Our guest authors Sabiha Khan and Sahil Siddiqui write about the shifting dynamic in the changing portrayal of the father figure.
India is the country of vasudeva kutumbakam (the whole world is one family). It stands to reason that Indian-ness has historically promoted being part of one kind of group or the other, often while diminishing the individuality of its many residents.
Like all cultural phenomena, this Indian-ness finds an expression in social norms, cultural practices, the belief system involving family and work life, and the general idea of being an ‘Indian’.
On the contrary, the counterforce of rising individualism has been dominant in the west for years, and has also been the prime export to Indian shores in the form of media, business practices and ethics.
Our urge to ape the west doesn’t end at jeans and Hinglish, but also extends to a new conception of the self – a self that wants to be self-centred as opposed to the native collectivist values of India. And, here too, India has found a unique way to balance the western influx with eastern tendency.
As the number of intra-country migrants has soared because of new work, so has the number of joint families in metro cities.
As the proliferation of the Bollywood hero, who stands against his family for what ‘he’ thinks is right, grows, so does the image of Indian boys and girls in Shark Tank India, starting passion businesses along with family members as business partners.
Content creation online, which was more a tool for self-expression and self-identification to society, has now extended to including wizened matriarchs and patriarchs, sharing family customs and ways of living to even parents involving kids as part of the content effort.
The biggest proof of this shifting dynamic is the changing portrayal of the male/father figure. The father’s portrayal in the media is quite telling of the direction the entire country is already moving in or will soon start moving towards. This is because the male-tilted sex ratio of India ensures that a change in male behaviour is the ultimate indicator of a big societal change as well.
Media and advertising will, like always, be the cataloguer as well as an agitator for this pivotal point in our cultural history.
From caregiver to protector to supporter, each iteration of the father has been built on a foundation of ‘sacrifice’, a value that the Indian familial structure tends to value over all else.
With self-awareness in the millennials and Gen Z increasing, we have also seen a renewed interest in the internal life and dreams of the father figure.
It’s a standard trope in media and movies, where older fathers are seen getting back to their dreams from youth at a later stage in life.
But today’s father, i.e., a father in the age of individualism, is not one to wait. His own dreams and passions are as important as his family’s. This is not the man who waits for his ‘second innings’, post-retirement. Neither is he one to pride himself only in the accolades his progeny accumulates.
He wants to be fulfilled in himself in such a way that his family is never left wanting for anything. A product of the hustle generation, his hustle is not just roti-kapda-makaan for the family but roti-kapda-makaan-passion – the passion part is for himself.
The gig economy and Internet fame have taught him that he can turn around his and his family’s fortunes overnight. He is not going to let this opportunity pass by without giving it a shot.
What we see here is a stark difference from the earlier conservative approach that recommended savings and long-term thinking in financial planning built around a single source of income. As the possibility of turning passions into a secondary source of income has increased, so has the realisation that ‘my passion can be the cause of my family’s wellbeing.
The growing focus on mental health and the rise of young Internet celebrity fathers is another reason cementing the phenomenon of the modern Indian father, who follows dreams for himself so that he can fulfill his promises towards his family’s wellbeing.
Simply put, this new version of the father is here to stay.
(Sabiha Khan is head of strategy - digital experience, and Sahil Siddiqui is group executive creative director, at WATConsultXDentsu Creative)