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Lillete Dubey on Motherhood: Society Tells Us to Be Angel-Like but There is No Perfect Mother | Exclusive

Actress Lillete Dubey’s latest short film Birth sees her essaying the role of a maternity coach running a cult secretly. A character we hardly see in mainstream films or series. Also starring Shreya Dhanwanthary as a soon-to-be mother, the film is a satirical take on the expectations around motherhood and pregnancy. Dubey, who welcomed her first child at the age of 24, and is a mother of two, is of the belief that it is okay to take a break from one’s child no matter how much pressure society puts on women. In an exclusive chat with News18 Showsha, the Kal Ho Naa Ho actress opened up about her own motherhood journey and her learnings from it.

The film’s producer Natasha Malpani Oswal also joined the conversation and shared her insight on the same and how Birth is a tongue-in-cheek look at the pressure women feel to reinvent themselves as good mothers while trying to hold on to who they were. Excerpts from the interview


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What was the most appealing thing about this story?

Natasha Malpani Oswal: The reason I wanted to tell a story about pregnancy and motherhood is that it is shocking to me how little we see this space of women’s lives on screen. You see women being young, you see them as old women, as grandparents on screen but you don’t really explore this really important part of their lives. Through Birth, what we wanted to do was take a tongue-in-cheek look at the pressure women feel to reinvent themselves as good mothers while trying to hold on to who they were.

What does motherhood mean to you?

Lillete Dubey: In my generation, we had children without giving it that much thought or reading so many books and we didn’t think the whole thing through that it’s going to be a lifetime job. We just got married and within a couple of years – I had my first child at 24. My sister had a child and she got married a year after me so my mother would put too much pressure on me. So we went and had a baby. I was a young mother and it was only when I saw the child, I realised this is somebody I have to raise and take care of in every sense of the word for the rest of my life. That was an overwhelming feeling that’s why young mothers can go into postpartum depression.

You form a bond with your child in the first five, or six years and you have to give them that time. If you’re not willing to give it you shouldn’t have children. No one is compelling you to have children but if you do have a child, you better have the time and the bandwidth for it, otherwise don’t have it.

I had already decided that a lot of things that I wanted to have, I have to put on the back burner. But I realized very soon that I cannot only be with this child all the time, I will go mad. I am qualified, I was doing something, and I wanted to continue doing something. I really feel that no mother should give up everything because, in the end, she won’t be a good mother, she’ll be a bad mother. Because she’s so frustrated, so resentful, so irritated that there is nothing else in her life, that she can’t do anything else.

I think for your sanity, it’s very important that you need to take those breaks from even your own child for a while, and go and work and do something that makes you feel fulfilled as an individual. You have to hang on to yourself, which is what this film is also about.

When I had Neha (Dubey) I told my mother-in-law that once she is ten, I will be free. She said, forget it, for the rest of your life, you will worry, you will be concerned and you will fret and stress. This will go on till you die. Because you’re a mother for life. There’s no expiry date. As kids get older, the problems change, but you never stop being a mother.

Natasha: Birth is an interesting take on this because it’s a satire on society’s expectations of mothers. We are looking at how women have so many voices in their heads about what they should do or shouldn’t do to be a great mother, that they’re constantly feeling guilty. But this is actually a very interesting opposite perspective, that when we have so many voices in our head, where is our voice? But then when you are left to listen to your own voice, you actually miss having that care. So it is a delicate balance between hearing what people have to say, and actually making your own decision.

Lillete: Society makes you feel that you have to be this perfect mother. There is no perfect child or perfect human being, so there is obviously no perfect mother. But there is too much pressure so the guilt starts coming that you are not being this perfect mother. Maybe you yelled at your child or felt like smacking them. But all these emotions are actually quite healthy and normal. A child is screaming away in the night for no reason. Obviously, you can get irritated and annoyed, you’re human. So but society says no, you have to be angel-like and be so understanding, tolerant and accommodating all the time.

Were these stereotypes ever imposed on you?

Lillete: No, not consciously. It’s an unspoken thing in society. It starts at a very minor level and then goes up. It’s a demand that you do well in everything and some of the accomplishments of the children become some sort of a reflection of you, that you have brought them well and you also take pride in the fact that the child is so accomplished. These are very crazy kinds of expectations. And today we live in such a highly competitive world, every generation is more competitive than the last. We’re living in a very difficult climate for a child, to begin with. So I think the parent has to let go and not put such heavy demands on a child.

As shown in the film, do you think that parents are way too obsessed with making their children perfect?

Natasha: The idea of having a champion baby (in the film) is a satire on how much pressure parents are putting on their children. It’s not just that we want our children to be perfect for ourselves, we want our children to be perfect because it raises our standing in society, which is a very toxic cycle that we have to break. So many of my friends are either getting pregnant or just had kids and the first thing on their mind, more than what’s the gender of the baby is, what school are they going to go to. That’s such a status symbol. And now we have a bigger population so there are few good schools, so we’re all competing for these very scrappy resources.

Birth, directed by Shyam Sunder and produced by Natasha Malpani Oswal of Boundless Media, is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

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