Modern Indian film and cinema feature a stereotype cool parent.
Remember Naina’s mom from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, who lets her daughter (in the thick of an MBBS degree of all things) run off on a trek to the Himalayas without notice and appropriate winter-wear? (I find it hard to believe Naina did all that snow trekking and camping in a miniskirt and low denier leggings to keep her warm. Trust me, if she’s truly a Mumbai girl, she couldn’t have made it past the first day of the trip with that wardrobe paired with a cutesy knit hat.)
Another example is the cool uncles/aunties of the Zoya Akhtar universes. Affluent enough to not care what their children do with their lives apart from find rishtas (suitable matches for marriage) when the time comes, they’re the high society parents we hope ours will mirror someday. Let’s all toast in celebration and get drunk with our parents on a cruise ship, a parent-child dynamic poised directly across from the portrayals of Bapu in Dangal and parents of Taare Zameen Par, similar to the real-life parenting styles most of us have grown up in.
Which explains why the whole “cool mom” character a la Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, Zoya Akhtar-land and Kirron Kher in Disney’s Khoobsurat is so enticing to the Indian audience. It is everything we wanted while we grew up, watching American television programming and wanting to hang out with our mixed group of friends without lying about the number of men, or texting a crush without changing their name in your phone directory in case your parents found your phone, going clubbing without the real outfit stashed in your bag (to be later worn in a public washroom somewhere).
The cool moms of Bollywood can be called by their first names, too. Unheard of. It’s stereotypical, yet aspirational. The celluloid parents are somehow the only example you know of that grant a certain autonomy and respect to their children akin to what we really want?
Growing up with international cinema and watching Disney young adult programming leaves you with the expectation of more. I remember watching Wizards of Waverly Place and the parents were… cool? They were friendly and didn’t act all Alok Nath with the imposition of “parampara, pratishtha, anushasan.” Their children could actually go talk to them if they had problems. It was a dreamland with this idea of a family I couldn’t fathom having in India. Being stubborn as I am, I still wanted those freedoms for myself. I still wanted open communication and that my parents would treat me with some respect as a young adult and that I would be allowed to choose my friends, choose my music, etc.
Over time, many parents have started to pick up on a generation of girls wanting better. They’ve started woke posturing as “cool parents.” They might have given you full autonomy of your clothes and body, a huge deal given the patriarchy of this country. Hell, my own IRL parents are the same way. They act supportive of your life choices, maybe give you a relaxed curfew, take the time to talk about your feelings and take you on holidays with no dress code. It all seems almost improbable in an Indian household.
I have, until recently, mistaken them for progressive parents. It’s a common mistake you make until you’re older and you realize the difference between liberal and progressive.
Mine are only cool and carefree to the point where they lowkey have complete control over what I’m doing. Over my politics, and as long as I share their values (a politics of convenience) and can acquiesce being apolitical out loud. Their coolness evaporates at the point at which my independent thought and voice are being exercised.
There’s a commonality between all Indian parents and it shows up out of the blue when you least expect it- it’s stacked behind lies and performative acts of coolness- but above all of their words lies the class solidarity and social respectability they will not forego.
As women, we are treated as tools to achieve this respectability, and the moment we raise our voice, the hood of the patriarchy comes off. I was forbidden to go to an anti-CAA/NRC protest in December, which was as safe as going to a coffee shop as far as I was concerned. My parents didn’t care for my being there, nor my autonomy to go where I wished. It really was The Great Disillusionment.
Ever since then, I’ve had shorter and shorter curfews, a “father knows best” patronizing attitude and several bad-faith conversations about politics, not being allowed to drive as much and thus sacrificing so much more freedom.
The cool act is a farce, and it pained me terribly to know that the people I thought I could trust with my life and secrets have been putting on this act so I would act as per their plans for me.
The act of coolness was so I wouldn’t rebel much. and that I would be the model child they’d parade at social gatherings. Autonomy almost seems laughable to them, they keep acting like I’ve asked for too much because most women don’t get it from their parents.
I’m “lucky” and “privileged” for being allowed any of the independence I have enjoyed in the first place, in their opinion & it’s turned my head. I’m constantly “put in place” by the fact that I can’t keep the house as a young woman should or that I’m too stubborn to be an asset to “a new family.”
1890s, I think you lost a couple of parents whose aspirations of me a few years ago were higher education and now, to my utter shock, looks like a successful arranged marriage to get this ungrateful, unladylike daughter off their hands. Mind you, I’m still in my undergraduate degree, I can’t do much without their support, in whatever shade it presents itself.
The fact still remains that there’s a huge dichotomy in expecting certain freedoms in India. Women’s empowerment is yet to extend to education and sanitation and here we’re expecting some first world conception of freedoms. Our parents know it too. They brandish it in cruel ways, to curb your enthusiasm in the worse possible way. The fact that we live in the patriarchy makes it all too easy for them to weaponize their “coolness.”
It’s taken me too long to make them out to be the unsupportive feature actors of my life. I felt.. almost guilty for coming to this realization. It’s a nifty little game of whataboutery where they’ll let you go to Goa as long as they can control your career path- you’re satisfied with the small victories because XYZ’s papa didn’t allow them even the trip.
It’s not a fair game. I just hope you don’t fall for the woke /supportive /progressive parent act front before it hurts you. It’s almost like Indian parents are wholly incapable of that.