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Jailer – Antithesis of father figures in cinema and why does it succeed?

The range of emotions in execution of a complex role is what made JAILER a phenomenal success and positioned Rajinikanth as a force to be reckoned with

It is one of the apparent paradoxes that while Duryodhan is blamed for triggering the Mahabharata, in the real sense all the fathers after Duryodhan and even around Duryodhan are blind towards the love they have for their sons, and they are in most of the cases oblivious to its repercussions. Hindi cinema has celebrated this relationship which is catalyzed on blindness since eons. We all are Dhritrastras in actuality.

But JAILER seems to have made the argument stand on its head, and it is one of the primary reasons, inspite of the usual kitsch that it has been packed with that it has achieved the phenomenal success. Here is a father, who comes out of retirement to save his son, a modern Dhritarashtra, but when he finds that the son is recalcitrant and has erred on the wrong side of law, he gives him a long rope, but when the son does not mend his ways, JAILER does not think twice before wiping out existence of his son.

The range of emotions in execution of such a complex role is what made JAILER a phenomenal success and positioned Rajinikanth as a force to be reckoned with and no wonder he got a BMW as a gift. After all, even to execute such a role on screen requires ability to draw all the acting skills and Rajinikanth through his symbolic pair of glasses which has been used as an interesting pair of metaphor in the film for trigger point of change of the narrative. It would have been more powerful, however, the encounter that is, had the character of the son been executed by an actor on par with Rajinikanth on the screen.

From the world of Hindi cinema such examples are rare but wherever one finds them, it is performance of histrionics on the screen. Shakti (1982) produced by Mushir Riaz and directed by Ramesh Sippy (who incidentally considers Shakti as a better film than Sholay) is one such film that immediately pops up into the mind. It was perhaps for the first time in the world of Hindi cinema that a father was shot dead by a son on the screen and it was not an innovative component introduced by the world of Hindi cinema, rather it was copy of the hit Tamil film ‘Thangappathakkam’ from 1960 where Sivaji Ganesan enacted the role of an honest police constable who guns down his own truant son played by Srikanth.

The USP of Shakti lay in the fact that both the protagonists in the film were actors of eminence, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, unlike in JAILOR or Thangappathakkam, where the roles enacted by fathers in the form of Rajinikanth and Sivaji Ganesan where actors of eminence as compared to the actors who enacted the role of the sons. It is the power of the actors in the form of Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan which makes ‘Shakti’ one of the most important cinematic interpretation of conflict between father and the son.

Amitabh Bachchan took this conflict of the father and son to another levels through Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), but as it was a Karan Johar film, the conflict did not get the footage which could have provided a cinematic historicity to the film for display of histrionics between Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. The latter’s character was rather subdued when compared with the role of the former. Same was the case in Sarkar (2005), where again in a father son conflict, father allowed the elder son to be annihilated by the younger son as he had crossed the boundaries.

The biggest clash, however, on the screen between a father and son was in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and it is still fondly remembered for the epic enactment of the roles by Prithvi Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar as father and son. Here also in this conflict it is the father that emerges as the winner.

While fathers have taken time and given long ropes to the sons to mend their ways in the films quoted as instances above, mothers have not been that benevolent in giving a long rope to a recalcitrant son, as it happened the trailblazer of this philosophy in Mother India (1957). May be it was to do with the fact that a mother could be a mother, but she is first a woman and a woman draws into her powers that she rarely displays to defend the honour and the respect of a fellow woman, even though the recalcitrant might be a son, as it happened in Mother India and paved the way for many more screen mothers to choose honour and respect over a son on the screen.

So long in the 75 years of cinematic history since Independence in the country, it is the father who has got the better of the recalcitrant son or the mother who has got the better of the recalcitrant son. Time has now come to revisit this idea, and let the son be in charge and take a decision to bring back the recalcitrant father on the line. After all, sons have reforming the fathers also and cinema needs to highlight this aspect of the film making as well!

Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai
Nalin Rai is a Tagore Commemorative Honouree Author for 2023 for his literary Contributions and Beyond & Emily Dickinson Award Winner for his poetry writing.
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