Ooooo, this episode was JUICY!!!! Both on and off screen. The characters had all kinds of back and forth and movement, but boy is it hard to watch and not think of Karisma working through her own issues of mothering and how she was mothered! (index of all Mentalhood reviews here)
Once again, I am impressed with the way the show goes beyond what I expected with the basic premise. The title of the episode is “Tiger Mom” and I was all set for it to start with “of course the most important thing you can do is push your child to excel”. But instead it started with that already being a question, should you push your child or not? What is better for them, in the long run? And it wasn’t talking about pure academic excellence either, it was talking about all the parts of a child’s life, when do you give them tough love and why?
The show, once again, says that it depends on the mother and the children. Tillotama, sweet and scared of her husband, has to learn to be tough and get her children to respect and obey her. They are out of control, they need limits to have balance and grow up to be better people.
Shilpa has little interaction directly with her child, although I am interested in the small bit we see when she is insisting her daughter get extra tuitions so she can get into an Ivy League school on “merit” instead of her mother buying her way in. Not related to the theme of the episode or anything really, but I can’t let it go because it is so STUPID. First, getting extra tuitions is not getting into school on “merit”. It is getting in because your parents can afford the money for extra tuitions and the time to force you to do it. Merit means you don’t need extra tuitions or anyone driving you, you are just smart (and I say that as someone who has about half a dozen close relatives who went to Ivy League schools). And second, you can’t exactly buy your way in to one of those schools. Or, rather, you buy your way in with those extra tuitions. That’s it, that’s the advantage money gives you. The only other way to do it is a simply MASSIVE record breaking endowment. Or to be the child of a graduate. The special tuitions are the simple cheap easy way in, along with a notable name.
Anyway, Shilpa’s real story is about turning fierce to protect her daughter, forcing her daughter’s biological mother to sign a waiver and take a pay off to leave their family alone. Another moment of strong motherhood, this time turned outward.
Shruti, once again, has little to do. I don’t know if she even has a storyline this time around? She is just there to be all touchy-feely in the background.
The real story is Sandhya, Karisma, and Dino. The pilot of the show suggested Shilpa and Sandhya as co-leads, the two power moms. But as the show continues, it becomes more and more Sandhya versus Karisma, with Shilpa off in a plot island. And Dino supporting Karisma.
This episode the issue is Karisma blossoming and finding her feet in Bombay, and thinking she can help her children find theirs. It’s interesting, the first episode established Karisma as a dim outsider. But as the show goes on, it becomes clear she is smart and strong and confident. She just had to find her way in this new world, and now she is quietly taking it over. This episode, she is preparing photos to send out to keep trying for modeling jobs, and found a job for her youngest son. And she is pushing her daughter to join and succeed on the school dance team, having correctly realized that the dance team is a power in the school and a way for her daughter to be accepted and popular.
Karisma’s confidence is bringing Dino in to her too, Dino is there to help her take photos and she laughs at him for making her too glamorous and pretty, she just wants photos to play a normal “young Mom” in advertisements. Dino flirts a little, and moves in to brush hair from her face, and she tingles. Karisma just looks so alive in these scenes! We can see why Dino might be falling for her. Or at least, why Sanjay might worry that Dino is falling for her. Moment here for how AWESOME it is to have a show with a sexy love triangle between 40-something married mother of three Karisma, grey-haired husband Sanjay Suri, and sexy younger-than-Karisma Dino. Because of course a married mother of three can still draw in a younger man, and of course a husband of many years can still be jealous and insecure of his beautiful wife!
And Karisma’s confidence is throwing off Sandhya. Karisma’s character is not being defined as “perfect”, she makes plenty of mistakes in this episode alone, but what we see again and again is that when Karisma makes mistakes, she has people to catch her when she falls. Her kids trust and love her, her husband is there to support her, nothing too bad can ever happen. And that is not true for Sandhya. Sandhya’s daughter is the star of the dance team, and then gets sick by sneaking junk food with Karisma’s daughter when they are sharing a room. Sandhya blames Karisma, and insists her daughter still dance. Her daughter faints in the middle of the show, and Sandhya’s husband blames her for everything and leaves her alone to clean it up. No wonder Sandhya turns around and yells at Karisma.
There is another little faint here in a different direction, like in the last episode when for a second it looked like Karisma’s daughter was trans. Sandhya’s daughter has junk food and then throws up in the middle of the night. I was thinking bulimia, but I am happier with the direction the show went. So far, Sandhya has not been shown to be an actual “bad” mother. She pushes her kids hard, but goes right up to the line. She doesn’t let her kids have junk food, but she hasn’t given them an eating disorder. She attacks Karisma when her daughter is sick, but with her daughter she is kind and supportive. She doesn’t even want her daughter to perform until her husband pressures her and then has to give in and convince her daughter to go on. Sandhya as a mother isn’t that different from the others. She is just finding her way, like Tillotama being too weak until she corrects, or Karisma pushing her daughter and son too hard, but Sandhya doesn’t have anyone to talk it out with, and so to the world she has to always keep up the mask and never admit mistakes.
Oh right, Tillotama doesn’t have anyone to talk things out with either! Except for “mental mom”, Karisma’s online persona. That was a small thing I found really interesting in this episode, Tillotama at her wits end hid in the bathroom and messaged a blogger for help. Feels accurate to her situation, such a scared shy woman she has to reach out to the internet for help. And makes me hope Karisma’s blog will turn out to have a wider impact and importance than she thinks, let her help woman who can’t turn anywhere else.
But Karisma’s story is nice enough, thinking that her pre-teen daughter needs confidence and can get it by working hard and “feeling” pretty, and that her son will enjoy being a model instead of it being her dream. Before realizing her daughter just needs to be happy and do what she likes, and her son needs to be a child and not force himself to smile and be cute. Of course what makes it really REALLY good is the impossible-not-to-consider way that Karisma’s own mother forced her to do these things. The stories of Babita forcing her to dance, smile on camera, and so on and so forth are legion. Maybe they aren’t true, maybe Babita was a soft happy indulgent mother and Karisma loved her teenage stardom and never felt overworked. But those stories are there in the world, and watching Karisma hit a stick on the floor to force her daughter to keep dancing was….uncomfortable. Especially in the same show when Karisma refers to her background as a “bollywood” style dancer, bringing up memories of Dil To Pagal Hai and the legend of Karisma calling her mother in tears about the difficulty of dancing with Madhuri, and Babita ordering her to just do it and hanging up.
Overall, again, it is about the theme. Mothers have to dig deep and find strength to be tough when their children need them to be tough. But the key is to figure out when that is. Karisma thinks she is helping her daughter by forcing her to dance, but in the end it is being forceful to protect her from Sandhya, and pull her son out of the commercial shoot, that is the strength required. Shilpa starts out being tough with her daughter about tuitions, then switches to using that same strength to get rid of her biological mother. Tillotama is the only one who really needs to use that strength on her own children and she manages to summon it. And then there is Sandhya, who has her children perfectly trained and obedient, and the other mothers terrified, but is incapable of standing up to her husband. Strength and weakness, in surprising places and surprising ways.