The coming of age genre. Movies that trace the protagonist’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. Indian cinema hasn’t always ventured into this genre. But when it has, there have been internationally famous films, like master director Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. Over the years, south Indian cinema has produced some fascinating films which explored the misadventures and insecurities of adolescents. And their journey as they came to terms with adulthood.
Shankar’s Boys, released in 2003, was an early film which tried to capture the life of modern-day teenagers in India. It explored the boys’ reckless life, their sexual awakening, and their rebellious attitude towards social norms. Boys garnered negative reviews because many found its content ‘vulgar’; a film one couldn’t watch with family members. Shankar never made a similar, bold film again. Next year, Cheran arrived with Autograph, a coming-of-age movie tailor-made for a ‘family’ audience. Autograph was a commercial success in Tamil Nadu, and was remade in Kannada and Telugu. Unlike Hindi/Bengali/Marathi films like Hunterr, Gandu and Killa, which dealt with the darkness and gravity of themes like sexual awakening, drug abuse, and casteism, coming-of-age films in south India have mostly been about nostalgia, innocent romance, heart-breaks, good-old childhood friends, and the parent-son relationship.
Here’s a trip through some of the most popular coming-of-age movies from south India:
PremamThis 2015 Malayalam film, directed by Alphonse Putharen, spread like wildfire across theatres, TV screens, and DVD collections. It was to be one of Mollywood’s highest grossing films. Ever. Premam starred Nivin Pauly, Sai Pallavi, Anupama Parameswaran and Madonna Sebastian, and explored a youngster’s life from teenage to adulthood. As a school-goer, George has a crush on his tuition classmate Mary. He pens sweet, innocent letters to her, with a little help from his friends Koya and Shambhu. Years later, George is a rebellious college student, who falls in love with Malar, his teacher. The film had a realistic take on teenage friendships, and life in a small town.
Premam became a rage among youngsters from Kerala, as well other states. For its novel film making, outstanding performances, and cinematic and other technical achievements. It’s en route to being remade in Telugu, with Naga Chaitanya in the lead.
This 2012 Pa Ranjith film had a handful of young, fresh talents playing the lead. Attakathi traces the life of a youngster, Dinakaran, who lives in the suburbs of Chennai. From school to college, and to life beyond. Dinakaran falls in love many times, chooses the wrong kind of friends, makes decisions that go terribly wrong. And at the end, comes to terms with his life. Attakathi was produced by the production giant Studio Green, and received positive reviews from critics as well as being a box-office success.
Lifeu IshteneThis 2011 Kannada movie, directed by Pawan Kumar, came as a whiff of fresh air to the Kannada movie industry. At that time, the industry was teeming with heavily commercial, masala films. It starred Diganth as a confused youngster, Vishal. Unlike his friends, Vishal is not keen about studying hard and carving a mainstream career for himself. He is a struggling musician. Things take a downturn when his girlfriend is forced to marry a ‘well-settled’ man her parents choose for her. Lifeu Ishtene ends with Vishal finally finding the courage to face life.
Lifeu Ishtene was praised for its fresh narrative. A scene where Vishal tries to buy a condom at a department store, deserves a special mention. Thanks to Pawan Kumar’s brilliant handling of slapstick comedy. The film’s title sums it up for us: That’s All Life Is About.
AutographMany compare this 2004 Tamil film with Premam, as the films’ have uncannily similar storylines. However, Autograph has a very old-school style of film making compared to Premam. Cheran, the director, plays the lead himself. It begins with a youngster, Senthil, travelling to a Tamil village, where he lived with his family as a child. He wants to invite his old acquaintances for his wedding. He meets his childhood friend, school teacher and finally, his school-time crush, Malli. Malli is now living happily with her husband and children. Later, Senthil goes to Kerala to meet his college friends, and his former sweetheart Lathika (Gopika). A flashback sequence shows that the two had a tragic breakup. Sneha plays Divya, a bold young woman who helps Senthil come to terms with personal loss, and build a successful career.
Happy DaysSekhar Kammula’s 2007 Telugu film was a giant commercial hit, not only in Andhra Pradesh, but across the country. Happy Days is about a group of eight teenagers who become friends during their first year at an engineering college. The film traces their life, friendship, misadventures, and romances through their four years. Happy Days handled college life realistically, with minimal masala elements. The lead cast had mostly fresh faces. Tamannah Bhatia, who played one of the leads, went on to become a popular heroine. Songs from the film, composed by Mickey J Meyor, were all the rage at the time. Especially among college-goers in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, where a dubbed version of Happy Days was released.