At the centre of it is Cheran, a popular, award-winning Tamil filmmaker who has come to be identified with his sensitive love stories, and an actor identified with the common man, shy, understated and without heroism. That image took a beating last week, when his younger daughter accused him of using goons to assault and threaten her boyfriend.
Damini, 20, a graduate student at a Chennai college, approached the police commissioner on Friday charging her father with assaulting her boyfriend, Chandrasekhar or Chandru in June. Since then, Damini said, she was forced to stay away from Chandru, until she walked out of home on Friday morning and reached Chandru's sister's home. Now they have sought protection from her influential father.
The relationship had begun on June 4, 2011, when Chandru, a dancer in a reality show, saw Damini in the programme. When his mother Easwari sought an alliance, Cheran agreed but insisted on waiting until Damini completed her studies.
"I agreed initially and advised her to complete her studies and him to get a job," Cheran said on Saturday after meeting the police commissioner. "But on checking his background, I learnt he had cheated four other women and had police cases registered against him. He even proposed to my elder daughter through Facebook. How can I as a father marry her off to a person I am convinced is a cheat?"
The director filed a counter-complaint that Chandru has been torturing his daughter, claiming she had realised the boy's nature. Cheran handed over a harassment complaint that she had written on July 10.
Based on the complaints father and daughter filed, the city police registered cases against Cheran of criminal intimidation and against Chandru under provisions of the Information Technology Act for harassing her online. Damini was sent to a vigilance home that the police run in the city.
Chandru's mother moved the Madras High Court with a habeas corpus petition, seeking a direction to produce Damini and free her from custody. When she was presented before a division bench on Monday, she told justices V Dhanapalan and C T Selvam that she wished to stay at Chandru's home.
The judges heard out Cheran and his wife Selvarani, then discussed the matter with the counsels on both sides. Both suggested the girl could stay at a mutually acceptable place. Senior advocate N G R Prasad, who was present at the hearing, agreed to the judges' request to accommodate Damini at his house for a day.
On Tuesday, the court and the counsels agreed to Damini's request to stay at the house of one of her former schoolteachers, and the case has been adjourned for two weeks.
Cheran dismisses parallels being made between his daughter's romance and the unfortunate marriage between Dalit youth Elavarasan and upper-caste woman Divya in Dharmapuri. That ended when the youth was found dead on a railway track, believed to have committed suicide.
Cheran denies caste is an issue as far as he and his daughter's boyfriend are concerned. "Please don't compare it with the Dharmapuri incident," he says. "I brought her up without prejudices of religion or caste. It is the boy's character that I have an issue with."
A comparison has been made by S Ramadoss, whose Pattali Makkal Katchi had come under fire for its alleged role in separating the Dharmapuri couple over caste considerations. Ramadoss highlights Cheran's parental dilemma as the core issue they have been campaigning on.
His party has been claiming that love marriages between Dalit youth and upper-caste girls were a drama scripted by Dalit politicians. This, too, looked like a "love drama", he says. "We are not against love marriages. But we insist that parental consent is mandatory till the girl is 21, so that her education and employability do not get affected," he says.