February 17, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ganesh K. Babu
Tamil with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Chennai, India, the dramatic film “Dada” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two unmarried college students, who are dating each other, have their lives changed when she becomes pregnant and gives birth, and he ends up raising the child alone as a single father after she disappears from his life.
Culture Audience: “Dada” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a melodramatic and rambling story of single parenthood with a lot of far-fetched storylines resembling a soap opera.
The long-winded and sappy drama “Dada” is supposed to be about a single father being the only caretaker for his son for the first four years of the son’s life. But the movie spends too much time showing his job problems and not enough father-son bonding. This sloppily edited movie is also too bloated: It has a total running time of 133 minutes, when the story could have easily been told in 90 minutes or less.
“Dada” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Ganesy K. Babu, who made this movie look more like a very padded mini-series with a lot of unnecessary filler. “Dada” takes place over a four-year period, mostly in Chennai, India, where the movie was filmed. In the beginning of the movie, a young couple in their early 20s are cuddling together in bed in an apartment, while they hear the sounds of another couple arguing in a nearby apartment.
The couple’s names are Manikandan “Mani” Thambi (played by Kavin) and Sindhu (played by Aparna Das), and they seem to be blissfully in love. Sindhu and Mani are both classmates at the same unnamed university, where they are in their final year before graduating. The movie never says what Manu and Sindhu are studying at the university. It’s an example of how this overly long movie still skimps on some important details.
Things take a drastic turn in this romance when Sindhu finds out that she is pregnant. Mani wants her to have an abortion, but she refuses. To get away for a while, until they figure out how to tell their families about the pregnancy, Mani and Sindhu hide out at the house of a male friend of Mani’s named Anna. However, Sindhu’s parents report her missing and think that she might have been kidnapped by Mani, because Sindhu’s parents don’t particularly like or trust Mani.
Mani and Sindhu find out that she’s mistakenly been reported missing in a possible kidnapping. And so, Sindhu and Mani sheepishly come forward at the police station, where their worried parents have gathered. And that’s when Sindhu tells everyone that she’s pregnant. It’s awkward. And it’s very contrived for this movie.
Mani’s parents and Sindhu’s parents are very upset by this pregnancy news. Sindhu’s parents are even more disturbed because they believe that Sindhu’s unwed pregnancy has brought shame on their family. With their parents putting a lot of guilt and pressure on them, Mani and Sindhu, who were close to breaking up, now decide to stay together and try to make their relationship work.
Even if Mani and Sindhu wanted to get married to each other, they can’t afford it right now. Mani has a part-time job that can barely pay rent anywhere. At first, Mani and Sindhu decide to stay with Anna in his bachelor house, but he has too many guys over for all-night partying on a regular basis. Sindhu can’t take the noise and chaos in this house any more, so she and Mani move into a small, dumpy apartment. Mani and Sindhu continue to disagree over things, but they seem committed to staying together and possibly getting married after their baby is born.
Another turning point in the relationship happens after Sindhu gives birth to a healthy baby boy, who is named Adithya—a name that the couple picked out before the baby was born. But shortly after giving birth in a hospital, Sindhu walks out of the hospital and never comes back. A shocked Mani is told by hospital employees that Sindhu was not impaired mentally or physically when she left, and that she definitely abandoned the baby. Over the next few days, Mani and his family members try to find Sindhu, but they hear that Sindhu has moved away and does not want Mani to contact her. That was quick.
First-time father Mani tries to raise the baby as a single parent. And even though he gets some help from his mother (played by Aishwariyaa Bhaskaran) and his younger brother (played by Arvind Ezhilarasan), Mani feels overwhelmed, since he is trying to juggle taking care of a baby, his part-time job and his school responsibilities. Mani’s father (played by K. Bhagyaraj) isn’t very sympathetic, because he thinks Mani was irresponsible for having a child out of wedlock when Mani can’t even afford to take care of a family on his own.
