On any given day, two Shah Rukh Khans are better than one. Even when one of them is stuck, like in Jawan’s chasing sequence before the climax, you know the other Khan has got his back. Remember the first time they talk to each other? Azad tells his father that he is the hero of the Nation and an amnesiac Rathore, who, unsure of his duties as a father, hesitantly tells his son, “I will always be there for you.”
Several actors in the South have played both the father and son in films before. We’ve seen these duos fight the system together, heal their wounds and sometimes even take down one another. But watching stars handle the double role with different layers of intricacies has always been a treat for fans. Let’s revisit a few such impactful dual roles.
A father is often a child’s first hero. This saying is the core of Vaaranam Aayiram. The Gautham Vasudev Menon film depicts the different phases in Suriya’s life. But at the centre of all of this, Suriya is just a man who is trying to find happiness the way his father did. The whole tale unfolds as Suriya remembers flashes from his life when he hears that his father Krishnan has died. Throughout the film, Suriya keeps saying, “Neenga en hero daddy, neenga thaan elaame, marakave mudiyaadhu daddy.” When you first see them together, a few strands of greys and a pair of spectacles are what separates the two Suriyas. But as the coming-of-age film documents their life over several years, you get to witness a realistic depiction of a father-son relationship, warts and all.
When Mammootty’s Johny meets his estranged father Lawrence (yes, another Mammootty) after 17 years, the first question Johny asks is, “Where is my son”. While Johny is restless, unable to find his kidnapped child, Lawrence is delighted and relieved to finally meet his son. Such contrasting reactions can be seen throughout the film. Keeping their differences aside, the two Mammoottys decide to find the kid together. As they try to track down the criminals, they slowly resolve their differences in the process. And we finally see them take down the enemies together with style in the climax.
When Azad and Rathore share a hug in Jawan, the hunky father says something funny. He embraces his son but also says, “Don’t kiss please.” However, when he gets back his memory in the climax and the duo share a moment, Rathore fondly kisses his son. This adorable moment could remind one of the relationship that Michael and his father Rayappan shared in Bigil.
Unlike in Mersal, where all three Vijays mostly feel like xerox copies, in look and body language, Rayappan and Bigil are very different from one another. With a stammer and a salt-and-pepper hairdo, Rayappan is clearly established to be an ageing gangster and a father to a young footballer (Michael). While the father-child bond is a signature in Atlee’s films, Bigil is quite special. Rayappan’s unwavering support is Michael’s biggest strength. The way Rayappan insists on hugging his son every time they end a conversation, and the one promise that painfully connects their past are elements that are reiterated throughout the flashback at different points. But this never gets redundant. Instead, this beautifully conveys their bond in the very little time they share the screen.
Rajinikanth’s Muthu works for a landlord but things get complicated when both of them fall in love with the same girl. But we have yet another Rajini playing a minor character in the film — one who is worshipped as a spiritual nomad by some and mocked as a mad person by a few others. There is only one scene where both these characters speak to each other. It is when Muthu seeks advice from the nomad about his love life. It is only later does he learn that the person is his own father, but by then, it is too late.
The speciality of this is that whenever a star plays both the father and son, both the roles have somehow retained a deep meaning in the film’s plot. In Andarivaadu, for instance, the roles of the father and son are reversed. In this dramedy, it is the son Siddharth who helps his father Govind turn his life around and gets him married to Shanti (Tabu). While you see Govind in colourful shirts and lungi, roaming around drunk even in broad daylight, Siddharth works as a TV host, dons plain T-shirts and jeans and is more sophisticated. They share a beautiful bond but Siddharth is the responsible person here who keeps reprimanding his father, in funny ways, and making him cut ties with bad company.
In a long list of actors essaying dual roles that share huge age gaps, Indian is one of the very few films that made efforts to ensure that their characters look entirely different. Kamal Haasan plays Senapathy, a 70-year-old man with white hair and wrinkled skin, and his son Chandru. In the flashback sequences, Chandru and his father Senapathy happily dance to the tune of ‘Pachai Kiligal’. But their relationship isn’t as good as it seems. Right after the song, we see Chandru considering giving a bribe to land a job. But Senapathy is a freedom fighter who believes in honesty. These ideological differences create a gap between them, leading Chandru to walk out of their home. Years later, Senapathy becomes a serial killer who murders corrupt authorities. So when his son begins to bribe officers to cover up his mistake, the crack widens and Chandru’s actions make things unrepairable. Chandru opts for his own happiness over his father’s and Senapathy chooses his principles over his son.
Suryavamsam is a film that most of us might be familiar with. The superhit film is arguably the granddaddy of films that explore the father-son bond. While Sarathkumar essayed the roles of father Sakthivel and his estranged son Chinnarasu in Tamil, these characters were played by Amitabh Bachchan in Hindi, Venkatesh in Telugu and Vishnuvardhan in Kannada. They both live in different houses after Chinnarasu marries his lover, Nandhini, even after his father warns him not to.
Later, in one of the scenes, Chinnarasu’s son reveals that he has befriended a new person who looks exactly like Chinnarasu. He takes a marker and draws a differently styled moustache on Chinnarasu’s photo to show them his friend. While it makes for a beautiful moment to see the grandfather and grandson bond like friends, it also shows us that the moustache is the only marker they could come up with to differentiate the two Sarathkumars! Nevertheless, the film remains to be a cult phenomenon in Indian film pop culture.
A sequel to the hit Devaasuram, the film follows the life of Mangalassery Neelakandan’s son Karthikeyan. In Devaasuram, Neelakandan was young, brash and impulsive. But lived experience has changed his perspective. So he is sad to see his younger self in Karthikeyan, who also wants to earn a lot of money by hook or crook. This frays their relationship.
While Karthikeyan does keep tabs on his parents, in a span of a few days, he loses his mother as well as their house, both because of his father’s archnemesis Shekaran. And this sudden change hits him hard. This makes him realise that no amount of money can help him win back the years he could’ve spent with his mom. The father-son dynamic in this film is one marked by awkward glances. But they slowly work on their relationship and its his father's demand for peace and reconciliation that forces the son to reevaluate his attitude towards Shekaran.
In Shankar Guru, Rajkumar appears in not two but three roles — a father and two sons. Like Suryavamsam, this film was also remade in other languages with Sivaji Ganesan, Krishna and Amitabh Bachchan playing the three roles in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, respectively. When an honest businessman is attacked by his associates, he flees the city with his pregnant wife. But when he is forced to go into hiding, the couple get separated. Unfortunately, even when she gives birth to twins, one of the kids gets lost. As a result, each of them lives in different parts of the city. And when fate finally unites them, it is a delight to watch them team up and fool the bad guys years later to save their parents.
Varalaru and its Kannada version, Godfather is another film that had an actor play three different roles. The film is about a multi-millionaire and his son whose reputation is damaged when a look-alike steals his identity. Considered blockbusters at the time of release, the story definitely hasn’t aged well (the flashbacks involve one of the main characters raping a woman). However, the films helped both Ajith and Upendra showcase their acting chops, creating a milestone in their career.
With inputs from Ram Venkat Srikar and Arjun Menon.