Pati Parameshwar Challenged!

by Samuel Thambusamy and Lanusenla Longchar

Nandhini Raichand ( played by Jaya Bachan in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham) is perhaps the best delineation of the ideal women within Hindi movies in recent times. And yet, her characterization presents a tweaking of conventional modes in which the ‘ideal mother’ is portrayed. Nandhini challenges the cultural notions of ‘Pati – Parmeshwar’ (The Husband is God) which has both religious sanctions and social approval. She is not cast as a ‘rebel’ but rather represents women who are caught within traditional socio-cultural boundaries and yet choose to question the system from within. 

Nandhini Raichand, even as a super rich wife of rich industrialist Raichand, has little or no space for ‘self-expression’, ‘decision making’,  and ‘choices’. Her boundaries are clearly drawn and her role within the Raichand parivar is clearly defined. She, like millions in India, was conditioned to view her  husband as God (Pati Parameshwar). Within the Raichand family, Yash Raichand’s word is (or has to be) final on anything and everything: “I have said it and that’s it”. Yash decision’s were considered the best for the family and the members of the family (including Rahul and Rohan) were expected to ‘listen’ and ‘act’ upon what he says. Nandhini (like most Indian women) accepted her role as a ‘wife’ and a ‘mother’ and fitted well into the Raichand parivar.

She willingly accepted Rahul when Yash brought him to be their son. Rahul’s adoption into the family wasn’t discussed at all with her. She had no choice. And yet, she began to love Rahul and take pleasure in motherhood. In Nandhini’s words: “ No one can fathom the amount of love that a mother has for her son, not even the mother. It’s an emotion that only be felt” Rahul became her life. In fact, she loved Rahul more than her own son Rohan born to her after many years of marriage.

Nandhini willingly accepts to serve the needs of her husband and provide the warmth of love, companionship and respectability to the Raichand Parivar. Nandhini is the home maker. She does not involve herself in the business. Yash does not discuss business at home either. Why should he?

Nandhini is not even consulted regarding Rahul’s wedding with Naina. Yash decides it and gets the approval of his mother for the wedding. Nandhini remains a spectator to Yash’s decisions for the family. Although she knew Rahul was in love with Anjali she could do nothing about it.

Nandhini unwillingly accepted her husband’s decision to let go Rahul after he had married Anjali against the wishes of Yash Raichand. Nandhini could not bear to see Rahul go and but she had no ‘voice’ to challenge Yash’s decision. She couldn’t even try. She silently mourns the loss of her son as she learns to live with her grief.

Nandhini’s sense of loss was not fully understood by her husband. Yash was blinded by pedigree, tradition and social class. He did sense a growing rift within the family, and yet his hurt ego would not allow him to forgive Rahul. Yash wanted  Nandhini to conform to his decision (even if took ten years). Nandhini learns to hide her grief and cry in the silence of her heart.

Nandhini learnt to challenge the notion of Pati-Parmeshwar from within the cultural confines of traditional Indian society. She did not choose to be a placard carrying ‘rebel’ – one who questioned every decision and engaged in a ‘rebellion’ at every denial of her rights. Instead, Nandhini chose to be or (become) the ‘voice of conscience’. She raised questions, offered suggestions, and challenged conventions. Her studied silence increased her moral authority. If ever she chose to be silent it was because of her ‘love’ and not out of ‘fear’. Her silent protests over Raichand’s decision are deafening (if you had ears to listen to). Over the years, her resilient ‘voice’ could not be ignored, even if it wasn’t acted upon. 

  • Interestingly, Nandhini does not plead with either Yash Raichand to allow Rahul back into the house ( a notable departure from Hindi film conventions). 
  • She does not ask Rahul to listen to his father and get married to Naina. She was open to Rahul marrying Anjali ( a notable departure from Hindi film conventions). 
  • She reminds the Raichand Parivar that times have changed and that they need to be open to give generation next the right to make choices.
  • She sends Yasheeda along with Rahul and Anjali.
  • She silently lets Yash Raichand know her disapproval of his decision concerning Rahul.
  • She helps Yash understand her pain caused by the separation from Rahul.
  • Finally, she questions the notions of Pati-Parmeshwar  

Nandhini engaged in a non violent struggle against ‘ the cultural notions of ‘Pati-Parmeshwar’ and was able to challenge it from within.

Watch the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (directed by Karan Johar) and reflect on Nandhini Raichand (played by Jaya Bachan)

Questions for further reflection:

  1. Briefly, what do we know about the character?
  2. What is the gender message that is communicated through the character?
  3. What aspects of this character seem accurate to you? Why?
  4. What parts of the image reflect how women really are?
  5. What aspects of this character seem inaccurate or wrong to you? Why?
  6. What parts of the character reflect a gender stereotype that you believe is inaccurate or wrong?

[ This post is part of the Images of Women in Indian Cinema project undertaken by Wisdomtree – Center for Religion and film ]

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