a student at St. Joseph School committed suicide because he loved the arts, but his father wanted him to take science. His school mates took his father to court with the help of a famous lawyer, Advocate Sanjay played by Mithun Chakraborthy, needless to say that parents all over the nation were appalled.

The children in the film were so determined I came to the conclusion that Ujjwal Singh, the director was sympathetic to their cause.

Indian cinema also doesn’t shy away from issues such as property rights versus tenants, something that affects older people more because they provide shelter for their families, be it buying a home or renting one in either Goa, Chennai, Johannesburg or Durban.

I recently discovered the actor Govinda because I’m a Johnny-come-lately to Hindi films. I saw him in Salaam-e-Ishq then did some research on him. He stars as Raj Malhotra, a lawyer in the court room drama Kyo Kii Main Juth Nahin Bolta, which was frustrating because the first half of the film is out of focus.

He defends a couple against eviction from the landlord. Well! He had an ulterior motive. He wanted to be in Sonam’s (Sushmita Sen) good books, the daughter of Tejpal (Anupam Kher), a famous barrister.

Tradition versus urbanisation was the heart of the matter in Baghban, where four sons decided to hack tradition and separate their parents Raj and Poojah Malhotra (Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini).

Ravi Chopra directed the film so well I could feel the parents’ pain. In one scene, one of the sons reminds his mother, ‘You are here as a guest for a few days,” when she tries to warn him about his wife and daughter.

I am yet to find a film, which sides with daughters-in-law in an urban setting. They juggle career and family and the reality of living in confined spaces such as flats or apartments.

In one scene in Baghban, Sanjay tells his father that his typing disturbs his wife, who needed enough sleep because she was the first to wake up and get everybody ready for the day.

Indian producers have money, serious money that enables a director like Karan Johar to shoot Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna in an expensive location like New York. I’m perpetually envious because that bank balance enables them to tell their own stories, their way. Take the issue of family responsibility.

I was torn apart in Bewaafa. Should Anjali (Kareena Kapoor) leave her boyfriend Raja (Akshay Kumar) the struggling Canadian musician and marry her brother-in-law Sahni (Anil Kapoor) after her sister’s death? Aarti, played by Sushmita Sen died giving birth to twins.

Family responsibility won because Anjali chose the twins at the end of the film, which meant staying with the twins’ father. We never get what we want in life, so why do I feel so bad about Raja? He loved Anjali so much.

Love won the day in Sooraj R. Barjatya’s film Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Nisha (Madhuri Dixit) is in love with Prem, (Salman Khan), whose brother Rajesh (Mohnish Bell) was married to Nisha’s sister Pooja. Unfortunately, Pooja slipped down the stairs and died leaving a baby.

The family decides that Nisha should marry her brother-in-law Rajesh so that she could bring up the baby. He accidentally discovers the sacrifice Prem and Nisha are about to make when the family dog brings a note and a necklace intended for Prem. Rajesh then remembers that his wife wanted to tell him something on her death bead. He then refuses to go ahead with the wedding after that.

To be or not to be, that is question. Blame my English teacher who forced me to memorise Shakespeare. To send or not to send parents to old age homes is the question children are grappling with in Cape Town or Mumbai.

Ashutosh Gowariker handled that in Swades. Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan) an NRI, who works for NASA goes back to India with the intention of bringing back with him Kaveriamma, ( Kishori Ballal) his nanny.

He finds that she left the old age home and now lives in Charanpur with Gita, (Gayatri Joshi) the local school teacher and her brother Chikku. Gita accuses Mohan of wanting to take Kaveriamma to the U.S. so that he can make her a servant.

She reminds him that she took her out of the old age home. Mohan retorts, “Maybe, that’s because you needed someone to take care of Chikku and your house.”

The issue of widows affects both young and old as we saw in Baabul. Millie’s (Rani Mukherjee) husband Avinash (Salman Khan) dies in a car accident. Bairaj Kapoor, his father played by Amitabh Bachchan defies tradition and goes to London to speak to Rajat (John Abrahams) who loved Millie since childhood.

Bairaj persuades him to come back to India. Millie is upset when she realises that her father-in-law is match making and comes to the conclusion that he wants to get rid of her. She finally relents and marries Rajat.

The issue of parents is an emotional one all over the world, including Africa. Grandparents were valued in ancient KwaZulu because they passed down tradition to the younger generation, whether as midwives, story tellers or military strategists.

All that has changed, they lost their land to the British and urbanisation is now a way of life. Can a culture stay in tact when conditions that nurtured it have drastically changed? These are the issues in Baghban, Swades and many other Mumbai film projects.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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