Baghban (The Gardener – 2003)

66 years later than Make Way For Tomorrow and 50 years later than TS,   Baghban  (2003) treats the same subject of the generation gap in a changing world.  But in contrast to both MWT and TS Poojah the old woman character is stereotypically the sexual object. Poojah is beautiful and glamorous. The actor who plays her is Hema Malini aged 55, a dancer and big film star. Contrary to the actor, who became a politician, Poojah is not only a woman who is there only  to serve husband and  children, but I feel, is also the source of trouble because of her bad judgement. The actor playing her husband is also a big star who is said to be 60 in the film.   Even allowing for the demands of the genre (Bollywood)  that require song, dance, romance, sentimentality, unambiguous good and bad characters,  I did not expect such a male centred approach to the theme of the family generation  gap.

The old couple have 4 sons, 3 daughters-in-law, an adopted son, a teenage granddaughter and a younger grandson. At the start of the film this makes a big happy family. But the sons with the help of their wives and a new way of life, turn out to be unreliable when the parents are in need and thereon are the ‘baddies’. It is the adopted son who shows respect and care to his adopted parents.  I will not dwell on the three-hour film with its visual appeal, dancing, singing, and the tear jerking separation of the couple but draw attention to certain scenes.

In the older film the love between the couples is a comfortable, caring and sharing one. Love and desire in this young-old couple of Baghban are expressed in words, gestures song and dance. Poojah shows her love by serving food and drink to her husband and sons in many scenes. Even when separated from her husband the conversation on the phone involves Poojah worrying about what her husband is eating.

It is Poojah who is responsible for the initiating event. Her son has requested her to ask the father for a loan to pay for a car. Here we are shown that Poojah has no sense of money as she does not even know the word for ‘down payment’.   The husband obliges to please her without discussion about the wisdom of this decision which will cost the couple their financial security and necessity for their sons’ help and shelter. The next event Poojah is responsible for is accepting the solution of separation proposed in bad faith by the sons goaded by their wives. Whereas the husband was determined not to be separated from her it is Poojah who pleads and vouches for the good intentions of the children.

In the household of her son, Poojah is the spokesperson for traditional male values. She advises her son to keep a check on his wife and daughter and know where they are at all times, as his father did at home to keep order in the family. To the argument that times have changed she replies : “Times never change for a woman”.  This is followed by yet another faux pas when she takes him his favourite dish to his office because it is his birthday.  In a very unlikely episode she rescues her granddaughter from the aggressive attention of her admirer at a Valentine party and takes the blame for coming back late. It is the only incident that gives Poojah a pro-active role and establishes a trusting relationship with her granddaughter.

In the rest of the film Poojah is back with her husband, in scenes nearly identical to some of MWT: the meeting between two train journeys, the test drive, the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. The arrival of the caring adopted son, the publishing of the book  ‘Baghban’ and  the launch close the narrative. The final speech  delivered by the husband brings tears to Poojah eyes. It is all about traditional values, the duties of children towards their elders: “Times have changed, life has changed… our father was God…at our Mother’s feet lay our heaven”. It closes with the father disowning the children. Poojah follows suit and declares that as a mother she would forgive the sons but as a wife she cannot. The grandson jumps in his grandfather’s arms and thus reconciles the future with the past.

In this film the pairing of the word Father with God occurs more than once. There are from time to time some token acknowledgements of the role of Mother and love for the mother but she is subservient to the Father throughout.

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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2 Responses to Baghban (The Gardener – 2003)

  1. Joan Padro says:

    Rina, We had seen this film at the Lexi ages ago and I thought it was a very good film (tho 1/2 hour too long). This is really a sort of King Lear sort of film with the sons being the ‘shits’ and the adopted ‘street’ son being the only decent one of the children. Maybe the film is male centred because that is the tradition in India. King Lear is no different after all. Dad made some stupid choices and so does Dad in the film when he uses his pension money for the son’s benefit thinking he won’t need the money. (Perhaps this is one reason why the government is reluctant to OK euthanasia lest some children do away with mum when they want mum’s money).The parents in the film get their reward but I suspect there are a lot who don’t.

    Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2013 21:46:04 +0000 To:

  2. rinaross says:

    Thanks Joan,
    I like your comparison with King Lear. Also that the father does make the stupid choice of giving the money to his son rather than secure his future. In Make Way for Tomorrow also the father gives the impression of being rather incompetent. What I find interesting is that the film does argues for a continuation of traditional values about women whereas the actress is a politician, and that in the film the three daughters are working women. Of course as such they are not very nice.

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