If you grew up in the 1990s and 2000s watching Malayalam movies, you came to associate certain actors with certain types of roles. Mammootty always fit very well into the role of a morally upright police officer or the lawyer championing the underdog while spouting heavy-duty English dialogue. But one of my favourite Mammootty performances has him playing a helpless single father—Balachandran in Pappayude Swantham Appoos.
Balachandran is a man who had relegated his son’s wellbeing to his wife, choosing to focus on his career and bringing home the moolah. But he finds himself a young widower and single parent to a toddler when she dies suddenly. He employs several helpers to run the household and sends his son to boarding school so that the child’s physical needs are tended to without a glitch. But what Appu doesn’t get is what he craves the most—the undivided attention, pampering and emotional care of a parent. Balachandran loves his son dearly but is unable to show this love in the way Appu wants him to.
Mammootty portrays Balachandran’s struggle effectively. At times, he is the fun dad who rides a bicycle just to get a laugh out of his son and at others, he is a disciplinarian who is disappointed in Appu’s misbehaviour, yelling at him before a house full of guests. While Balachandran does not like Appu’s proximity to his nanny, Meenakshi, whom Balachandran considers too young and immature, he eventually understands his son’s longing for maternal affection.
Pappayude Swantham Appoos has a song that has become one of Malayalam cinema’s most enduring representations of a mother’s love, ‘Olathumpathirunnu Ooyaladum’. But there is a male version of the song that plays in the second half of the movie, when Balachandran has finally set aside some time exclusively for his son. This is as charming as the main version that features Shobhana as Appu’s mother, Bhama. The contrast is evident—Bhama is as graceful as a gazelle while Balachandran’s movements are awkward and clumsy. But Balachandran is not looking to impress anyone. His sole focus is to make his son smile and he succeeds at this mission magnificently.
Mammootty appears to be a great sport about letting filmmakers use his unique dancing style for humour. We have seen this in many movies from Thuruppugulan to Thoppil Joppan. But in addition to being funny, Mammootty’s performance in ‘Olathumpathirunnu Ooyaladum’ is extremely endearing. It is necessarily clumsy, for Balachandran has probably never danced a day in his life before that. He is only a clueless single father who is desperate for his son’s approval.
It may have been purely circumstantial, but Pappayude Swantham Appoos focused on the role of a child’s father in its emotional growth rather than stress on the mother, as seen in most Indian movies. Another thing that makes it worth remembering is, of course, how Mammootty gave life to the complex and vulnerable character that is Appu’s pappa, Balachandran.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.