All of this pressure becomes too much for Mani. He starts to resent the baby for being a “burden” on his life. And so, one night, Mani gets in a taxi with Adithya, because Mani is going to anonymously give the baby to an orphanage.
Mani lies to the orphanage employees, by saying that he found this infant abandoned on the street. When the employees ask Mani to wait for the police to take his name and his statement about how he found the baby, Mani panics and sneaks out of the building by pretending to use the restroom. Mani then leaves in the same taxi.
But guilt-ridden Mani changes his mind. He has the taxi driver take him back to the orphanage, just a few minutes after Mani left. Mani arrives at the orphanage to find a couple about to take the baby for an adoption. That was quick. Too quick, considering the orphanage never bothered to find out where this baby’s biological parents are and if the biological parents would want this baby to be adopted.
The movie then has this cheesy scene filmed in slow-motion, as tearjerking, dramatic music blares from the movie’s soundtrack, drowning out whatever Mani says to convince the orphanage employees that he’s the baby’s father and he wants to keep the baby. Mani is seen tearfully taking the baby out of the arms of the prospective adoptive mother. It all looks so fake and tacky.
“Dada” then rushes through a four-year montage of Mani being a devoted single father to Adithya, who is an adorable, obedient and playful child. Viewers see in this montage that Mani spent most of those years struggling financially, because he apparently had to drop out of the university and had to take low-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. By the time Adithya is 4 years old (in other words, old enough to know if his father can afford or not afford the toys that Adithya wants), Mani decides it’s time to make a big change in his lifestyle and get the type of job that will give him a higher income and more stability.
And so begins the most tedious and rambling part of the movie, which becomes less about Mani spending quality time with Adithya and more about his struggles to fit in with the corporate culture at a vacuum sales company named Lazard, where he gets a job as a sales representative. Within a short period of time, Mani gets promoted and leads a small team that learns to respect him. What doesn’t go as smoothly is Mani’s relationship with his boss Gokul (played by VTV Ganesh), who constantly questions Mani’s intelligence and skills on the job.
But this wouldn’t be a phony-looking, soap-opera-ish movie without a big bombshell: Sindhu unexpectedly comes back into Mani’s life. This isn’t spoiler information because the movie’s publicity and marketing materials show that Mani and Sindhu are in contact with each other after Mani starts his job at Lazard. Mani is forced to interact with Sindhu on a regular basis for job-related reasons in the biggest “coincidence” that you can think of for this unimaginative movie.
That doesn’t mean that Mani will let Sindhu back into his heart so easily. He hasn’t forgiven her for abandoning him and Adithya, so Mani pretends that Adithya doesn’t exist when he has to talk to Sindhu, because he doesn’t want her to know anything about their son. It’s a very flimsy plot development, because several of Mani’s co-workers know that he is a doting single father, so it’s highly unlikely Sindhu would not hear about it. When Sindhu and Mani talk to each other, Sindhu doesn’t mention Adithya either, which Mani assumes is proof that she’s a cold-hearted and irresponsible mother.
In between the unrealistic secret-keeping in this very dysfunctional family situation, “Dada” is interrupted by some musical numbers performed by the cast members. The song lyrics are filled with more of the movie’s triteness, but the dancing is fairly entertaining. It’s too bad that the “Dada” filmmakers put more effort into these musical numbers than in crafting a realistic story.
The acting in this movie is serviceable, but undermined by the terribly hokey screenplay that’s like a fairy tale instead of a realistic portrayal of parenthood. The film editing is amateurish in how it sometimes lingers too long in unnecessary scenes, and then it choppily transitions to other scenes by leaving big gaps in the story. “Dada” goes off the deep end into implausibility toward the end of the movie, which throws in a “surprise” plot twist that is very manipulative and overcalculated to erase all the previous conflicts that were shoved in viewers’ faces for almost the entire movie.
Red Giant Movies released “Dada” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on February 10, 2023.