TALKING FILMS

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.

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

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.

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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.

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Aa Chal Ke Tujhe, Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein (1964).
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.