I have mom, but I need my dad too: Bollywood’s father hunger explained

Anurag Basu’s ‘Jagga Jasoos’ is the latest movie to explore the sometimes troubling and sometimes enriching father-son relationship.

Ranbir Kapoor recently confessed his exhaustion with the perennially lost man-child character he has played in several films, including the July 14 release Jagga Jasoos. But he appears to be at his melancholic best in Phir Wahi, one of the many songs from Anurag Basu’s musical. The shimmering layer of angst in Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics is compounded by Kapoor’s expressions as he is swamped by the memory of his missing father.

Jagga Jasoos is the latest in a long line of characters whose story arcs are influenced by their fathers. It is hardly rare for men in Hindi films to be plagued by serious daddy issues, even when the father is nowhere in the picture. Although Vijay has no paternal figure to influence him in Deewar (1975), he is galvanised by a permanent tattoo proclaiming his father to be a thief. In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), stockbroker Arjun’s life decisions are influenced by the death of his debt-ridden father.

Phir Wahi, Jagga Jasoos (2017).

Psychoanalyst James Herzog coined the term ‘father hunger’ to describe the persistent longing for a paternal figure experienced by sons with absent fathers. Screen fathers are casualties of ‘son hunger’ too. Their longing is made even more pathetically desperate with allusions to mythological characters. In Hum Saath Saath Hai (1999), when the eldest son decides to leave the family home to respect his stepmother’s desire, the pining father is compared to King Dashrath of Ramanyana, who was forced to exile his saintly son.

On the other hand, when fathers go missing, sons seek them out inside themselves, conjuring them up out of thin air like Jagga in Phir Wahi. The internalised father in these men often makes his way on screen in several forms. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), a distraught Kabir finds comfort in the memory of his father. When Akash loses his father in Armaan (2003), he sees him pop up and offer a magnificently unhelpful summary of his moral dilemma. A less overt manifestation of Akash’s internalised father is his behavior towards his wife Sonia, whom he treats with detached, paternal affection.

In Titli (2014), a conspicuously quiet father is present, but largely ineffectual. While the eldest of his three sons assumes the mantle of patriarch, the youngest son Titli seethes in silent rebellion. After he finds a way to escape the violent overreach of his elder brothers, Titli also rejects the claim of authority that his father attempts to stake on him, preferring the absence of a paternal figure over the presence of an abusive or dysfunctional one.

When fathers are both physically and emotionally present, they catalyse a journey of self-discovery within their sons, particularly helping them understand the potential of their bodies. Most songs about father-son bonding, such as the sweetly endearing title track from Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), the dreadfully dry Phool Yeh Kahan Se from Kaash (1987), and the emotionally dense Tumse Naraaz Nahi Zindagi from Masoom (1983), portray fathers and sons engaged in robustly physical outdoor activities like camping, sailing and hiking.

Fathers are generally regarded as the parent who finally enables the entry of the child into the larger world, and they are particularly instrumental in shaping their sons’ worldviews. It is unsurprising, therefore, that when sons are doubtful about their paternity, they face immense personal crises. Consider Imran in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, who hopes to find his biological father in the hope that he may discover himself.

While screen mothers mostly cosset and coddle, fathers show sons how to be masculine and navigate through life. But they develop their own definitions of masculinity as they grow up, leading to tremendous conflict with their fathers. Characters like Krish in 2 States (2014) clash with their fathers more strongly when they see their mothers bearing the weight of their fathers’ antiquated ideas of masculinity.

The conflict between the divergent ideas of adulthood and masculinity among fathers and sons resolves itself in several different ways. In Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Shakti (1982), fathers understand their sons’ dilemma, but cannot relax their principles. In more recent films, including Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) and Tamasha (2015), authoritative fathers learn to bend their ideas of masculinity and responsibility, but only after their sons prove their mettle. On the other hand, in Virasat (1997) and Waqt (2005), young sons embrace their fathers’ ideas of responsibility and dedication.

Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Image credit:
Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Image credit:

When the differences are irreconcilable, one of the two is summarily removed from the picture. In Parineeta (2005), the father’s opinion is publicly invalidated in a famously ridiculous climax sequence. In Rang De Basanti (2006), Karan mortally harms his corrupt father, while the long-suffering father disowns his biological sons in Baghban (2003). In Udaan (2010), Rohan’s abusive father is disdainful of his son’s sensitivity, and hopes to whip him into shape by taking him on daily runs. Eventually, Rohan shakes off his father’s emotional grasp over him, learns to care for his young stepbrother, and literally and metaphorically outpaces his hyper-masculine father.

The gradual transformation in the characterisation of a father-figure in Hindi films is particularly instructive. In a newly decolonised India, the struggle between fathers and sons was largely moral and ethical, reflective of a country on the cusp of a massive cultural change. While the son was liberal, the father clung on to his ideas of culture and tradition. Consider Bawarchi (1972), in which the crusty patriarch asks his young son to translate “Good morning daddy” into “Namaste pitaji” in the song Bhor Aayi.

The post-modern father, however, is equipped with a measure of cool himself. This rebooted dad comes in varying degrees of absurdity and caricaturishness. Consider the permanently-on-a-sugar-rush Pops in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), the believably freewheeling Vidyadhar in Viruddh (2005) and the impossibly libidinous Sexy Sam in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). The modern father’s coolness is actually ratified in Chaahat (1996) with the blissfully inane song Daddy Cool.

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006).

While fathers lay down the law, mothers and sisters serve as shock absorbers in the eternal father-son conflict. Unlike mothers, fathers do not often perform great, heroic acts of sacrifice. They do not freely rhapsodise about their sons in lilting melodies. Instead, they are portrayed as silent warriors, who sacrifice a great deal on an everyday basis and silently love their sons. Ek Phool Do Mali (1969) offers an interesting exception on both counts. Not only does Kailash sacrifice his life for his adoptive son, he also sings Mera Naam Karega Roshan in anticipation of the man he will turn out to be.

Aa Chal Ke Tujhe from Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein (1964) offers an evocative summary of paternal aspirations with its idealistic and unabashedly loving lyrics. When an army officer is cajoled by his mute son into singing, he croons about his hopeful yearning to ensconce his traumatised son in a utopic world. With the lines “koi bair na ho, koi gair naa ho, sab mil ke yun chalte chale” the song reflects the battle-weary father’s uncomplicated need for a harmonious relationship with his son and with the world around them.

Aa Chal Ke Tujhe, Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein (1964).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.