In a popular song from the 1994 film Stuntman, Jackie Shroff urged a mother to check her wayward son from falling under the influence of Western culture. “Amma dekh aa dekh, tera munda bigada jaye,” he sang, advising her to cut her son’s hair short, teach him Hindi, stop him from going to the disco and get him married.
Fourteen years later, another mom was in for a culture shock, this time when she learnt that her son is gay, in Tarun Mansukhani’s Dostana (2008). In reality, Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) is only pretending so that he and his fake boyfriend (John Abraham’s Kunal) can share a Miami apartment with the glamorous Neha (Priyanka Chopra). But Kirron Kher is not aware of this convoluted plot when she walks in on the apple of her eye being savoured by another man. Her resulting horror is captured in Maa Da Laadla. The song, which borrows from Amma Dekh’s hook line, encapsulates Kher’s reception of the news – which ranges from anger to sadness and denial – and is a clever spin on a Punjabi wedding number.
Before she makes her dramatic entry, Kher’s character, we are told, is a “full on Punjabi ham scene”. Melodrama and emotional blackmail are her oft-deployed tools, but she’s soft at heart and indulgent to a fault. These threads of her personality come together in Maa Da Laadla, with help from the sharp lyrics by Kumaar and catchy music by Vishal-Shekhar.
“Munda sada doli chad gaya, band baj gaya,” goes the refrain. She rues that her son has left the bride’s palanquin, her darling son is spoilt. More marital references follow when she grieves the death of her biggest dream for Sameer, a conventional big fat Punjabi wedding. “Mehendi launda, Sagun paunda, khwaab de maa da ujad gaya”, she complains – a mother’s hope to wear henna and give gifts to the bride has been shattered.
While tracing a mother’s inability to accept her son’s sexual preference, the song captures several misconceptions about homosexuality. Part imagination, part reality, the video shows her struggling to come to terms with a world utterly unfamiliar to her. The not-very-old misconception that homosexuality is a mental illness is also reflected when she worries that her son has gone mad.
Despite her seeming trauma, the upbeat tune and the humurous lyrics reassure that she’ll inevitably come around soon.
Juxtaposed against her mental images of her son and his partner are shots of them ogling at Neha, reminding viewers that their gay act is a farce. That’s often easy to forget in the movie, produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. Johar has tried to subtly push ideas about same-sex relationships into his romances and family sagas in the past and in Dostana, he gets a wider canvas. Though the movie predictably shows both Kunal and Sameer falling for Neha, the chemistry between the two men is undeniable. The movie also undercuts notions of masculinity in other ways. For instance, Bachchan’s character is a rare example of a male nurse in mainstream cinema, and even his clothes and mannerisms challenge strict gender norms without posing any real threat to his masculinity.
But the most memorable takeaway from Dostana is Maa Da Laadla, a rare Bollywood song that actually steps out of the closet and unites everyone across the sexuality spectrum in their urge to shake a leg.