Today is Father’s Day as is evident from the number of posts on social media celebrating ‘mera bap’ as opposed to the rest of the year when much of India yells about ‘tera baap…’ On this occasion I remember some of the unforgettable screen fathers –
Prithviraj Kapoor – The pater familias of the Kapoor clan, he was known as Papaji across the industry. Who can forget his role of Akbar, the father of Saleem in Mughal-e-Azam? That involved a lot of roaring Saleeeeeeemmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm but Papaji did equally well in Teen Bahuraniyan, the Hindi version of Bama Vijayam where he essayed the role done by Baliah in Tamil.
Chittoor V Nagiah – I will come to Baliah presently but who can forget the only screen father we had in Tamil and Telugu? In fact Sivaji Ganesan took to calling him Appa in real life. Nagiah was of course always the suffering father but even in that genre in my view, his finest performance was in Ethir Parathathu as the father of Sivaji who by a strange quirk of fate becomes the husband of the son’s sweetheart.
TS Baliah – Like Nagiah, Baliah took to playing elderly roles while still young but unlike Nagiah he brought enormous variety to his performances. I will place two of his father roles as his career best – Bama Vijayam and of course Kathalikka Neramillai. While most people remember the story-telling scene with him and Nagesh, my favourite is Asokar unga magaraa?
Om Prakash – Like Baliah he essayed a variety of roles from villain to comedian to father. He brought a touch of comedy to every one of his performances. My favourite of his is as the rather bewildered judge in the comedy Chupke Chupke. The stereotypical dialogue “Yeh sab kya ho raha hai” was probably written first for him.
Nagesh – He could switch from making you laugh to weep in a matter of seconds. Fortunately much of the Nagesh I recall, ranging from the early films to the last few with Kamal, are always the comedies. But his performance as the father in Nammavar was truly gut-wrenching. A class act. Incidentally, for years one of the prominent display pics at GK Vale’s Studio was of Nagesh in suit and tie flanked by two sons.
Balraj Sahni – Even when he played the lead there was a touch of the father about him. Take for example Lajwanti or Bhabhi ki Churiyan or Seema or the classic Anuradha. Another great artiste, I will place his performances as the father in Waqt (who can forget Ai meri zohra jabeen?) and as the buffeted Muslim in MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa as the hallmarks.
MR Radha – To me he was the finest actor of all time – nobody can hold a candle to him. He played the villain in most films, sometimes he was an evil father as well. But the one role that is top of mind is in the rollicking Bale Pandiya, where he essays two characters, one of them being Amrithalingam Pillai, the father of the heroine Devika. That moment when he thinks he is seeing his reflection and puts his hand through where the mirror ought to have been…
Anupam Kher – His career in my view took off on the wrong tack, he being cast as the old man who has lost his son, in Saransh. But who can deny that that performance was unforgettable? He has since done several roles but in my view we have still underutilised him.
SV Ranga Rao -This article would have been incomplete had I left him out. He was born to act. Most people will recall him as Ghatotkacha in Maya Bazaar but there were several fine performances as the father – in Missiamma and Kai Kodutha Deivam for instance. He was best as the aristocratic father. If at all he played a poor man people would have mistaken him for a king going around in disguise among peasants.
Pradeep Kumar – If SV Ranga Rao was a hugely talented actor who played the father, Pradeep Kumar was a miracle – it was a wonder as to how someone with no talent whatsoever managed to survive as hero for long (for some reason, the super-talented Meena Kumari was often paired with him). He then morphed to playing the rich ‘daddy’ – the kind that always wears a dressing gown, even in summer and horsewhips the poor hero on the double staircase landing. And always with no expression whatsoever.
Gemini Ganesan – The Lover King morphed to playing father – first of several children in horrors such as Shanti Nilayam and Velli Vizha and then bettered his record with some good movies. Who can forget his Bilahari Marthandam Pillai in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi and then the besotted Viswanatha Iyer in Avvai Shanmugi?
Ashok Kumar – He always looked reasonably aged and so fitted very well as father. Grahasti (Motor Sundaram Pillai) was one such early film. But later he did father in countless films including some gems such as Khatta Meena. But my favourite is the Rekha starrer Khubsoorat.
Sivaji Ganesan – Yes, the great thespian did play the role of father, starting quite early with films such as Uyarntha Manithan and Motor Sundaram Pillai. Prestige Padmanabhan in Vietnam Veedu was unforgettable. However, he was at an all-time best in Thevar Magan. Surprisingly, I cannot recall any film of his illustrious contemporary Major Sundararajan as father.
AK Hangal – He was the male Nirupa Roy – the parent battered by fate. Sadly, his personal life was no different. His father role I can recall best is as Rahim Chacha in Sholay. Imagine being old enough to play Hangal’s father – but Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, the polymath brother of Sarojini Naidu was there to essay such a role in Bawarchi. And what a performance that was!
SV Subbiah – Another battered parent stereotype. There were numerous films where he could have mouthed the same dialogues but Kalathur Kannamma and Kakkum Karangal are notable examples.
Utpal Dutt – Being fortunate to know Bengali, I have seen him in numerous Hindi and Bengali films. Most people will remember him in Golmal (a role reprised in Tamil by Thengai Srinivasan for Thillu Mullu) but he was even better in the Bengali film Pakha Dekha.
Chhabi Biswas – Not known much outside of Bengali cinema, he was like SV Ranga Rao, forever to play the aristocrat. Satyajit Ray saw the talent of this great actor and made three films specially for him – Debi, Jalsaghar and Kanchenjunga. The last saw him at his best as the self-centred business tycoon whose family is unravelling before his unseeing eyes.
This can never be a complete or comprehensive list. In recent years Prakash Raj (Abhiyum Naanum) and Nasser (in many films) have been magnificent. Happy Father’s Day. Being dad can be maddening at times but overall it is a joyful experience not to be missed.