Jeans to Annapoorani: Our Favourite Grandmothers from Tamil Cinema

From the three Krishnaveni(s) in Dasavatharam, Jeans and Michal Madhana Kaama Rajaran to our 'Singam Pole' fame Paravai Muniyamma in Dhool, here are Kollywood's adorable paatis
Jeans to Annapoorani: Our Favourite Grandmothers from Tamil Cinema

In Annapoorani, Nayanthara’s titular character aspires to become a chef but is forced to get married. While her friends suggest she elope, she hesitates and doesn’t want to upset her father. Annapoorani gets scared when her grandmother overhears this conversation. But in a change of events, her grandmother encourages her to fly the coop. “I wanted to become a famous dancer but I was forced to get married just like you. But you should pursue your dreams and become India’s best chef,” she says, helping her escape. 

In most of our films, the grandmother is portrayed as the most conventional person like in Rajinikanth’s Arunachalam (1997) where she doesn’t treat Arunchalam well because he is an adopted kid. But grandmothers are always special, right? Like the paati in Kaaka Muttai (2014) who makes Pizza dosa or Chittu Kuruvi appatha who makes snarky counters in Mersal (2017). Here are some of our favourite, adorable grandmothers from Tamil cinema.

Krishnaveni Paati from Michael Madana Kama Rajan (1990)

In this Kamal Haasan classic, we get one of the most iconic iterations of an onscreen grandma, through the impulsive kleptomaniac, who steals (pun intended!) the movie with just a handful of lines in the entire runtime. The role is rendered with impeccable timing and spontaneity by the legendary actress SN Lakshmi, who makes regular appearances in Kamal Haasan films back in the day. The performance stands out even if it's mostly played out in quiet, sneaky passing shots of her stealing seemingly important items, doubling down on the comedic effect derived from the snappy wordplay in Crazy Mohan’s dialogues. Not to forget the scene where her character jumps and somersaults to fight against a young Kushbu who is blackmailing with a gun. 

Krishnaveni Patti from Dasavatharam (2008)

Probably, the only entry in this list, where a man played an aging grandmother on screen is ‘Krishnaveni Andal’ from KS Ravikumar’s Dasavatharam. This one-of-a-kind experimental tentpole project had Kamal Haasan play ten avatars all at once, including the part of a fragile and cranky old woman with the help of a deflated bodysuit and prosthetic makeup. The actor, who also wrote the screenplay makes her a mischievous, restless Krishna devotee, modelled on the myth of the Varaha; one of ten avatars of lord Vishnu. The zingy one-liners coupled with Kamal Haasan’s devout attention to the cadence of her voice, and the integration of gestures and gait of a woman in her twilight years, is a treat to behold.

Mundakanni Eswari from Dhool (2003)

Played with great charm by the usual suspect, Paravai Muniyamma, who also later played ‘Paati’ in Thamizh Padam, this role provides a snapshot of the contested legacy of the grandmother character in Tamil cinema. The actress's particular style of wry humour and innocence lends much comic relief in the film’s tense moments. Though the part is mostly incidental to the major plot line of the film, the writing positions her as a sidekick-equivalent who at regular intervals props up Vikram's bravado. No one who has watched Dhool can forget the pre-climatic ‘Singam Pole’ massy song number performed (and sung) by the actress, which serves as the diegetic song cue for Vikram’s iconic fight sequence in the film.

Paati from Thamizh Padam (2010)

Hands down the funniest version of the grandmother stereotype in Tamil cinema, the nameless “Paati” was a cipher in Shiva’s Thamizh Padam. This hilarious spoof film made fun of the cliches and conventions of mainstream cinema. Paravai Muniyamma as the “Paati” gets to deliver some of the best-written quips in the screenplay that criticise the stereotypes in Tamil cinema, in her unassuming cadence. Her straight-faced delivery of laugh-out-loud one-liners and loving demeanour is one of the most memorable aspects of the film.

Sharadha Paati from Yaaradi Nee Mohini (2008)

This Dhanush and Nayanthara starrer featured Malayalam actress Sukumari as an eccentric old woman who is mostly ignored by her joint family. She vaingloriously believes in the purity of Brahmanism and also gets a redemptive arc in the story through the hero’s growing relationship with her through the runtime of the film. The scene involving Dhanush and the old woman set against a fake funeral is one of the most well-rounded narrative strands in the film, where the non-apparent layers of their relationship are revealed and consolidated. The character is neatly etched out by a brilliant performance from the late actress Sukumari, who adds layers of genuine pathos over the exterior goofiness of the part.

Paati from Virumandi (2004)

In yet another fruitful collaboration, SN Lakshmi played Kamal Haasan’s grandmother in Virumandi. Directed by Kamal Haasan himself, the film had her play a world-weary, blunt yet affectionate maternal figure who is the hero’s only remaining connective force to the sane world. She confronts him, consoles him and adores him with a similarly detached persona as if to not reveal her tender side. The scene where Kamal Haasan learns of her sudden death is probably one of the most finely staged and performed scenes in Tamil cinema where the emotion of the moment and the weight of their realisation dawns on us, the viewers, with the same force it hits the hero on screen.

Krishnaveni from Jeans (1998)

Director Shankar’s romantic comedy saw the legendary actress Lakshmi play a cancer patient, whose condition proves to be the inciting incident that triggers the story's central conflict. She easily swung between the occasional crankiness and controlled theatrics in equal measure. The performance saw Lakshmi navigating terrains of emotional depths as well with atypical playfulness, mostly in her combination scenes with Aishwarya Rai, as she also plays a cupid. The film had an ensemble cast consisting of Prashanth, Aishwarya Rai and Nasser in the lead. Still, it was largely upended by Lakshmi delivering one of the most popular performances in her illustrious career.

Sundari from Sweet Kaaram Coffee (2023)

Lakshmi was undoubtedly the best part of this eight-episode Amazon Prime show about three generations of women from the same family, who decide to embark on a girls-only vacation, away from the exhaustive influence of the men in their lives. The show gets its life partly due to the fluidity with which the widowed grandmother’s arc is woven into the larger story. We don’t get a weepy, dutiful grandmother but instead a funny, prickly ‘Sundari’, whose hipster vibes keep the show afloat even in the poorly written stretches. The emancipated old woman, on the lookout for some excitement is also served well with some surprising character moments where she gets to take centre stage and assert her much-delayed agency.

Appatha from Marudhu (2016)

Though an action film by design, Vishal’s Marudhu also had a loving grandmother figure at the centre. The role is that of the dutiful yet assertive grandma, who raised the orphaned hero from a young age, played by Kulappulli Leela. Like Krishnaveni in Jeans, Marudhu’s grandmother also doubles up as a cupid as she helps him navigate his love life. The film uses her as the emotional fulcrum that grounds the hero, with maternal instincts. 

Kannathaa from Paati Sollai Thathaadhey (1988)

Saving the best for the last, Manorama is arguably one of the greatest actresses to have ever graced the screens of Tamil cinema, with a magnificent body of work to her name. Fondly celebrated as the most beloved Aachi (another name for grandmother) of Kollywood, it should not be much of a mystery that she would end up acing the chance to portray a complicated grandmother at the peak of her powers.

The actress played a doting grandmother, who has set aside her life for her grandson. The film works as a comedy of manners after a marriage in exile goes wrong and the grandson is forced to put up a cover it up to save his grandparents from the heartbreak of discovering his secret. The film has a matured turn from Manorma, who uses her vast experience on the stage as a theatre performer to navigate the confines of the house-bound setting and capture the emotional turmoil, while also nailing the comedic affectations with the same level of expertise.

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