Daddy knows best, until he doesn’t 

Toxic fathers have always been around. Now they are the in-thing. Plus: catch up on ‘Khufiya’, ‘The Creator’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and more.

The teaser of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s upcoming film Animal reveals Ranbir Kapoor as an agent of destruction. Apart from the carnage promised by the Hindi-language movie, Vanga’s follow-up to Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh explores the root cause of the lead character’s personality: his father, played by Anil Kapoor.

Violence begets violence, suggests Animal, which is scheduled for a December 1 release. It’s the latest movie to explore a reality not available in saccharine family dramas or romances in which obdurate fathers see the light just in time for the end credits. Daddy knows best, until he doesn’t.

In the innocent old days, the movies were littered with “Ofo Daddy!” sentiment, aimed at cigar-chugging men wearing suits at home while standing at the bottom of a long staircase. These patriarchs opposed love on the ground of difference, but came around eventually. That hasn’t always been the case.


The toxic father who creates the roadmap for his sons to follow is present in such films as Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1975), Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (1983) and KG George’s Irakal (1985). In each of these films, the father figure defends his actions in the name of family honour – even though the definition of that honour is deeply twisted.

Kanu Behl’s stunning directorial debut Titli (2014) amply makes clear the link between a perverted patriarch and dysfunctional sons. In one of the film’s most unforgettable moments, the titular character sums up the courage to tell his father, you are a pig.


Fathers leave a mark through their absence too. In Yash Chopra’s Deewar (1975), the father’s abandonment of his family is the inciting incident for Amitabh Bachchan’s anti-hero Vijay. The father is a trade union leader who is forced to renege on an equitable deal for his workers after his wife and two sons are kidnapped. The father flees in shame, leaving the family to wallow in poverty until Vijay takes to crime.

“Mera baap chor hai” (My father is a thief), which is forcibly tattooed on Vijay’s arm, is also a reminder of why he must stay away from the straight and narrow. In Chopra’s Trishul (1978), Deewar’s writers Salim-Javed replaced the absconding father with the irresponsible father. 

Bachchan’s Vijay takes Freudian revenge against the man who has ditched his lover for a better life. Vijay gets into the construction business, building phallic towers to rival his father’s properties.

The influence of Deewar can be felt on Prashant Neel’s K.G.F films, in which Yash’s gangster Rocky sees his mother struggle in poverty after her alcoholic husband walks out on her. Unlike Deewar’s principled matriarch, Rocky’s mother encourages him to stand up for himself by whatever means possible. In K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2002), Rocky shows his father his place by making him tend to his mother’s grave – a forced duty as well as a punishment.

Sukumar’s Pushpa: The Rise too has a hero shaped by the trauma created by a missing father. Born out of wedlock and forever reminded of his inferior status by his step-brothers, Allu Arjun’s Pushpa yanks himself out of penury through crime. In the vivid climax, Pushpa loses his cool when a corrupt cop questions his parentage.

Pushpa: The Rise.

There have been irredeemably nasty daddies too, who exist purely to harass or abuse their children. In N Chandra’s Tezaab (1988), Anupam Kher plays a father from Hell, who exploits his daughter for money every step of the way. He is unrepentant until the end, when he is killed off so that the romantic leads can finally escape to a better life. 

Vikramaditya Motwane’s assured directorial debut Udaan (2010) has another exemplar of toxicity. Ronit Roy plays the abusive father who insists that his son call him “Sir”. Frequently humiliated and belittled, the sensitive teenager plots his flight, taking along his younger sibling.

Abhishek Varman’s 2 States (2014) puts a nice twist to Ronit Roy’s frighteningly convincing performance in Udaan. Roy’s character is once again an alcoholic who doesn’t get along with his son. But when his son’s upcoming wedding is on the verge of collapse, the father is the one who plays peacemaker.


Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019) sees Ranveer Singh’s rapper confront his father over his mother’s abuse. This action is shown as a necessary part of the hero’s emotional journey.

