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Baai's last words before her death will resonate inside me for a long time - "Pata hai khane mein sabse ahem kya hota hai? (Do you know the most important ingredient of food?)"
‘Baai’ from Modern Love: Mumbai revolved around grim issues like homophobia and Islamophobia, yet the way it poetically captured the triumph of love over all adversaries etched it in our hearts forever.
The film narrated the story of yet another closeted individual Manzu who was made to feel guilty for who he is when he tried to assert his identity by defying the stereotypical norms of his household as he hailed from a conservative Muslim family.
Baai, grandmother of Manzu was the matriarch of the household who is revered by everyone in the house and who was their shield against all the adversities especially as depicted in the instances of Bombay riots of 1992-1993 where she single-handedly protected her family from the squad of goons.
Baai was Manzu’s refuge on his gloomy days yet he struggled to open up to her regarding his homosexual identity. The figure of Baai was used as an authoritarian figure by the family members of Manzu especially his parents, to influence him to shun his identity which made him part away from his family and resort to his passion which is music.
The film constantly oscillated between present and past incidents of Manzu’s life that he reminiscences when he revisited his house Lucky Manzil to meet his ailing grandmother Baai who was fighting with death.
Baai, more than a human of flesh and blood, stood as a metaphor for normative traditions to be socially acceptable in a society that Manzu’s family especially his parents imposed both upon him and his sister Rehana. Even though Rehana had to suppress her desires and let the love she had for her lover die by marrying someone of her family’s choice, Manzu could break free from these baseless norms establishing his abode in Goa.
Food and music were the cupids that united Manzu with the love of his life Rajveer. It’s only after meeting Rajveer, that Manzu embraced himself and felt proud of himself.
It wasn’t easy initially as after their first date Manzu ghosted Rajveer since it brought back in him the fear of rejection because the last time he expressed his love, he was exposed in front of his parents and was ill-treated by them. But Rajveer gave Manzu his shoulder and promised him, “Manzu, I won’t hurt you” assuring him that he is and will be there for him.
Baai became the knot that tied Rajveer and Manzu together. Their conversation began from the recipe of nihari Rajveer cooked for Manzu mesmerized by his performance. While Rajveer told Manzu that this was the best nihari he would ever have, Manzu replied he had better nihari before, cooked by his Baai. Then Rajveer said something which I shall remember for a long time that is, “The most important ingredient of the food is love” which is so true, as love makes everything alluring.
Though in the end Rajveer and Manzu wooed each other with Manzu’s mother, his brother-in-law and sister as a testimony to their marriage and later on everyone accepted their marriage in the family, it was only Baai who was kept unaware of Manzu’s marriage.
When Manzu revisited Lucky Manzil to meet Bai one last time, their last conversation is worth remembering. As Bai asked Manzu if he is happy and he replied yes. She kept on insisting he let her know who is the person he is in love with while Manzu kept on denying it. At last, he confessed he had a roommate named Rajveer who is a renowned chef and cooks very well.
Baai on hearing this said, “Mujshe se bhi baadiya? (better than me?)” and then asked, “Pyaar karta hai tujshe? Tu pyaar karta hai ussey? (Does he love you? Do you love him?)” which left Manzu astonished though he slightly nodded his head agreeing to the fact they both loved each other.
However, Baai’s last words before her death will resonate inside me for a long time – “Pata hai khane mein sabse ahem kya hota hai? (Do you know the most important ingredient of food?)”
“Masale,” replies Manzu.
“Sirf pyaar sirf pyaar (Only love)” she replies. For Manzu, even though nobody could ever replace Baai, the love Baai had for him in her heart is transferred to Rajveer now through the medium of food.
At times, I felt Baai would have never forbidden Rehana to marry the love of her life or would have never made Manzu admonish himself for who he is. Rather if she knew, she would have enfolded them in her arms with love and care. Unfortunately, nobody considered her to be a safe place to open up their deepest secrets and insecurities, but when Manzu did we saw how Baai accepted him and his choice with open arms.
Food acted as the inheritance of love in Baai. Till Baai was alive, her love and care for Manzu were reflected in the food she cooked for him which enriched its taste. With Rajveer’s arrival in Manzu’s life this got shifted to the love between Rajveer and Manzu, through food that connected both of their hearts.
Image source: a still from Baai/ Modern Love Mumbai
A full time overthinker and a part time writer. Words are my antidote on bad days. I prefer to bask in fictional world of cinema than reality. Food and music are my refuge on gloomy read more...
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