Opinion

Cine-Maa And Pa: How Bollywood Embraced The Adoption Genre

Lost in a mela or left in the train? Indian cinema has reprised the same old story in different settings.

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Cine-Maa And Pa: How Bollywood Embraced The Adoption Genre
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Flipping through the pages of Gulshan Nanda, Ved Prakash Sharma and Su­r­­e­ndra Mohan Pathak to pilfer ‘ins­p­iration’ for their pulp movies has been a hoary pastime of Bollywood filmmakers. At times, however, they turn surreptitiously to Vic­torian literature as well. And Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights appears to be a perennial favourite.

From Dilip Kumar’s Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966) to Rajesh Khanna’s Oonche Log (1985), Hindi movies have borrowed, nay stolen, its plot revolving around Heathcliff, an orphan who falls in love with the daughter of the man who brings him home. Good for Ms. Bronte that she did not live long to see what Mumbai’s movie moguls did to her all-time classic or, for that matter, to her famous anti-hero.  

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As a matter of fact, an orphan as the central character has captured the fancy of the Indian dream merchants since the very beginni­ng. But in no era was it more pro­nounced than the hea­dy 1970s when movies based on the lost-and­-­found formula reached the peak of popularity and bestowed greatness on the likes of Manmo­han Desai and Prakash Mehra.

Separated from his family under quirky circu­mstances imagined by ingenuous screenwriters of the time, an orphan on screen was often the quintessential hero in several potboilers. He not only loved to release his pent-up angst at the sli­ghtest provocation against the zaalim duniya (cru­el world) but also considered mohabbat (love) to be a sheer waste of time.  

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A rebel without a pause, an orphan-hero was, in short, what the script doctors ordered in the era of multi-starrers back then. From action fli­cks to family sob operas, alm­ost every second or third film had an orphan on the cent­rest­a­ge, someone who was equally at ease in tugging at the heartstrings of the audie­n­ce or cle­­n­­ching his teeth to avenge the wro­ngs committed by the samaj ke thekedaar (mor­al gua­rdians of society) on his family. They came in different avatars in the days of Cinema­scope and Fujicolor. The­y came in all shapes and sizes—good orphans, bad orp­hans, sentime­ntal orph­a­ns, heartless orp­hans. Theirs was a ubiquitous presence in the cinema uni­verse of a bygone era. Here is a peep into a lost world that a millennial cannot access without a ride back into the past on his time machine. 

Never love a stranger

Showing compassion, Mr. Benevolent brings home an orphaned boy, much to the delight of his pretty daughter. But her vile brother has the gut feeling right from the word go that the stranger would not take long to steal the affection of his little sister. All the twists and turns in the story are revealed by the second reel but we have to sit through the next three hours waiting for the climax that we already knew in the first place.

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Carte blanche

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Otherwise ‘daddy dearest’ in peacetime, Mr. Benevolent frowns best when he comes to know that the boy living off him has set his sight on his darling daughter. How can a wretched orphan (Mere tukdon par palnewala!) dare to fall for his naajon se pali beti (pampered daughter), he screams before he flings a blank cheque on the table. It is one cheque that has never been picked up in the 7,000-odd movies I have seen. Salute to the self-esteem of the boy who never compromised on his self-esteem despite being an anaath (orphan) with a zilch bank account!

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Blame it on the Railways!

Dad has just been bumped off by a menacing dacoit, and the poor kid is off to a hurried journey along with his distraught mother. At a godforsaken station, as soon as the mom gets down to get water (no Bisleri then! We all trusted Indian Railways), we knew the train was going to chug off before her return. She tries hard though, running parallel to the bogies speeding away,  shouting “Munna …” until she falls down. We knew they would meet again in the 16th reel. Till then, her orphan will have grown into a macho man called Raakaa. Maneka Gandhi’s book had not hit the stands by then, and the scriptwriters had limited options of names for such characters.

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Chasing Robin Hood

Orphaned after the killing of his parents, the poor boy reaches a metropolis. Hungry, he steals two chappatis from a dhaba. “Chor, chor ..” a crowd shouts in unison while running after him. A police constable joins them, whistling all the way until the boy jumps on a running train from a bridge and turns into a big man in a jiffy—chased by an inspector now. He has grown up to be a local Robin Hood, more generous than any philanthropist in doling out the goodies, all stolen!  

