April 20, 2020
In December 2001, filmmaker Karan Johar released Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, an ensemble family drama that would acquire a cult following, becoming prime diaspora and meme fodder. But for my mother, it wasn’t Poo’s hysterical self-love or Anjali’s squealing theatrics that made the film memorable — it was the seven-minute-long sequence of elder son Rahul leaving home as mother Nandini’s (Jaya Bachchan) fat tears threatened to flood the palatial Raichand mansion, which would get my mother emotional every time. She would cry freely, keeping Jaya Bachchan company, as I’d impatiently wait for the movie to get to the meat of the story: Hrithik Roshan’s biceps.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham understood what every Indian has been implicitly fed: a fractured home is an incomplete story. The movie tugged at the hearts of mothers who never want their children to leave, validated fathers whose principles keep their homes in check, and supported unchallenged obedience. If young Indians feel pressured to love their families unconditionally, then cinema has only doused that idea with a spoonful of melodrama. But over the years, as the audience has grown younger, the sensibilities more modern, and the culture more individualistic, the Bollywood home has changed from a collectivist, disciplinarian front to nuclear, democratic households to whatever each character wants it to be.