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Fathers and Their Complicated Love in Hindi Cinema

From Prithiviraj Kapoor to Farooq Sheikh- a look at filmy fathers

There may not be the male equivalent of a Nirupama Roy- but that doesn’t make the father-son relationship in Hindi Movies any less interesting

To understand Bollywood’s complicated relationship with its father figures you have to look no further than the first 30 minutes of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

On one hand, you have a family unit of a mother and two sisters carrying on their womanly duties with laughter and dancing and good-natured bonhomie, until the presence of Amrish Puri’s stern father casts a pall on the proceedings.  The feminine space with light and laughter transforms into a more masculine workman-like space; and the hidden subtext comes out in the open. The father provides, the father also decides.

On the other hand you have Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj failing to graduate and celebrating this failure with his ‘dad’ in a juvenile celebration. The more permissive father here- Anupam Kher- encourages his son’s youthful indiscretions because he never had the chance to be young himself.  It is however, also implied in a later scene, that this friendship, this close bond is to a large extent formed because of the absence of the mother. The father- in a sense- is performing the role of a mother in this instance by being ‘friends’ with his son. Mothers coddle and befriend.

While reams have been written about the close relationships between mothers and their children in Hindi cinema, the father figures exists primarily to act as barriers to love, or to die conveniently in the first half after having instilled the right values in their son (or occasionally, to hold their chest and collapse in an opportune moment of emotional blackmail). A father’s ‘love’ is taken for granted, but almost never exhibited. More recently, thanks largely to Amitabh Bachchan growing older, filmmakers have been willing to experiment with the father figure as an equal protagonist in  films. We look below at a few films that portray different shades of paternal love.


A study in determinism, Awara questions what matters more- paternal love, or the paternal gene pool. Raj Kapoor is born on the streets after his stern judge father throws his mother out, assuming infidelity. Nargis is brought up indulgently by the same father, and grows up to be a lawyer. In a heated climactic court-room battle Nargis defends Raj Kapoor when he is accused of murdering his ‘father figure’, a criminal , in a court presided over by his ‘real father’.

Awara- not Mughal-e-Azam is the pinnacle of Prithviraj Kapoor’s unforgiving formidable paternal roles, and his complicated relationship with his real life son in this movie informed many subsequent portrayals of fatherhood in Indian Cinema


Tarun Bose plays Mohan- a man who never really recovers from the death of his wife at childbirth. His daughter Uma (a luminescent Sharmila Tagore) grows up knowing that her father can only  bear to look at her when he’s drunk, and she blames herself for his misery. The absence of her father’s love informs her entire personality- she is programmed to be quiet, to please, to not be seen. Her love for a very young (and very beautiful) Dharmendra helps her come of age, but the true tears are reserved for the reconciliation between father and daughter. When Mohan realizes just how much he’s damaged his daughter and sets her free, we all celebrate.

Amar Akbar Anthony

A lot is made of Nirupama Roy’s histrionics in AAA, the epitome of Bollywood Masala, but no less important to the proceedings is Pran’s role as father and protector of his three sons. He is the one who takes them away from the house when the mother reacts hysterically to their misfortune and runs away to kill herself. Yes, he inadvertently leaves them in the park (alas!), but he comes back for them (too late); and spends the rest of his life looking for them.  His transformation into a mob boss, the love he showers on his ‘adoptive’ niece Jenny, are all outlets for the despair he feels at having failed his sons and lost them.

And the pathos when he finally meets these boys again (boy, does any one throw himself into scenes with the wonderful, slightly-hammy intensity that Pran does?) is no less than in the infamous sequence with Nirupama Roy and the three bottles of blood.

Ginni aur Johnny/ Kunwara Baap

Mehmood plays a surprisingly maudlin father figure in two movies at about the same time. In both movies, his adoptive child is played by one of Mehmood’s real life children. In Kunwara Baap, Mehmood plays surrogate father to an adoptive polio-stricken boy (the film ends, exhorting its audience to vaccinate their children against Polio, thus beginning what Bill Gates completed in 2014), while in Ginni aur Johnny he plays an unwilling ‘father’ to a mischievous young girl who he trains in his ways as a swindler. Both the movies show the ‘pretend’ father figure shower all the love and affection on an abandoned child that his/her real parents never did. It is interesting yet again though- that this father-child bond is formed largely due to the absence of a mother.

Akele Hum Akele Tum

In a shameless copy of Kramer vs Kramer, Aamir Khan has to learn how to be a father to his son when he and his wife separate. Their reconciliation in the end arises as much out of the child’s need for his father, as it does out of both the parents realizing that they still love each other. The film is also notable for Anu Malik, Kumar Sanu and Aditya Narain crooning that world-famous paean to a father’s love – “But I Love You Daddy”


The Agneepath father is another staple of Bollywood cinema- someone with a rigid moral code that causes untold miseries to him and his subsequent generations. His unflinching honesty besets the family with one misfortune after another, and the only way for the son to be ‘worthy’ of this impossible moral code is to die trying (in the arms of his mother no less). Ahh well. No pressure then!

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

All those accolades for Bhaag Milka Bhaag notwithstanding, by our account Farhan Akhtar’s best performance is in the five-minute near wordless sequence with Naseeruddin Shah in this movie. There is a lifetime of pain there, in finally meeting a father who abandoned him years ago. But there is also the sudden freedom that comes from realizing that his life is better without this man, who is incapable of loving any one but himself. A beautifully written sequence, its one we keep going back to again and again.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Farooq Sheikh has just two small scenes in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani- but between them they convey a massively lived in, warm and complicated father-son relationship. Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) loves his father  but there is also a deep fissure in their relationship over the issue of his step mother. His rootlessness in some ways is an attempt to escape his father’s house- one he feels is no longer his own because of this interloper. What he doesn’t realize until too late is that his confidence, his easy going nature are also in large parts because he has been so wholly loved all his life by a wonderful man. This is the rare case of a father being an imperfect man, and imperfect parent also perhaps, but no less loving (or loveable) for that!


Photo Credit: Theen … via Compfight cc

1 Comment on Fathers and Their Complicated Love in Hindi Cinema

  1. Really nice article! You’ve covered some of the father-child relationships that I would’ve covered as well if I were to write this!

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