Tamil’s Dysfunctional Families You Must Watch On OTT

No recent Tamil family has captured the downside of aging with such levity as Suresh Mari’s J Baby, about an elderly lady, whose sudden disappearance forces her children and dear ones to take note of the void left behind in their lives.

This Urvashi-starrer is a story of a dysfunctional family through a road movie template, where the complex process of a parent’s aging finds its parallel in the painful, methodical destruction of a family.

J Baby explores the idea of how aging is another form of returning to your childlike impulses and the extent you are willing to go for your family.

Urvashi, like always, owns the innate pathos of an aging mother with a lapsing memory and cheeky abandon, to perfection.

This real-life inspired story of the search for a mother by two clueless sons, in an unknown city, has some things to say about the power of familial bonds and the expectations from our demanding parent-child relationships.

Catch J Baby in theatres, and if you want to watch more touching Tamil stories on the dysfunctional family, Arjun Menon lists where you can find them on OTT.

Maamannan (2023)
Director: Mari Selvaraj
Featuring : Vadivelu, Udayanidhi Stalin, Fahad Faasil, Keerthy Suresh
Where to Watch? Netflix

Like the other father-son stories to feature later in the list, this political drama also finds its theme in the way little misunderstandings fuel a lifetime of emotional distance between parents and children.

Maamannan is about a son, who has stopped talking to his father, for his supposed culpability in a tragedy that occurred years ago.

We get stretches of cold glances and silences between the two, who live under the same roof but lead entirely different lives.

The film, which deals with issues of caste-based discrimination and larger social issues, also finds its footing in the subtle ways in which the dad regains the trust and love of his son. The son ultimately prepares his father to eschew regressive conventions and stand up for the right thing.

Maamannan balances this primary layer of its narrative without being overly sentimental, as the rift between father and son gradually gives way to love.

Varisu (2023)
Director: Vamsi Paidipally
Featuring : Vijay, Rashmika Mandanna and Sarath Kumar
Where to Watch? Amazon Prime Video

The least nuanced take on a dysfunctional family from this list sees Vijay playing a son, who is expelled from his home for his rebellious streak.

The film uses familial dysfunction more as a plot device rather than an emotional hinge but Varisu is ultimately about a father coming to terms with his true successor, who is a better version of himself and abreast with changing moral values.

The film’s convoluted plot somehow integrates the relationship disharmony between the siblings and the mother figure helplessly caught between the men’s egos.

Varisu does not give you any depth in the way it tackles a home slowly burning itself out, but the ultimate payoff is a harmless star vehicle that makes use of the template to tell a sappy family drama.

Varisu is the prototypical way in which fractured relationships have been portrayed in the mainstream, where subtlety takes a back seat to spectacle.

Thiruchitrambalam (2022)
Director: Rosshan Andrrews
Featuring: Nithya Menen, Rahman, Abhirami and Amritha Anil
Where to Watch? Netflix

Thiruchitrambalam is about three generations of men from a family, who learn to live by themselves. Their estrangement from each other is their form of punishment for their inability to protect the woman who defined their past.

The film is a sober, heartfelt dysfunctional family story, disguised within the genre trappings of a glossy coming-of-age tale.

A youngster at the prime of his life decides to flounder his potential and waste away his youth in an attempt to get back at his dad, who he holds responsible for the death of his mother and sister in a tragic car accident.

Dhanush and Prakash Raj render a lot of life to the quiet rebellion and open wounds in their emotional journey as a father and son, who fail to understand each other.

In between all the little romantic flings and humour in its packaging, this is one of the saddest stories about a sinking family in Tamil cinema in recent times.

Aelay (2022)
Director: Halitha Shameem
Featuring : Samuthirakani, Manikandan and Madhumathi
Where to Watch? Netflix

The most low-key entry in this list is a carefully wound-together study of how some parents fail to connect with their children, even though they spend their lives striving for the same, in their own flawed, selfish ways.

Aelay is about an estranged son, called back to his native land to attend the funeral of his dad, who was an enigmatic presence in his village even as he failed to strike a chord with his two kids.

Halitha Shameem constructs a character study of an arrogant, brutish father whose affable public persona contrasts with his inability to make his children feel seen during their growing-up years.

Vignettes and small pieces of information from the past guide our take on the depth of the relationship between the son and his dead father.

Manikandan and Samuthirakani add layers of unsaid history and lend a sort of lived-in texture to the conflict that forces a re-examination of our prejudices.

