Actor Reema Lagoo, who has passed away at the age of 59, leaves behind a rich legacy of work spanning theatre, television and cinema. Most notably, Lagoo will be remembered for freeing the Hindi film mother from a “long suffering” trope, as exemplified by Nirupa Roy, who frequently played mother to Amitabh Bachchan’s 1970s “angry young man”. Roy’s screen life of suffering, spent in poverty, sacrifice and toil, usually fuelled her son’s rage against society. The iconic “mere paas maa hai” spoke of the aura of a mother who struggled for her family to survive, wrapped in frayed saris, her hair greyed, her face lined with dusty sorrows.
Lagoo changed that mother paradigm. Interestingly, she did so just as the social context of Hindi cinema itself was changing. Her big break was in Sooraj Barjatya’s 1989 directorial debut Maine Pyaar Kiya where, playing a well-off, attractive mother, Lagoo broke Bollywood’s patriarchal pattern and supported her son’s rebellion against his father. In Barjatya’s 1994 super-hit Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Lagoo’s character, mother to the heroine, a beauty herself when in college, was presented with grace; charming in pretty saris, her eyes sparkling, an entire teasing song — “saamne hai samdhan” — revolving around her persona. In 1995’s Rangeela, Lagoo played the middle-class mother of aspiring actor, Mili, who strongly supported her daughter’s struggle to get a break in Bollywood — a mirror to emerging aspirational India, beginning to shrug off its shyness and chase success, backed to the hilt by loving parents.
Yet, Lagoo could sport shades of grey. In 1999’s Hum Saath Saath Hain, she played a modern Kaikeyi who desires that her son, not stepson, inherit the family wealth. Lagoo cut a deeply human figure, a woman steeped in tenderness and greed. With such depictions, Lagoo freed the Hindi film mother from only being “Ma”, making her a real person.