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Divinity by his side

At times, the onscreen orphan is an atheist, angry at the gods for snatching his parents away in his formative years, and when he is not, he is a firm believer. Mean minds call him names like gandi naali ka keeda (worm from the gutters) but he takes all insults on the chin. He knows that his time to get even will come one day. Until then, he can croon, “Jiska koi nahin uska to khuda hai yaaron (God is by the side of those who have nobody in the world.)”  

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Love thy name is sacrifice

He loves her and she loves him too, but she loves his best friend as well. Or, is she a confu­sed brat? Before you think Bollywood is brave enough to explore ménage à trois within its conservative boundaries, she has to make a choice between a rich man from a famous khandaan and a poor guy from no khandaan at all. The latter is not a pedigreed lover so he has to retreat and make the ultimate sacrifice of handing her over to his bosom pal with a heavy heart. An orphan invariably loses the girl but has the solace of winning the hearts of the audience in the end.  

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Good Samaritan

An orphan himself, he may not have a regular 9-to-5 job but has to earn enough to feed a brood of naughty kids, all orphans who have landed at his doorstep. He also has to maintain a huge mansion and a vintage Morris car, which he occasionally rides along Nariman Point with his little friends while singing a song in chorus. Being Good Samaritan comes easily to our orphan-­hero with a golden heart who is just biding his time.

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Vile villains

Not all orphans have a golden heart, though. Some of them are vile enough to maim kids and force them to bec­o­me beggars at traffic signals. Every now and then, a one-eyed gang leader returns with his cronies to collect his hafta (weekly levy) from the kids, who have to endure him until a saviour arrives to rescue them with a prolonged bout of fisticuffs.

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Manna from heaven

A young woman is in the family way but there is a huge ‘societal’ issue. She is still unwed and the man who promised nuptials to her before leading her up the garden path is nowhere to be seen. So the only option for her is to dump her newborn outside a church or an orphanage. She rings the bell but hides behind a wall in the nick of time, before she can be seen and identified. All she can do is to see its caretaker take away her jigar ka tudka (a piece of her heart). At times, she has to dump her baby in an open dustbin, only for it to be picked up by a childless couple, who has just returned from a temple. Divine blessings!

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Separated at birth

If the parents have gifted their twins a heavy locket and got identical marks tattooed on their arms in their childhood, their separation from a village fair is imminent. It goes without saying that they spend the rest of their lives away from each other as orphans, one brought up by a do-gooder Catholic priest and the other by a big-hearted fisherwoman from Versova. Nob­ody needs to spoil the fun by predicting their reunion in the climax. Everybody knows. 

Swapping twists and turns

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Rani Maa (the queen) gives birth to the twins but has no idea about it. A scheming midwife takes one away to raise him as her own child, away from the king’s palace. One prince leads the life of a pauper for no fault of his own. And if that did not happen, there was always a wily diwan (minister) of the kingdom who gets the newly-born prince replaced with his own son. The plot thickens further after the midwife, this time a queen loyalist, restores the status quo without the knowledge of the diwan. Oh, such fun!  

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Saved from seductress  

Dejected over his humiliation over his status by the crème de la crème of Mumbai’s high society in the presence of his ladylove at a glittering party, Mr Orphan in a Savile Row suit finds solace in the words and arms of a seductress, who sympathises with him to take advantage of his vulnerability. She even takes him to her plush apartment and comes close to accomplishing her mission after crooning a come-hither number. His Black Level hangover ends once he realises her game plan and walks out on her just like an ancient sage reincarnate.  

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Blood thinner than water  

Blood is not always thicker than water. The head of the family adopts an orphan despite having four kids of his own. Once his children grow up, they throw him out of the house, leaving him and his ‘orphan’ chaperone to fend for themselves. With his loyal help by his side, he begins to rebuild his life until he forces his ung­rateful sons to return and seek forgiveness, whi­ch he declines. The orphan is his family now.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Cine-Maa: Adopted in Bollywood")

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