Late former Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa's life was full of drama, much like the films she acted in during her early days in tinsel town. Her love-hate relationship with MGR, her transformation from an actress to a chief minister, her ascent to power in the male-dominated political sphere of Tamil Nadu, becoming a larger-than-life figure in state politics... it's stuff films are made of.
And that's exactly what director AL Vijay has done with Thalaivii. The very name may give you goosebumps. She was an icon in Tamil Nadu politics, and Vijay has brought alive the quintessential Jayalalithaa through his film.
Jaya, played by Kangana Ranaut, once calls for a press conference when she is removed as MGR's heroine in a film. When she is asked whether Sivaji Ganesan or MGR is the best actor, she surprises everyone by saying that she is the best. That was Jayalalithaa, with the instinct to emerge victorious through sheer perseverance even when the odds were against her.
Thalaivii opens with a scene at the state assembly, where Mu Karuna, played by Nasser, gets up to present the budget, reminding us of the incident in the assembly where Jayalalithaa was stripped of her dignity. Clad in a black sari, Jaya asks why her partymen were assaulted. The argument heats up and she is beaten up and thrown out. Jaya then vows to come back to the same assembly as chief minister, quoting a verse from Mahabharat. She completes her vow. But her topsy turvy early life, how her mother Sandhya's death leaves a void in her life, her acting career and the courage in her is brought alive by Vijay.
Jaya, in Thalaivii, is MGR's heroine, not just in movies but in life, too. The silence during phone calls shows the relationship that MGR and Jaya shared beyond movies. But Jaya is the character sandwiched among men - MGR, Karunanidhi and, of course, RMV aka RM Veerappan played by Samuthirakani. Except for Madhavan, played by Thambi Ramaiah, who is her manager, Jaya wants to win over every man in her life. Kangana has played her part well - she looks gorgeous as a young Tamil heroine in the 60s and 70s. Arvind Swamy is at his best as MGR. He looks exactly like the icon when he dances at the sets and when he adorns the signature fur cap and black glasses. He portrays every emotion of MGR well. The way he says vanakkam hurriedly with his folded hands, using a handkerchief, reminds one of MGR. Arvind Swamy, in fact, outshines Kangana in most of the movie.
Kangana gained and lost weight to look like Jayalalithaa, but in vain. Also, she seems totally out of her comfort zone while mouthing Tamil dialogues.
GV Prakash is once again at his best with the music in Thalaivii. The background score stirs the emotions, especially when Samuthirakani, as RM Veerappan, stands up against Jaya.
Samuthirakani outperforms both Kangana and Swamy. But the catch is that the real-life RMV, though he opposed Jayalalithaa, was nothing like the character portrayed by director Vijay and his writers Ajayan Bala and Vijeyandera Prasad.
In real life, Jayalalithaa always wanted to be bigger than MGR and she came out of his shadows in her very first term as chief minister in the early 1990s. But Thalaivii gives a different perspective by portraying the MGR-Jayalalithaa relationship as a true love story.
Thalaivii talks only about Jaya's transformation from Ammu to Amma. If you expect the film to reveal more unknown stories of her life, you would be disappointed. There is no sign of Sasikala. Neither is there any nod to her style of governance. For those who have known Jayalalithaa and her work as chief minister from close quarters, Thalaivii may come across as a melodramatic excuse for a biopic.
(This story was first published by The Week)