From melodramatic portrayals to realistic ones, mothers in Tamil cinema have held their own. Fans remember some memorable celluloid moms

She is the one who sacrifices; the magnet who holds a dysfunctional family together; the woman who loves her kids beyond reason… Tamil cinema has had its fair share of mother roles and lot of them have gone on to win awards.

Teacher Geetha Srinivasan still remembers the mother’s character in K. Balachander’s Arangetram. “The mother figure keeps getting pregnant despite having grown-up children; the family is dependant on the daughter’s earnings, and the mother instinctively knows that the money is not coming through proper means (as it turns out, her daughter is a prostitute). But she is helpless and silent.” Her helplessness reflects what many mothers in real life go through, says Geetha.

Actress Saranya Ponvannan, filmdom’s favourite mom and National Award winner, says her favourite characters are long-suffering mothers, such as the one played by veteran Lakshmi in Netrikkann and the jolly mother and grandmother in Jeans, again played by Lakshmi. “Netrikkann reflected the reality in many well-to-do homes where the wife carried on with life, ignoring her husband’s indiscretions and protecting her children from the truth. In Jeans, I loved her sense of responsibility, but also her attitude — she never stopped herself from having fun. In fact, when asked about a role I would like to essay, I always think of Jeans.”

Saranya also fondly remembers the rustic mother she played in Thenmerku Paruvakaatru, which won her the National Award for best Actress. “Villages are full of such women who till the land and run the house after their husbands’ demise. Women who care little for themselves but toil to keep the family running, all because they want to leave behind something for their sons…” The naïve, even ignorant mother of Kalavani has her in splits. “She has an idiot of a son who only loiters around the village, but she fits him out in freshly-ironed clothes and thinks he’s nothing short of a district collector!”

The mother of Balachander’s Aval Oru Thodarkadhai, torn between love for her wayward, drunkard son and the hardworking, sharp-tongued daughter who manages the family is also a favourite with many. Especially the scene towards the climax where she grieves when her daughter’s wedding does not take place.

Writer and mother of a teenager, Malathy, identifies with Simran’s character in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal. “It was a new-age treatment. The mother is confused and angry when her daughter rejects her when she finds out she is adopted. But, she tries to win her back. Her anger was justified and her hot tears struck a chord.” She also likes the two mothers of Chennaiyil Oru Naal — of the boy who is brain dead and that of the girl awaiting a heart. “The boy’s mother (played by Lakshmy Ramakrishnan) can’t understand how the doctors look at her son just as a potential organ donor; she does not know how to give up on her child. When she finally does and breaks down, your heart goes out to her. The girl’s mother (Radhikaa) is willing to fight everyone to give her daughter another chance. They were beautifully carved out characters.”

Among other new-age mothers who have stood out on the big screen are Nadiya (M. Kumaran, S/O Mahalakshmi) and Saranya in Raam. Says Geetha: “Nadiya’s role was so well-written. She is her son’s best friend, and though she has separated from her husband, she never lets her son hate his father and insists he live with him after her death.” As for Raam, Saranya says that the character was reflective of real life, where mothers are the primary caregivers of special children.

Differing from them is actor-director Parthiepan. “Why should a mother sacrifice all the time? After all, she’s a woman too. I don’t remember too many Tamil films where the mother’s character touched me, but the one in a foreign film did. I think it was an Iranian film about a son who suspects his mother of killing his father and having an affair with the neighbour. After pondering for years, he complains to the cops who arrest and then release her for want of evidence. He apologises to her, and she pardons him. Then, the back door opens and the neighbour walks in!”

Popular screen mothers

Pandari Bai She played the heroine to top stars, and years later, their mother!

Manorama Loving mother, lively paati... she’s played them all

K.R. Vijaya Everyone’s choice for the sacrificing mother and reel goddess

Srividya She was the choice when you need a dignified mother on screen, but she also took a vampish turn in films such as Maapillai