'We need more realistic books on pregnancy and parenting'
Meghna Gulzar speaks to Lalita Iyer on the making of Talvar, stay-at-home-motherhood, reclaiming the self, finding the balance in motherhood and the role of the family and the husband
Meghna Gulzar, a mother and Bollywood film director, fresh from the success and acclaim of Talvar, a sensitively made film on the Aarushi Talwar murder, speaks to theIndusparent on her post-baby journey. Here are some excerpts from the Q&A.
How did your life change personally/professionally after the birth of your child?
Having a baby was far from the rosy pictures in parenting magazines and ads. For the first 3-4 months, I was totally at sea. Mentally and creatively, I had decided to shut shop around the time Samay (my son) was born. It was a conscious decision. Although I did make my documentary while I was pregnant, but it was easier then. He went wherever I went, he ate what I ate, he slept when I slept, everything was taken care of.
On a personal level, yes, from having been a really independent person to being someone who was on call and responsible 24/7 for another person was a huge change. Before the baby, I had a lot of empty time and space to read, write, wander, doodle, or just do nothing. So it took me a long time to adjust to the fact that my time wasn’t mine any more.
When did you decide you were ready for movie-making?
Unrealistically, when my son was two; or at least that’s when I thought things would get easier. But then, that’s when all the challenges of infrastructure around the child creep in, when everything that you thought would be in place is not really in place, and so you push your deadline further. But when he was ready for big school, around the time he was around 3.5-years old is when I knew that a lot of his day would be really taken up by school. That was my ticket.
You were a stay-at-home mother for the first three years for your child. Why is it that there are so many stories of angst during this period for women?
It’s because as a society, the images that are being fed to us about having children, the books that are written on parenting and raising kids never really address the reality. We need realistic images, stories and symbols of motherhood that completely understand what it takes, what really goes on. People who write about parenting also need to write responsibly and realistically, not always project it as a rosy, picture-perfect ride.
It’s not that I jumped into motherhood soon after marriage. I was married for 10 years and then had a baby; my expectations were fairly realistic, so in a sense, the angst was less.
And yet, it took me a while to wrap my head around it—what I thought I was ready for and what actually happens are two entirely different things.
Why is raising children so much harder in our times? Why are mothers taken by surprise by how their baby redefines their life?
It truly takes a village to raise a child—at least that is how we were raised. But our children are raised in nuclear families and our dependence on external resources—however fickle and unpredictable they may be—is huge. These are the necessary evils of our times.
Yes, my parents were around, but then they had raised a child 40 years ago. They were also an older set of grandparents, which is also a fallout of modern marriages where you have kids much later. Age 3-5 is when the core personality of a child is formed. Samay was really lucky to have his father around a lot during that period.
And there are no rules really, it’s a continuous process of learning and discovery.
How much of a role did your husband Govind play in facilitating your comeback to films and direction?
Govind actually took a year off when he was switching careers from a corporate to an entrepreneurial role and was home every single day when I was out shooting Talvar. It was pretty intense; we shot across four cities, different seasons, for about 40 days through the year. Govind being there for Samay at that time was the equivalent of taking over for one night need during the early months.
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There is a sense of loss of identity that most women face during the early months post-baby. Did you go through that as well?
Managing a household, a baby, the househelp, the nanny, the meals and other such was not the essence of me, although I did it for a long time. But it took the wind out of me. It felt like I was stuck with the menial, the mundane. I didn’t like that. I felt trapped.
When you are a stay-at-home-mom, small things matter. Like your partner asking you how the day was, what problems did you face, helping with the laundry, the dishes, the grocery shopping, not taking a well-oiled home for granted, realising it takes work to put food on the table. After all, one is constantly putting out fires while running a home, and it’s nice to have a partner who doesn’t take things for granted.
I know about stereotypes and men who think it’s an act of bravado to rock a baby to sleep or who get points for nothing. Govind fortunately is the complete opposite. On one hand, he was was doing these million dollar deals in his workplace, but he made sure he was there to take Samay out in the evenings.
But even so, I would have my outbursts, and tell him that his life hadn’t changed while I was left constantly fending for the baby.
But women have to realise that it takes a lot to fight battles at the workplace too. And that the men are not out there, cruising on a yacht or having champagne lunches all the time.
Perhaps the angst for stay-at-home-mothers is that all the work they do does not translate economically into anything and that can be frustrating. What is important while raising a child is mutual respect and appreciation for each other.
When you chose to make Talvar about a young girl’s murder, tell us about the anxieties you faced, especially given that you are a mother too.
Strangely, there weren’t any anxieties, although my mother had her apprehensions. I told her, let me do this and you watch. Both Vishal (Bharadwaj) and I realised that the only way to approach the subject fairly was to be clinical about it. We had a fair idea of what had gone wrong and the objective was to at least spark a debate and make people ask the right questions.
The prep and shoot for the film must have meant time away from home. How did you and your son cope with that?
We shot the film for 40 days over a year, because we shot across locations, seasons etc. I knew my husband was always with him, but there were times when I wouldn’t see my son for days on end. I knew that it was affecting him, because his teacher told me he was getting cranky, grumpy and that something was bothering him. I worried a lot; and as women, we tend to internalise these things too. But one day, his teacher told me that Samay was trying to console a classmate whose mother had recently returned to work by saying, “Don’t worry. Your mom will come back. My mom doesn’t even come home some days.”
It’s then that I knew that my timing for going back to work was just right.
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