From bordering on piety and worship to back slapping each other like buddies, the representation of relationships between parents and their offspring has undergone a marked change in Kollywood. The most famous Amma song in Tamil movies is probably Amma endrazhaikaadha uyir illaye from Mannan, immortalized by Rajini's stoic expressions that capture his deep bhakti, Yesudas' melting baritones, and Ilayaraja's unsurpassable music. Thooliyile Aadavandha from Chinna Thambi is another famous Amma song that has a jovial Prabhu stating that he never goes to the temple because he has his mother around (thaayirukum kaaranathal, koyiluku ponadhilla).
While Amma used to take the position of the Supreme, the Appa was traditionally a character who inspired fear in the kids. When it is time for Appa's arrival, everyone rushes to their designated place, rehearsing the dialogues that need to be spouted to cover up whatever misdemeanor has taken place in the house. "Ayayo Appa vandhutaanga!" as a harried Kamal Haasan says in Enna Samayalo (Unnal Mudiyum Thambi). Scary Appas and god-like Ammas still take up screen space in our movies but the trend is increasingly moving towards depicting the friendly parent who wants to all know about your boyfriend/girlfriend problems and even shares a drink with you!
And this change isn't limited to the metro cities alone – remember the father from Naadodigal who helps his son 'impress' a girl and explains female 'psychology' to him? From the scary Appa, we've come to the Appa who is scared of his offspring – Kajal Agarwal slapping her father in the comedy scene in Thuppaki for asking her to go through the girl-seeing ceremony would have been unimaginable in another era. When his girlfriend dies in a bomb blast in Vaaranam Aaiyiram, Suriya calls up his parents and breaks down, confessing that they made love. Not very long ago, it would have been suicidal for the hero or heroine to tell their parents about their love, let alone their sex lives!
As in real life, Kollywood parents too have changed from the cactus-like mummy-daddies who were unapproachable from all angles, to the 'helicopter' parents who hover around (too much?) in your life, wanting to know every single detail about it. Like Prakash Raj who excels in both Santosh Subramaniam as well as Abhiyum Naanum, as the paranoid, over-protective father who has to be a part of everything his child does. Geetha and Aishwarya, who play the role of the mother in the respective films, are practical and seem to know what exactly is going on in their child's mind, just as a friend would.
The devotion that marked the parent-child (especially mother-son) relationship in the past has given way to a friendship that acknowledges the child as an individual who is capable of making his/her own decisions, even if the parent is hovering around, willing to hold them if they fall. There are more shades to the relationship and this evolution makes things more interesting in the film with these supporting characters, too, becoming round characters who engage with the script actively. We watch them more because we cannot predict their actions and reactions as easily as we could previously. Stereotypes have given way to more original and relatable characters. And as viewers, this only makes film-watching more pleasurable.
Also by the author: Magalir Mattum - When sleazy bosses meet their nemses
Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.