Anil Kapoor, who slaps Ranbir Kapoor’s character around in Animal, previously played a toxic father in Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do (2015). Kapoor’s character is a well-heeled cad who ill-treats his wife, bullies his son, and browbeats his daughter into staying in a bad marriage. This modern iteration of the dapper daddies of yore is offered the redemption that isn’t available to many of his counterparts. More convincing is the pater familias in Maju’s Malayalam-language Appan (2022), who is so despicable that his family eagerly awaits the day he will stop fuming by ceasing to breathe.

What to watch this week

Vishal Bhardwaj’s espionage drama Khufiya is out on Netflix. The loose adaptation of Amar Bhushan’s 2019 novel Escape to Nowhere stars the always-terrific Tabu as Research and Analysis Wing agent and Ali Fazal as a traitor. Wamiqa Gabbi, Azmeri Haque Badhon and Ashish Vidyarthi are among the key players. You can read our review here.


Gareth Edwards’s The Creator is all set for a second week’s run. The sci-fi adventure creatively conjures up a future in which artificial intelligence co-exists peacefully with humankind. While the movie is visually stunning, with remarkable visual effects that impress rather overwhelm, it derives its soul from its humans, including the always-dependable John David Washington, Gemma Chan and first-time child actor Madeleine Yuna Voyles.

The Creator is set in 2055. After a faulty AI programme destroys Los Angeles, the United States declares war on AI. Over in the territory now called New Asia, humans, robots and AI-enabled simulants have joined forces to protect the technology’s benefits. It is in New Asia (which corresponds to southeast Asia) that Joshua (Washington) loses his wife Maya (Chan). And it is in this region, removed from American values, that Joshua realises the true meaning of “Nirmata”, an AI programme that has the power to destroy the American drone programme called Nomad.

The Creator.

The enemy isn’t AI at all, but America’s military ambition. The scenes of carnage, in which Nomad picks its targets and unerringly destroys them, are reminiscent of films about America’s misadventure in Vietnam between the 1950s and the 1970s, especially Apocalypse Now. Edwards and co-writer Chris Weitz have cited a host of references for The Creator, including the original Blade Runner

Joshua’s mission is complicated when he meets the simulant child he nicknames Alphie. Played by the adorable Madeleine Yuna Voyles without a trace of self-consciousness, the gifted Alphie holds the key to Nirmata, Maya as well as Joshua’s fate.

Despite some plotting contrivances, The Creator is a rare work of empathy set in a believable techno-future. The film is being shown in cinemas in regular and IMAX formats.

Streaming catch-up

And you thought that Nicolas Cage could not play an unhinged man yet again? Sympathy for the Devil is that Cage hasn’t exhausted the possibilities of derangement just yet. 

The film is available on Lionsgate Play. Yuval Adler directs the two-hander between Cage, known only as The Passenger, and Joel Kinnaman as The Driver. The Passenger abducts at gunpoint The Driver from the parking lot of the hospital where The Driver’s wife is due to deliver a baby. Cage’s character forces his victim to drive around at gunpoint. He appears insane, possibly mistaken about The Driver’s identity. But the nail-bitingly tense film, which runs a taut 90 minutes, has some surprises in store. Cage alone is worth the watch: he is dignified even when over-the-top, menacing as well as self-deprecating, and affecting when he needs to be, Cage has a blast and ensures that we do too.

Sympathy for the Devil.

Netflix has released the crime thriller Reptile. Among the police procedural’s highlights are a fabulous performance by Benicio del Toro, Alicia Silverstone cast against type, excellent moody cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, and director Grant Singer’s skill at creating a sustained mood of dread. 

Reptile revolves around a young woman’s murder. The suspects include her realtor boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) and an unhinged loner (Michael Pitt). Despite a heavily contrived plot that gets progressively silly, the film invites you to watch – and fell – without analysing what you have seen.


Prime Video has Cassandro, directed by Roger Ross Williams and starring the brilliant Gael Garcia Bernal. The film is set in Mexico’s lucha libre scene, characterised by freestyle wrestling as well as colourful masks and costumes. Saul (Bernal), who is gay, wants to go further. He decides to become an “exotico” – a wrestler who performs in drag.

The emotions are as warm as the colours. Saul’s personal journey – a missing father, a doughty mother who has raised him to be out and proud – intertwines with his new persona as Cassandro. Bernal is fabulous as always, living the role of a gay man who adapts to an ultra-macho world on his own terms.


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