From Mouna Ragam to Thiruchitrambalam: Dads who defined generations

As we celebrate Father's Day, South First lists some of the most remarkable onscreen fathers. Here's to their inspiring stories of love, resilience, and redemption.

BySujatha Narayanan

Published Jun 16, 2024 | 1:21 PM Updated Jun 20, 2024 | 11:44 PM

A collage of memorable onscreen fathers captured in Tamil films. (Supplied)

The first time I saw a realistic, non-patriarchal father-daughter relationship in film, was in Mani Ratnam’s Mouna Ragam (1986). Chandramouli (played by Ra Sankaran) became famous, especially when Manohar (Karthik) calls him in two scenes to seek permission to marry his daughter, Divya, played to perfection by Revathy.

Mani Ratnam gave us the context to Divya’s character by showing us her family—a conservative but loving parents with three daughters and an elder son who was newly married—a middle-class family that was refreshingly real and different from the earlier such families we had seen onscreen.

The difference in Mouna Ragam lay in the fact that the eldest daughter had an agency of her own. Divya was nothing like a regular girl and Mani Ratnam made a story around her where her father understood her the best—followed by her husband—who was a more sophisticated and posh version of her dad. He was equal parts dignified, understanding, and supportive just like her father.

A still from 'Mouna Ragam. (Supplied)

A still from ‘Mouna Ragam’. (Supplied)

Even though Divya takes the onus of getting married to a man, she doesn’t initially love, for the sake of her parents—her father still tells her she doesn’t have to marry for his sake. That scene is as important to the way Divya would make her decisions going forward.

Revathy’s Divya wasn’t an everyday woman—also because her father “let her be” (a quality which all middle-class mothers accuse their husbands of being more lenient to their daughters than to even them). Chandramouli was a soft-spoken man of limited means, but shoulders enough responsibility; has enough love for his family, and understands his daughter without her having to say much. This father onscreen was a lot more like mine or like the men I had seen growing up.

Also read: Dhanush’s ‘Raayan’ new release date announced

Relatable on-screen fathers

Cut to the 2000s, with Selvaraghavan’s 7G Rainbow Colony (2004), where Vijayan played a caring father, a stark contrast to his toxic role in Mahendran’s Uthiripookkal (1979). Despite his flaws, this character genuinely cared for his family and eventually took pride in his son.

A man’s socio-economic status also determines what kind of person he becomes, and what kind of husband and father he would be. Most relationship dramas and love stories, in particular, are always about “Has Appa agreed to the match?” (think about it).

The 90s saw dads who were like Raghuvaran in the Vijay-starrer, Love Today (1997), or even way cooler fathers, who were more like friends to their children onscreen.

A long list of memorable on-screen fathers played by great actors comes to mind, but listing them all would take too much space and time. So, I’ll focus on a couple of recent films.

Thiruchitrambalam, a gem of a film

A still from 'Thiruchitrambalam'. (Supplied)

A still from ‘Thiruchitrambalam’. (Supplied)

This film, which I consider the best from 2022, spoke of three men in one family and the wound that bound them to each other—that needed healing and therefore retribution resulting in a mended father-son equation.

Thiruchitrambalam (directed by Mithran Jawahar) is that “close to our heart” film that gave us a lot to take back home along with its main story of Thiru (Dhanush) and Shobana’s (Nithya Menen) tryst with friendship and love. The film also tells us a tale of a grandfather, father, and son.

Maharaja review: Vijay Sethupathi reigns in this convoluted yet convincing drama

Prakash Raj has portrayed a wide range of father roles on screen, spanning various languages. From strict and kind fathers to toxic and challenging figures, his role in Thiruchitrambalam was that of a silent, suffering father, burdened by the guilt of driving his wife and daughter to their deathbeds. This incident creates a rift between him and his son (Thiru), with the grandfather (played by Bharathiraja), serving as the sole bridge between the two men, both harbouring simmering levels of anger and resentment.

However, Thiruchitrambalam doesn’t bring these simmering tensions to a boiling point until a crucial moment, revealing the family’s tragic past. Thus, we witness a dysfunctional family navigating their daily lives within the confines of their small home.

The healing that comes thereafter, is in the form of a state of helplessness, for the father for whom the son becomes a caregiver for a while, and their relationship arrives at a peaceful understanding.

The terms “heartwarming” and “blockbuster” seldom go together because films that rake in the big moolah, usually, belong to the action genre.

Thiruchitrambalam is a rare film, and I’m glad a star like Dhanush brought it to a major producer like Sun Pictures. This helped the relationship-centric story receive the wide release it deserved.

Also read: Nithilan Saminathan on Maharaja: ‘Vijay Sethupathi ensured I felt no pressure’

Mirroring reality

The parent-child bond not only involves passing the baton but also profoundly shapes our psyche. While it’s often said that daughters become their mothers and sons their fathers, many individuals defy this generalisation. These unique characters create interesting stories.

A film with few characters but a funnier take on a father-daughter relationship was seen in the Hindi film, Piku (2015), which is always a great repeat watch—thanks to the delightful chemistry between the three characters played by Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, and Irrfan Khan.

A still from 'Vaaranam Aayiram'. (Supplied)

A still from ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’. (Supplied)

When discussing onscreen fathers, Suriya’s role as Krishnan in Gautham Menon’s Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) is unforgettable.

“Idho inga irukkuda… America” is a great visual scene where the father tells his son to go meet the girl, he loves, even though she may be thousands of miles away. The father gives his son a perspective of approaching a key decision, even though the family is not one of great wealth or means.

The son’s rich life stemmed from core values instilled by his parents. (A line in a romantic song goes—“Ennodu vaa veedu varaikkum, enn veettai paar ennai pidikkum.”)

In Gautham Menon’s Yennai Arindhaal (2015), Nasser brilliantly plays a similar father role, albeit a cameo, as the cool dad to Ajith Kumar’s tough officer character, Sathyadev.

Relevant forever

Families have complex dynamics, and there’s no one-size-fits-all template for portraying fathers, on screen. Parents are fallible human beings who make mistakes and don’t always have ready solutions for life’s challenges. At times, they may contribute to the problems their children face. Yet, our family—whether supportive or challenging—is fundamental to shaping our lives.

Mammootty in 'Peranbu'. (Supplied)

Mammootty in ‘Peranbu’. (Supplied)

To have films depict this sometimes funny, sometimes emotional, but most times, dramatic parent-child equation, always makes for compelling cinema.

Mammootty’s portrayal of Amudhavan in Ram’s Peranbu (2018) sensitively depicts a father’s journey of forming a profound bond with his spastic daughter, Paapa (a fantastic Sadhana). Through challenging circumstances, he discovers the nuances of life, confronting both its beautiful and harsh realities along the way.

Challenges often form the backdrop for stories of triumph, and it’s heartening when a father wins.

(Edited by S Subhakeerthana)

Also read: ‘Kalki 2898 AD’ trailer is merely the tip of the iceberg, says Nag Ashwin