Vaanam Kottattum (2020)
Director: Dhana
Featuring: Sarath Kumar, Radhika Sarath Kumar, Vikram Prabhu and Aishwarya Rajesh
Where to Watch? Amazon Prime Video

The film, about a family fragmented by an unfortunate incident in the past, is the most old-school approach to tackling this subject matter.

Vaanam Kottattum, co-written by Mani Ratnam, tells the story of a father, who is estranged from his wife and children, because of a crime that still haunts him.

The film traces the amount of time and energy spent in the process of redeeming someone in your life, whose presence feels unearned by their long absence from it.

Sarathkumar plays an ex-convict released from prison after 16 years, only to find out that his family had ceased to exist and the world had moved on without him.

Vaanam Kottattum tries to paint a picture of a family that does not give up on itself and gradually starts accepting each other’s place in the complex push and pull of life and its small moments.

Power Paandi (2017)
Director: Dhanush
Featuring: Rajkiran, Revathi, Dhanush and Prasanna
Where to Watch? Netflix

A love story first, and dysfunctional second, this Dhanush directorial is a sweet little film that combines themes of neglect of aged parents and unrequited love.

Power Pandi, an ex-stunt master in movies, is finding it hard to adjust to a timid life under his workaholic son and decides to run away from home in an attempt to reconnect with his lost love from his teenage years.

The film tackles love in old age with assured grace and elegance but the driving narrative is the troubled father-son bond.

Raj Kiran’s unconventional performance, full of oddball charisma and buried regrets, beams with the sort of life rarely seen in films today.

Power Paandi is about the adverse ways in which men fail to connect in meaningful ways and fail to demonstrate their love when it comes to the people who matter in their lives.

Viswasam (2019)
Director: Siva
Featuring: Ajith, Nayanthara, Anikha Surendran
Where to Watch? Disney + Hotstar

A father makes a reckless mistake, which makes his wife and daughter leave him for good.

In Shiva’s superstar action vehicle Viswasam, this logline is turned upside down to draw the picture of a broken family of three, who get united when the father is tasked with rescuing his daughter from an unknown enemy.

However, the film uses the framework with a barrage of action set pieces centered around the hero, even though the central narrative — of the father hiding his identity from the daughter in an attempt to stay close to her — drives the film’s emotional layers.

Viswasam is melodramatic in the way it captures its central father-daughter bond but the earnestness in the writing and performances of Ajith and Anikha Surendran make us root for their eventual reunion.

Uthama Villain (2015)
Director: Ramesh Aravind
Featuring: Kamal Haasan, Andrea Jeremiah, Urvashi, Nasser and Parvathy Thirovothu.
Where to Watch? Amazon Prime Video

Uthama Villain is many things at once — a deconstruction of an artist’s life in his twilight years, a reverent tip of the hat to Federico Fellini’s metaphysical masterpiece 8+1⁄2 (1963) and a study of the road not taken, being few of them.

But the primary narrative of this Kamal Haasan starrer lies with two families, whose faith could have been different had the hero had the courage to step up at the right time and be there for his loved ones.

Uthama Villain follows an aging superstar diagnosed with brain cancer, who decides to go out in full glory by acting in a meta-mythical comedy film, about a man who repeatedly cheats death.

With his mentor directing his last career masterpiece, Manorajnan, the hero realises the amends he must make in his personal life too.

Kamal Haasan, who also wrote the screenplay, makes Uthama Villain a seething portrayal of a father trying to connect with his son born in a loveless marriage, and his estranged daughter, born out of wedlock to his past lover.

Guilt and penance for a life not lived becomes the emotional token of this tragic story of an artist, who is forced to reckon with his selfish, mindless pursuit of art and fame, which cost him a moment to contemplate his mortality.

The film perfectly balances the inherent tragedy of the hero, who comes to grips with the futility of the bottled-up emotions that had been buried underneath his impenetrable exterior all along.

36 Vayadhinile (2015)
Director: Rosshan Andrrews
Featuring: Jyothika, Rahman, Abhirami and Amritha Anil
Where to Watch? Amazon Prime Video

Not all films about dysfunctional families have to be about colourful characters co-existing within a family unit. It can also be about a husband falling in love with his wife’s flattened-out priorities or a child who strives for her mother to live up to her untapped potential, both forgone in between the grind of daily life.

The jumping-off point in this Jyothika starrer is the fact that a mother going through a midlife crisis, as a parent and a wife, can turn things around with a little support from the patriarchal social order that has been keeping her down.

The film doles out its family drama through little misunderstandings and privileged judgments that one assumes about the ones around to match the expectations of what they can be, as opposed to what they want to be in life.

This story of a middle-class housewife regaining her mojo and personal ambition also makes the family achieve its full potential.