8 Tamil Films That Gave Us Poignant Mother-Daughter Duos

There is a dearth of mother-daughter duos in Tamil films. But the countable pairs we have and their stories explore this relationship with layers of self-discovery, sacrifice and empowerment
8 Tamil Films That Gave Us Poignant Mother-Daughter Duos

The Amazon Prime Video series Sweet Kaaram Coffee sees three women from different generations of a family go on a journey of self-discovery. In a scene, you see Niveditha (Shanthy) asking her mother Kaveri (Madhoo), "Do you even know me, ma?" This eight-episode series explores how these women learn about themselves through the relationship they share with each other.

Among the many bonds that Tamil cinema defies to portray, mother-daughter duos top the list. While the majority of the father-daughter and mother-son relationships in Kollywood address the affection and attachment they share between them, we see the mother-daughter duos stuck between conflicts and lost in thoughts, as they yearn for each other’s presence. Following the release of Sweet Kaaram Coffee, we managed to pick a few titles that set some major mother-daughter goals.

Madhoo, Santhy Balachandran and Lakshmi in Sweet Kaaram Coffee
Madhoo, Santhy Balachandran and Lakshmi in Sweet Kaaram Coffee

Anjali (1990)

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video, Zee5

Chitra – Anjali

Mani Ratnam’s Anjali tells the story of a little girl with an intellectual disability and how the outlook of the family and society around her evolves. The story is set in a close-knit upper-middle-class family in a metropolis. But a modern metropolis seems to be no exception to people's understanding of mental health, we see them judge Anjali, "Spastic’a? Mental case’a? Retarded’a, Paithiyama? Veetuleye vechukka porangala? Paakave oru madiri irukku illa? (Are they going to keep her at home? It is sad to see her like this)" as Shekar (Raghuvaran) and Chitra (Revathi) bring the kid into their family. Mani Ratnam’s screenplay sensibly addresses the challenges, psychological sufferings, and nuances of parenting a child with an intellectual disability, particularly in a society like ours.

Initially, Chitra struggles as a mother. She goes through a rollercoaster of emotions – there’s fear, hesitance, detachment, guilt, and more. As Anjali keeps defying Chitra’s love and warmth, Chitra asks Shekar, "Anjali enkitta varuvala?" (Will Anjali come to me?) But even when Anjali finally yearns for Chitra's affection as she gets discharged from the hospital, the joy is short-lived because Anjali was counting her days.

A still from Anjali
A still from Anjali

Kannathil Muthamittal (2002)

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar

Indra – Amudha

Mani Ratnam’s directorial Kannathil Muthamittal delves into not just one mother-daughter relationship, but two: Indra's (Simran) bond with Amudha (Keerthana), and the dynamics Amudha shares with her biological mother, MD Shyama (Nandita Das). Indira, a quintessential working woman, takes care of her two kids, her husband, her father, and household work. She excels as a doting mother, only until her husband Thiruchelvan (Madhavan) reveals to Amudha that she was adopted.

Amudha questions Indira, "Na unna maari irukennu yen poi sonna?" (Why did you lie that I was like you?) When Amudha goes missing, Indira shifts from relief to desperation to anger and then finally settles with self-doubt as she questions herself: "didn’t I bring up my child well?"

Similarly, when Indira, Amudha, and Thiruchelvan travel to Sri Lanka to meet Shyama, Amudha seeks warmth from her father, portraying the strained relationship between the two. Indira’s relationship with Amudha is best defined by the song ‘Oru Deivam Thantha Poove,’ as she sings, ‘Iraval Velicham Nee; Iravin Kanneer Nee’ (you are my light and tears in the night).

Simran and Keerthana in Kannathil Muthamittal
Simran and Keerthana in Kannathil Muthamittal

English Vinglish (2012)

Streaming on: Jio Cinema

Shashi - Sapna

A problem that most mothers face is the loss of identity, of who she is and what she wants in her life. But what hurts her the most is when her own children fail to understand her. This emotion is painstakingly captured in English Vinglish where Shashi (Sridevi) finds herself sidelined in her family because she doesn’t speak English fluently. Her daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) is embarrassed by her despite Shashi being an entrepreneur, only because she doesn't speak English. Rather than just being a daddy's girl, she keeps taking his side when he insults her mother.

When Shashi leaves for the United States to attend her niece's wedding is when she begins to rebuild her identity and joins an English crash course. Eventually, Sapna apologises to her mother, as she understands the pain Shashi had to go through while raising her and taking care of the family. Shashi in English Vinglish is a version of everyone's mother.

A still from English Vinglish (2012)
A still from English Vinglish (2012)

36 Vayadhinile (2015)

Streaming on: Aha Tamil

Vasanthi - Mithila

36 Vayadhinile falls in the lines of English Vinglish. Vasanthi, a mother who is working in the revenue department, yearns for respect from her husband Tamil Selvan (Rahman) and daughter Mithila (Amritha Anil), who wish to move to Ireland. She showers her family with love and qualifies to be the quintessential daughter-in-law. But her quest to ensure that she is respected and valued motivates her to take up organic farming, and she goes on to win many laurels. Mithila’s love-hate relationship with her mother changes as she starts respecting her.

