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Published: Verve Magazine, December 2016
Image credit: Ryan Martis

These two young dads from the Indian film industry exemplify the changing attitude towards child-rearing

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The gentleman of today is exactly that. Ready to accept that raising a family is a joint responsibility, a far cry from the Indian men of a previous generation who believed in the division of responsibilities: earning was a male domain, while taking care of the home and kids was restricted to women. Taking this a step further, what happens when a man decides to become a father without a woman? Two young dads from an industry that celebrates showbiz show us that they are as real as they come and all about changing the name of the parenting game, albeit in two diametrically different ways.

We’ve watched Imran Khan take a leap into parenting in much the same way that he made a foray into cinema — suddenly, without warning, and quickly reaching superstardom. His focused and balanced nature held him in good stead, and we see that in his role as a parent. During his first ever photoshoot with his daughter, we discover that Imran has Imara’s baby footprint tattooed on his chest — a sign of an endearing and permanent love. He may be a man besotted, but he is also hands-on about life, not one to watch as things happen around him.

Tusshar Kapoor has bitten the parenting bullet with single-minded predetermination, and six months into it (before which, he preferred to avoid Laksshya facing the camera), he’s finding his ground. It has made him an example for a generation that strives to juggle choices — whether in a partner, career or life. Perhaps Jane Austen hadn’t prepared for this eventuality. Can a single man in possession of good fortune, be in want of a wife? Or would he prefer IVF-led-surrogacy into single parenthood instead?

Let the men do the talking, we say.

What made you decide to take the plunge?
Imran: It was completely accidental. It was one of those extremely hectic nights. I won’t go into any further detail, but next thing you know, three weeks later, Avantika (Malik, married since 2011) is in the bathroom throwing up and I’m making jokes like, ‘Haha, what if you’re pregnant?’ Two hours later, I wasn’t laughing anymore.

Tusshar: The best things in life just happen. I was considering becoming a father; marriage didn’t seem to be on the cards and I was nearing 40. I had a faint idea of becoming a single parent through surrogacy — maybe through IVF. It just didn’t seem very possible in India. Then I happened to have a chat with director Prakash Jha, and he introduced me to a family that had done it. Things fell into place, and it was wonderful that a year later, I had a child in my arms.

You’re likely to go in with a romantic notion of being a dad — was it all that you imagined?
Tusshar: I was a bit anxious at times, especially on the day of the delivery. The entire family stayed up all night. All the ‘Still a few days more’ just went out the window. But thereafter, I was quite prepared, with the nursery, with help. My biggest concern was losing out on life while wanting to be a hands-on dad. I asked my friends, ‘Can I go out? Will I be able to…?’ And nothing changes. You just have to manage your time well.

Imran: I didn’t know what to expect because, as I said, we had stumbled into it. Suddenly, she was pregnant. Suddenly, the baby has come. And I felt like it snowballed really quickly, and those first couple of months, we were both at a complete loss; we had a really rough time. Even though Imara from, like, day two or three would tend to sleep through the night, we’d be up in the night wondering, ‘Is she breathing? Is she suffocating?’ Both of us were nervous wrecks. It took us five or six months to really settle down and stop being so panicky. That was when I first started to really feel that, ‘Oh my god, I’ve lost my heart to this girl.’ And now I know what that mad parental love is.


What is that one moment in their lives that you’re waiting for?
Tusshar: I don’t want to miss watching him go to school and picking him up. My parents (actor Jeetendra and Shobha Kapoor) were never there to do that. I mean, they came for PTA meetings and my mom used to drop me off, watch me go to my class, crying. I don’t know if my dad remembered my birth date at that point in time, even though he remembered to wish me. The parents of the ’70s and ’80s (at least in my case) had their own issues. Working, trying to make a life for us. I want to be there for my child. I’ll dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Imran: It’s a nightmare, haan. Every time I drop Imara to playschool, it’s ‘Papa, don’t go’. You’ll die on the spot because your baby is weeping and you have to leave her. I sit on the steps outside, listening to her cry, thinking, ‘Oh god, I’m a bad father. What am I doing?’

To answer your question, what I am looking forward to the most is the point when she will come and tell me things and make me laugh with her words, with wit — I think that’ll be something that will really make me proud.

Will you change anything in your parenting style from the way you’ve been brought up?
Imran: I love my mother (producer, director and screenwriter, Nasir Hussain’s daughter, Nuzhat Khan) and my mother loves me perhaps a little bit too much — so, I think throughout my life, she was a little over indulgent. That is why I have these notions that I want everything to be exactly the way I want it. This is not an ideal situation, so I would try to love my child a little bit less than my mother loved me.

Is there anxiety about missing key milestones with the nature of your work?
Imran: I was shooting a film from the time Imara was four to eight months old. I was a little nervous about not being there for big moments like if she were to say a word…. I would see her in the morning before I left, for a few minutes. And then the second I returned, I would spend time with her till she went to sleep. Avantika would come on set all the time with her. Luckily, I was there when she took her first steps. I consciously made an effort to not take on work when I knew that that was ‘baby Imara time’. For the past year, I have not shot for any movie. I have been home, with the baby. I’ve been travelling with her and I’ve been there for every major moment.

