Teacher’s Day, which is celebrated on September 5, evokes a sense of nostalgia in all of us. From our days in school and college, we’ve all had at least one teacher who has shaped us into the adults we are today. But this isn’t restricted just off-screen. Tamil cinema has given audiences many on-screen mentors — be it Jyothika, who takes out the time to have lunch with her school students in Raatchasi or Vijay’s JD, who teaches his students the importance of free speech and creative thinking in Master.
On this Teacher’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the towering teachers that Tamil cinema has produced.
Kamal Haasan’s inspiring history professor Selvam, doubles up as the vice principal of the college in the 1994 film. Putting his influential position to use, he tries to bring about a positive change to the college through interactive activities such as painting the campus walls and opening a cultural center. His incredible impact on students is depicted best in the song ‘sorgam enbadhu namaku’. The peppy number, which sees students clean up their campus with a bit of song and dance, soon went on to become the musical mantra for cleanliness drives across schools in Tamil Nadu.
Even before you get to see the kind of professor Vijay’s JD turns out to be in Master (2021), you begin liking him. What better way to know a teacher than through his students? Accompanied by the powerful beats of ‘Vaathi Coming’, Vijay’s introduction song gets a fitting twist in the film, wherein the background dancers are used not as mere props heaping praise on the actor, but as students who revere and celebrate the teacher in him. JD might be an alcoholic, but to his students, he represents a flawed yet caring mentor, who teaches them how to unleash their potential. Later on in the film, JD reluctantly takes up a teaching gig at a prison school, where he learns that his students are nothing but scapegoats used by a notorious mob boss. But JD has a few tricks up his sleeve to clean up the system and win them over.
In a system where ranks and marks decide everything, Samuthirakani’s Dayalan supports students irrespective of what their answer sheets have to say in the 2012 film. This is not to say that Dayalan is a revolutionary teacher who wants to make radical changes to the educational system. But Dayalan, who protests in his own style, makes us realise that it is perhaps the smaller changes that go on to make a big difference in life. Apart from prompting them to take up extracurriculars, Samuthirakani’s teacher also helps students realise their dreams by hearing out their problems.
If Dayalan in Saatai is a teacher who adored by students, his character Ranganathan in Amma Kanakku (2016) is a stand-in for the typical math teacher you admire because of their sheer sincerity. While students do appear scared in front of him, they poke fun behind his back, and Ranganathan takes it in his stride. When Amala Paul’s Shanti decides to continue her higher education for her daughter’s future, it falls upon Ranganathan to decide whether she gets an admission. It is not every day that you see an adult continue their higher education in a school, and Ranganathan makes sure everyone receives their right to education, irrespective of their age, gender, and class.
Amala Paul’s Venbaa in Pasanga 2 gives us a sneak peek into a utopian education system. Without the help of books or standard subjects, Venbaa creates a fun classroom experience for her students.
The way she teaches them important life skills forms the impressive portions of the film. In one of the scenes, when two children steal chocolates from a vending machine, she doesn’t reprimand or guilt-trip them. She instead casually tells them to enjoy the chocolates and pay its cost the next day. In a defining moment, Venbaa makes the students realise their mistake, without embarrassing them in front of the whole class.
Jyothika is Geetha Rani in Raatchasi (2019), a middle-aged woman who takes up the role of a headmistress in a poorly run school. As she tries to improve its conditions, she runs into trouble with everyone including teachers, parents, and even politicians. While the film largely focuses on how she shakes things up at the school, it is her minor actions that impress the audience. In how many schools can first-graders visit their headmistress for a chit-chat, let alone share their lunch with them?
Vimal’s Veluthambi makes an entire village understand the value of education in Vaagai Sooda Vaa (2011). Initially, he reluctantly accepts an offer to work as a teacher in an NGO in a village. But to his annoyance, the kids show no interest in learning, and he soon becomes a laughing stock among them. But he slowly begins getting through to them one day at a time, reminding us of all those teachers who never lost hope in us.
Jayam Ravi is Dhruvan, a tribal forest guard, who is also a trainer at an NCC camp for female cadets. Apart from being forced to prove himself to the bigots of society, Dhruvan is also made to prove himself to his students, who demean him for his roots. But he remains unaffected by their taunts. He finally earns their respect and proves them wrong by working together to fend off terrorists trying to sabotage an Indian research satellite project in the forest.
When Sivadas (Kishore), a cop, finds out that his son, Haridas, is autistic, his world is turned upside down, and he struggles to come to terms with it. But Luckily, Amudhavalli, a teacher who is trained in teaching special kids, has got his back. The film sees her strike a meaningful bond with Haridas, changing his life for the better. She might pay him extra attention but never treats him like he’s different even for a second.
Nadhiya’s Daisy in Pattaalam, is a school correspondent who exhibits fine balance as a teacher. She punishes her students but also showers them with love when needed. She might not always be liked by her students, but she is content being a silent supporter and caregiver, who sometimes goes to the extent of crossing the management line to make lives better for her students. She also has a fun side that comes out from time to time. When she catches her students cheating in a test, she punishes them, but not before appreciating their creative copying skills.