15 Years of Baghban: It’s All About Guilting Your Children

Bollywood

15 Years of Baghban: It’s All About Guilting Your Children

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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ovie screenings weren’t a common practice at my school. For the longest time, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful World was the only movie screened in our auditorium. Since that was a two-hour black-and-white affair from 1946, edited to fit our half-hour Drama period, it didn’t exactly charm the socks off us. But then in 2003, our principal decided to dedicate the entire second half of Children’s Day to a screening of Baghban.

Looking back, the elation that a bunch of Juhu seventh graders felt about a contemporary film that was also being screened next door at Chandan cinema, might have been a bit too exuberant. By the end of that screening however, our elation was replaced with crippling levels of sanskaar-shaming and unfounded guilt of being… children?

Baghban’s plot witnesses Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini’s otherwise serene af life getting upended when they choose to not save up for their retirement. Because who needs a senior home or a pension when you fucked the population crisis further by siring four jawaan betas, amirite? Soon enough, things turn sour as Aman Varma, Sameer Soni, and a bunch of other Indian TV stars from the early 2000s (who eventually made great Bigg Boss contestants) collectively treat the couple like a minority in Gujarat: By allowing them to live but with constant reminders that they aren’t welcome on the premises. If you don’t remember the film, allow me to remind you that Baghban also had the most ironic Bhai role to date: Salman Khan plays an annoyingly overbearing son who worships a picture of his parents every morning. Go figure.

Baghban uses the chemistry between fair-weather feminist, Amitabh Bachchan and Kent-Get-Enough Hema Malini to manipulate us into believing that our parents can essentially do no wrong and will remain #CoupleGoalzAF well into their 60s. Baghban’s banal portrayal of Baby Boomers as the last generation that truly respected their parents is as ignorant as the broad strokes in which it painted Gen X and Y as over-entitled, ungrateful pricks who got everything on a platter. I shudder to think what the makers think of millennials.

In her speech before the screening, our principal stated that, “Ravi Chopra’s Baghban is a movie that every parent, and more importantly, every child must watch,” a belief that at least some Indian parents still espouse. Many of us grew up experiencing forced references to scenes from this movie at family get-togethers.

It could be in the form of shaming a new bahu for the unspeakable crime of demanding time of her own husband and accusing her of putting distance between the Raja Beta and his mother. The three daughters-in-law in the movie are depicted as vampy and unrealistically mean to the elderly couple. In one instance, Divya Dutta’s character beats her young son over a meagre 50 bucks he chooses to spend on his grandfather’s broken spectacles.

I’m all for loving our parents and caring for them in their old age. But the way Baghban represents this “budhaape ki laathi” phenomenon is plain guilt-tripping.

But perhaps the most damning part about Baghban is the reinforcement of the mistaken notion that all fully grown adults choosing to live their lives away from their parents, must certainly hate their elders and treat them like trash. It came at a time when several young Indians had moved away to start lives in other countries – lives that those very parents had aspired to, for their children. Lives that they had educated their kids for. Lives, which when eventually led, were inevitably yoked with a strange kind of shame and contrition.   

I’m all for loving our parents and caring for them in their old age. But the way Baghban represents this “budhaape ki laathi” phenomenon is plain guilt-tripping. It’s a typically Indian thing too, making people feel selfish for wanting any control over their own lives. And growing up, it made me harbour unfounded spite for elder cousins who had chosen to leave the nest post marriage. But then I moved to L.A. in 2012. In the four years I spent there, I realised the importance of willingly emancipating from our parents after a certain age. In order to attain personal growth, one must experience, even temporarily, what it’s like to live away from our parents.

Did Amitabh and Hema Malini’s kids behave like dicks? Absolutely. But should Indian parents be treating their children as their retirement plans? Most parents in the west will attest, that that is never an ideal situation to put yourself in. Because Baghban’s extremely heavy-handed 183 minutes makes caring for parents out to be a sanskaari obligation – when that shouldn’t be the case at all.

This is a realisation I’ve come to once I’ve gotten past the fun half of my 20s. That caring for my mother is an idea mutually exclusive from my need to have my own space – and that these aren’t opposing thoughts. They’re synchronous. Thankfully, like many Indian parents in 2018, my mom respects that. She knows that I love her and will always care for her but at the end of the day, we are two individuals who have separate growth paths. And that our love is not dependent on being under the same roof. It’s taken us a while, but I am glad we’ve been able to unlearn what Baghban taught us.

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