Of fathers and sons: A look at Malayalam cinema's complex relationships

From tyrants to gentle protectors, Malayalam cinema has given us some memorable father characters and the relationships they share with their sons.
Of fathers and sons: A look at Malayalam cinema's complex relationships
Of fathers and sons: A look at Malayalam cinema's complex relationships

Fathers and sons share a contentious relationship. It is fraught with the burden of expectation, hopes and dreams of two individuals that rarely match. All the tension caused by complex relationships might not be the ideal situation to be in in real life but it definitely makes for some cinematic powder keg.

Malayalam cinema has always been at the forefront of realistic depictions and there have been some memorable father and son relationships explored on the silver screen. Here is a look at a few of them.

Kireedam (1989)

One of my personal favourites, this has to be one of the most powerful roles Mohanlal has essayed in his checkered career. Mohanlal plays a youngster named Sethumadhavan and like any youngster he has ambitions of making it big in life. His father, Achuthan Nair (Thilakan) who is a police constable, wants him to become a police officer.

Achuthan Nair dotes on his son and they share a very amiable relationship. But both their dreams and aspirations are shattered when Sethumadhavan gets involved in an unfortunate altercation with a local goon. This marks the beginning of what becomes a strained relationship between father and son.

The people of the town “crown” Sethumadhavan as their saviour and the rest of the movie charts how he unwittingly descends into criminality. His once doting father, who is torn between duty and love for his son, eventually brands him as a criminal and severs all ties with his son. Heart-rending and sensitive, this movie is a lesson in the layered relationship one often shares with their loved ones.

Spadikam (1995)

The name Aadu Thoma might not mean anything to a non–Malyali, but to a Malayali, it will evoke images of Mohanlal in RayBan sunglasses and mouthing crowd pleasing dialogues.

In the garb of a mass entertainer, director Bhadran tells the story of a son gone rogue because he couldn’t meet his father’s expectations. Chacko Master (played by the inimitable Thilakan) is a respectable school teacher who believes that “mathematics is the pulse of the universe” and when he finds out that his only son Thoma is bad at it, he declares him a failure and reprimands him in every possible manner.

Thoma becomes resentful of his father and turns into a thug, filled with anger against authority of any kind. Thilakan’s portrayal of a narcissistic father whose self righteousness scars his son for life is fabulous. This movie shows that sometimes how even well intentioned fathers can unknowingly ruin their sons lives.

Deshadanam (1997)

Deshadanam tells the story of a carefree boy named Pachu born into a Namboothiri family, who shows a maturity beyond his age when it comes to religious texts and philosophies.

A holy seer identifies this talent and wants to take him to the mutt to become the next Holy Guru ( a monk essentially). His parents are not keen on sending him to the mutt as it would mean that Pachu would have to renounce all things material and leave them behind as well.

In what is arguably Vijayraghavan’s best role to date, he plays the helpless father who has the unenviable task of consoling his wife and also make his son understand as to why he has to leave them.

The personal battles he has to fight with himself to let go of his son are both spellbinding and filled with anguish. Deeply emotional and heartbreaking, this film is a tearjerker.

Paithrukam (1993)

Father and son relationships are often a clash of ideologies and beliefs. Devadathan Chemmathiripadu (Narendra Prasad) is a Vedic scholar who has attained Somayagam. He has two sons Somadattan (Suresh Gopi) and Chithrabhanu ( Jayaram).

Somadattan is a journalist and an atheist who is against all things religious and believes that superstition has no place in the modern world, whereas his brother follows the path of his father. Trouble starts brewing when Somadattan starts propagating atheism amongst the villagers and this brings Devadathan Chemmathiripadu and him at loggerheads.

The rest of the film is about the relationship between the father and his sons, set to the background of atheism versus religious beliefs. It is a fabulous exploration of relationships and beliefs. How far would one go to protect what one believes in? What are the costs one is ready to pay along the way? This is a brilliant piece of work that deserves to be watched.

Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal (1999)

This film is not what one would call a very realistic depiction of a relationship between a father and son but I truly believe no conversation about cinema and father son stories is complete without mentioning this little gem of a story.

The film revolves around Thirumuttathu Kochuthoma ( Thilakan) and his youngest son Roy (Jayaram), they share a deep and rare bond going beyond the usual archetypes and boundaries, this father- son duo are like friends but slowly Kochuthoma realises that he might be enabling his son to not be independent and responsible.

What follows is a rather elaborate, though a tad unrealistic, drama that Kochuthoma plays out for his son.The film has beautiful moments and is a touching story which remains a family favourite amongst the Malayalees

A few other films that deserve special mention are Piravi, which is the journey of a father looking for his missing son and is based on a true story. Balachandra Menon’s Samantharangal which is a tale of a clash between an honest father and his corrupt son and Perumthachan, written by M.T.Vasudevan Nair, which tells the story of a carpenter and his son Kannan and the problems caused by a generation gap and shift in traditions.

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