Mother Maiden Mistress : Women In Hindi Cinema,1950-2010

Front Cover
Harper Collins, Apr 17, 2012 - Performing Arts - 268 pages
1 Review
'Extraordinary ... details what makes women characters iconic in Hindi cinema and analyses them in relation to their directors and more importantly to the society at that point of time' -Rani Mukerji It's been a long hundred years since Dadasaheb Phalke had to settle for a man to play the heroine in India's first feature film, Raja Harishchandra (1913) - and women in Hindi cinema have come a long way since then. Mother Maiden Mistress documents that journey: from a time in which cinema was considered a profession beneath the dignity of 'respectable' women to an era when women actors are icons and idols. Bhawana Somaaya, Jigna Kothari and Supriya Madangarli sift through six decades of history, bringing to life the women that peopled cinema and the popular imagination, and shaped fashion and culture. Contemporary readers will also find here a nuanced historical perspective - of the social milieu of the time, of the nation and of Hindi cinema itself. Also riveting are the first-person narratives of a leading actress from each decade - Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit and Rani Mukerji - all close-up examinations of how some of the iconic characters of Hindi cinema came to be. At once a guide, an archive and a cracking good read, the book records and reviews the woman in Hindi cinema - the mythical, the Sati-Savitri, the rebel, the avant-garde and the contemporary. In a journey through six decades of cinema, seemingly, the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Home Books April 14, 2013 12:10:29 AM | By M V Kamath
Mother, Maiden, Mistress
This book documents the journey from a
time in which cinema was considered a profession beneath the dignity of ‘respectable’ women to an era when women actors are icons and idols. Also riveting are the first-person narratives of a leading actress from each decade.
As India celebrates the centenary of Indian Cinema, many would understandably want to know how the film industry progressed over the decades beginning May 1913 when the first film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was shown to an enraptured audience in Mumbai.
The world had changed. A greater change was to come when, in April 1931, barely two decades later. Mumbai was again to watch, this time a ‘talkie’, Imperial Film Company and Ardeshir Irani’s ‘Alam Ara’. A newer, brighter world had come into existence, which was to revolutionise society.
At first Indian women were unwilling to act in the films. The female roles first became the preserves of Anglo-Indian or women of Jewish origin like Sulochana (Ruby Myers), Pramilla (Esther Abrahams) and Fearless Nadia (Mary Ann Evans), but then came Durga Khote, a highly-educated Brahmin girl, Devika Rani and Shanta Apte of Prabhat Talkies who brought new life to the Indian screen.
The era of the Studios offered an eclectic fare – social drama, costume and stunt films (adventure stories and revenge saga) and, in the late 1930s and 1940s, nationalist fi1ms. Contemporary India and its class distinctions also began to be presented. By the 1950s Indian films were beginning to make an impact globally and this became exceptionally evident by the sheer popularity of Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awaara’ which captured the imagination of the Russian youth as nothing else had been done before. Its theme song became the song of the times.
According to the authors of this remarkably well-researched work “it was in the 1950s that the dialectic of mass entertainment versus class entertainment developed”. Significantly in the 50′s the passionate kissing scenes of the early silent films became history, and just as significantly, it was still not considered respectable for women from good families to join films as heroines or actresses.
Then came the 60s. This saw the “upbeat, optimistic mood of a new generation of Indians” as was apparent in the song: ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puraani, naye daur mein likhenge milkar nayi kahaani, hum hindustani’.
As the authors see it “the 60s will be remembered as the decade of the romantic musical and some of the plots became so popular that their recurrent usage turned into a ‘formula’.
Furthermore they claim that while in the 50s Raj Kapoor had focussed on the individual’s relationship with society and the accompanying chaos and pathos, “by the sixties his films had shifted “to the individual’s personal relationships and the resultant sexual tension as seen in ‘Sangam’ (1964). The decade, claim the authors, also saw changes in technology and the introduction of colour “which infused a spirit of invention and experimentation into the dressing room”.
Then came the 70s. This was a decade, according to the authors, when ‘liberation’ for the urban crowd meant looking inwards and “sexual revolution and experimentation became the key-words of the then generation”.
Art house films gave a political identity to the “dispossessed and disenfranchised”. In he mainstream cinema the age-old depiction of ‘Indian’ values versus ‘western’ ones continued to focus on the cultural decadence of westernised women and how they were punished for it”.
Films, note the authors, were dominated by male super-stars and women were often reduced to uni-dimensional figures and relegated to supporting cast status with nary a sub-text. But, the authors insist, “there was an eagerness to explore and an easy acceptance of change and new ideas”.
It was a “tumultuous


The Predecessors
Hope and Despair
Look Back in Anger
Broken Structures
The Great Indian Middle Class

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2012)

Bhawana Somaaya, a film critic for thirty years, is on the advisory panel of the Censor Board of Film Certification. She has many books on cinema to her credit. Journalist-turned author.

Bibliographic information