Similarities in both the films—English Vinglish and 36 Vayadhinile—are that the daughters are accustomed to the patriarchal constructs and later comprehend their mother’s pain, aspirations, and dreams. Such films didn't just bring to light the plight of every mother but also went on to influence the way mothers are portrayed on screen, even in Tamil soap operas.

Amritha Anil and Jyothika in 36 Vayadhinile
Amritha Anil and Jyothika in 36 Vayadhinile

Papanasam (2015)

Streaming on: ManoramaMax, SunNxt

Rani – Selvi

On the surface, Papanasam (a remake of Drishyam) plays out as a thriller where the wily father tries to save his guilty-yet-innocent wife and children from a murder case. The story revolves around Suyambu Lingam (Kamal Haasan), a middle-class cable TV operator, his wife Rani (Gautami), and their daughters (Selvi and Meena). They come under suspicion when Varun, the son of the Inspector-General of Police (IG), goes missing soon after sexually harassing Suyambu's elder daughter, Selvi.

Yet, digging a little deeper, we could see the love and perseverance of a mother who would go to any extent to protect her daughter. An overprotective Rani keeps worrying about her daughters’ safety. When Varun, who has shot a scandalous video of Selvi, blackmails her, Rani’s motherly instinct protects her. Rani embraces and gives Selvi the warmth she needs. Gautami excellently portrays the conundrum of Rani, who is caught between her fears and the compulsion to be brave for her daughter. 

A still from Papanasam
A still from Papanasam

Amma Kanakku (2016)

Shanti – Abhinaya

Amma Kanakku is a movie I watched when I was in the tenth grade. Seeing Abhinaya (Yuvalakshmi) and Shanti (Amala Paul) struggle with trigonometry couldn’t be more relatable. Shanti, a maid, works in multiple houses to give her daughter a quality education, as she dreams of her becoming an IAS officer. On the other hand, Abhinaya is determined to become a maid like her mother. But why? She says, "Doctor ponnu doctor aaganum, velakari ponnu velakari dane aaganum." (A doctor’s child will become a doctor, while a maid’s child will end up becoming a maid). A heartbroken Shanti then joins in a school to prove her daughter wrong. The film treats the saying "A mother is her child's best friend" quite literally as they are put together in the same class.

Amma Kanakku addresses the issues a widowed mother faces and doesn't hesitate to show the cruel reality as her own daughter judges her when she returns home late with a man. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s portrayal of the joy, sorrow, guilt, and struggle a single mother faces while handling a teen daughter makes it one of the most prominent films on this list.

Amala Paul and Yuvalakshmi in Amma Kanakku
Amala Paul and Yuvalakshmi in Amma Kanakku

Kolamaavu Kokila (2018)

Streaming on: Zee5

Kokila’s mom – Kokila

When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, a young woman who is struggling to get a job becomes a drug peddler. The story revolves around a lower-middle-class family: Kokila’s (Nayanathara) father (RS Shivaji) is a security guard at an ATM, her mother (Saranya Ponvannan) is a homemaker, and her younger sister (Jacqueline) is a college goer.

During one scene, we can see the three women sitting in line, in chronological order: Kokila, her mother, and her sister, as they comb each other’s hair. The arrangement looks convincing and stands testament to the fact that Kokila has become the primary carer.

But she is still restricted because she is a woman. Take the scene where Kokila’s mother requests her to leave everything to fate, for instance. A strong-willed Kokila asks, "Na oru ponna irukarthunala dana nee ipdi ellam pesure? Nee vena paaru na unna kaapathirven." (Are you saying this just because I am a girl? I will protect you.) She pushes the said boundaries and fights for her mother. Her means to save her mother may not be right, but this dark-comedy film is a testament to the power and strength a mother-daughter relationship holds, and it makes you believe in the power of love.

A still from Kolamaavu Kokila
A still from Kolamaavu Kokila

Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (2018)

Streaming on: SonyLIV

Sivaranjani – Sivaranjani’s daughter

Vasanth’s anthology of three shorts is about three women, Saraswathi, Devaki, and Sivaranjani, set in three time periods: 1980, 1995, and 2007. Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum, the most disturbing entry on the list, sees women, who are also mothers, juggling, multitasking, nurturing, and bearing the weight of patriarchy.

A still from Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum
A still from Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum

Sivaranjani (Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli), a promising athlete, gets confined to a claustrophobic living quarters when she gets married and bears a child. Her entire life revolves around her husband (Hari), mother-in-law, and daughter. I can see Sivaranjani parenting two kids, obviously her daughter, who is in the fourth grade, and the manchild, her husband.

But her daughter understands her feelings. Once when Hari questions Sivaranjani about wanting to go out for a day, her daughter tells him that she can handle herself in the absence of her mother, and she pleads with her father to let her mother go for at least a day. But a scene you'll always remember is when Sivaranjani’s daughter leaves for school without her lunch box. Considering she has extra classes, Sivaranjani doesn’t want her daughter to miss practice or skip lunch. And she desperately runs and manages to catch the bus (her athletic training only adds to the superpower mothers have). When her daughter offers water in return, kids on the bus give her the recognition and validation she seeks by clapping. She walks back home, content. Perhaps mothers could find a reflection of their own in Sivaranjani.

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