Tusshar: I’m a little anxious about what’s going to happen next month, when I start shooting. I hope it doesn’t really change things from what I’m doing now and what I’ll have to do then. The shoot, fortunately, is in Mumbai, so I will not be disconnected from my child completely. I’ll try to meet him before I leave home. If he’s sleeping after I’m back home, I’ll miss spending the evening with him; unfortunately there will be some moments that I’ll have to sacrifice. If you are worried you’re not going to be with your child, I think the child also senses that. If a parent is away, but trying their best to make it work, the child understands that and connects with that. And that’s love.

What’s the one thing you enjoy the most about being a father?
Imran: It’s the first time I’ve had the experience of wanting to spend time with someone — and not caring about other things. If the phone is ringing, you let it ring. If you’re late for something, you’re late — it doesn’t matter. If you’re hungry, you eat later. It just doesn’t matter. I also had that fear of my life coming to a standstill because I like to go places and do things. You’ll have a choice between spending time with your child or going somewhere else. And you’ll feel like you’d rather be with her because it’s more fun. It’s not a difficult choice. You’re not giving up anything.

Tusshar: It makes you very selfless. It calms you down, it’s very therapeutic. In a city like Mumbai, we’re clouded with issues and career ups and downs. I haven’t shot for a film at all this year. But, thank god. Since the baby’s come, I feel like I want to be at home with him, I want to spend time with him. And that’s the best part of being a parent — the maturity that comes with it. You rise above petty things that make you anxious. I think my child has taught me what fun it is to be on a playmat! I see his expression change and stop worrying about my work or about who’s inviting and not inviting me to some function or even about who’s calling or not calling back.

Tusshar, if your child asks, ‘Where is mom?’ what would your answer be?
Tusshar: I’m going to have to be very honest with Laksshya about him not having a mom. I’ll have to tell him exactly how and why he came into this world, so that he knows that he is a child born out of love and that I wouldn’t have been happy without him in my life — that he’s my everything. I will try and compensate and be what two parents can be to a child. It is just love that will make things work out.

So who fills the gap of a female figure?
Tusshar: The female energy at home comes from my sister (television and film producer Ekta Kapoor) and mother. I won’t be lying to Laksshya, telling him that his grandmother is like his mom. I don’t want to confuse him with that ideology. My mother has waited a long time for a grandchild. She gets to do so many things all over again, 40 years later. A large part of why I had this child is because my parents were going through a phase of depression; any parent would want to become a grandparent someday, so this is their dream come true. We feel like a very normal — and, I hope, happy — family, one where there’s enough attention from me as a father and enough female energy from my mother and sister even though there is no mother.

Imran, Imara’s obviously got you wrapped around her finger. Who’s the disciplinarian?
Imran: Avantika’s always on my case about not being a good disciplinarian. I can’t say no to Imara for anything. Whatever she wants, I feel like I have no choice but to give it to her. It’s not ideal, but I’m working on it.

Tusshar: That’s something I feel strongly about — I would hate to have a brat as a child. I’m going to be careful about not spoiling Laksshya, but my parents, bua, my sister and the nanny are always going to spoil him. Which is why it’s important that we (the parents) be the balancing factors. And the sooner, the better.

Imran: Yes, I will start today. Today, I am going to start disciplining!

Who do you guys go to for parenting advice?
Imran: I’ve never asked anyone for parenting advice — not my mom, dad, or Avantika’s mom. I’ve never read any of those parenting books. Maybe I’m missing out on something, I don’t know, but I feel like Avantika and I just kind of figured it out between the two of us. You find your own rhythm.

Tusshar: I didn’t read any books or take any advice from anybody. But the people who’ve done surrogacy before — the family who took me to Dr Firuza Parikh — they helped me set up the nursery before the baby arrived and to deal with things like finding day and night nurses for Laksshya. For day-to-day questions, I got help from my mom and friends.

Who’s the one reading stories at bedtime?
Imran: Anything that is play-related, I’m the one. Building things with Lego, reading books, telling stories — that’s where I’m always first to jump in, saying, ‘Haan, don’t worry, baby, I’ll take care of it.’

Tusshar: Bedtime stories haven’t started for me. I sing loris to put him to sleep. I have some old Hindi songs that I just hum — and he loves it. If I stop humming, he starts crying.

How many diapers have you two changed? Of course, Imran, you’ve had more years to change them.
Imran: Yes. That being said, I’ve probably changed fewer diapers than Avantika has. My trick is this — you change diapers when people come over to visit. Then everyone thinks, ‘Look, this guy’s an amazing hands-on father.’ After that, I can hand it over to Avantika or the nanny.

Tusshar: I don’t know why everyone thinks that diaper-changing is it and why it stands for being a hands-on father. It’s the easiest thing to do. There are tons of other things. Do you know how to poop your baby on a flight? Do you know how to feed your baby? Do you know how to put your baby to sleep? These are my fears.

Imran: I’ve noticed you’re not answering how many diapers you’ve changed.

Tusshar: I’ve changed — to prove to myself — three or four diapers.

Dads today are breaking the stereotype of the Indian father. What do you think has led to this change?
Imran: Part of it just has to do with globalisation. We are now more exposed to international culture, with the way that it is in the US, UK, and Europe.

Tusshar: It’s not like somebody wrote a book about good parenting which everyone read and, therefore, the next generation turned out to be much cooler, better parents! I think my son is going to have some issues with my parenting, even though I’m doing my best. It’s a learning process: what you go through as a child, what you’ve seen your parents do for you and what you feel was left out. Then you make those changes; it’s a natural progression. Society changes, parents change, family settings change, and that’s what evolution is all about.