Review: J Jayalalithaa is such a powerful name in Indian politics that a film on her seems natural. In the name of biopics, Indian films and particularly Hindi films, are often written with semi-glorious scripts. Watching films on former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh or current Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes it clear that making a biopic is a very difficult task. Deciding which to keep in the story and which to edit is the hardest. It is impossible to summarize Jayalalithaa’s life in a two-and-a-half-hour film, but what message she wants to convey through the biopic is beyond the story. Thalaivi, the story of a woman’s entry into politics and her victory over her rivals, is something we have seen before and it will be hard to find another reason to watch her this time.
Vidya Balan’s film ‘The Dirty Picture’ is based on the life of Silk Smitha. How an unknown and odd-looking girl makes her place in the film industry and challenges male dominance. The film was a success so Vidya Balan was to be roped in for Thalaivi. Tamil actress Nayantara has also agreed to play the role. But in the end Kangana Ranaut was taken. Kangana also worked hard for this character. Jayalalitha used to take steroid injections for ailments and because of that she gained a lot of weight. Kangana’s weight has increased by around 18 kg. Also learned Bharatanatyam from famous dance guru Gayatri Raghuram which was put into a stage show in the film. Jayalalithaa learned Bharatanatyam, Kuchipuri, Mohiniyatam, Manipuri and Kathak in her personal life.
The most important person in Jayalalithaa’s life was Bharat Ratna MG Ramachandran, who not only starred with her in many films but also acted as her mentor or guide. The relationship between the two is beautifully portrayed in the film and the dignity of the relationship is maintained. Notably, the character of MGR was chosen to be Arvind Swamy. He was also the best character in the entire film and he took it to new heights with his performance. The dialogues between MGR and Jayalalitha are written with great care by Rajat Arora (Once Upon a Time in Mumbai). The two phone call scenes between the two are voiced by Rajat’s scripted silence. MGR had a godlike image in Tamil Nadu and Aurobindo Swamy added humanity to the character very effortlessly. Arvind Swamy award for this film.
The film was conceived by producer Vishnu Vardhan Induri while he was working on another biopic of actor-politician NT Rama Rao. He approached well-known and successful director AL Vijay. After months of researching Jayalalithaa’s life, Vijay enlisted Vijayendra Prasad, one of the most successful screenwriters in Telugu cinema. Vijayendra Prasad has scripted many successful films like Baahubali, Eega, Mersal, Magadheera, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Manikarnika. After several months of research material being lined up and many stories scripted, the research material was removed. Vijayendra considered the film to be one of his most difficult scripts. Jayalalitha’s personality has changed over time, and it was a really tough task to tie her together and keep her negative image out of the film’s core story.
In terms of writing, it is not clear why dialogues are kept in the film. Kangana did wonders in some scenes. His nervousness seemed natural in his speech as a Rajya Sabha MP in front of Indira Gandhi in Delhi. Secretly, MGR and Jayalalithaa travel on a plane, where they reveal themselves without Kangana Ranaut. The film must have been easy for Kangana, though she herself denies it. He credits his director for the entire film and Vijay for bringing out his best, even though the film does not feature any special work by the director.
Nassar has been given a role based on Karunanidhi’s character. There is a small role that Prakash Raj was supposed to do earlier. His character needed some priority and the character of Annadurai, MGR’s political mentor from the south, was absent from the film. The disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa is also taken lightly in the film. Jealous of his closeness to his political rival, MGR, his secretary Sasikala and her family, gold jewellery, collection of sarees, bags and shoes etc. are completely kept out of the film. The humiliations she faced as an actress, as a budding politician and then as a politician are brought out in the film, but not so strongly as to create feelings of protest and rebellion in Jayalalithaa.
Thalaivi is an ordinary film. We have seen many such movies. The original research behind Jayalalitha’s character probably did not make it into the film and the script only included film dialogues and scenes from the film, which could not have turned out to be a very effective scene. It would be wrong to see the film as Jayalalitha’s biography. Watch like a simple movie, you might like it because the writers and directors have created the story narrative with small incidents instead of the main story and watching episodic movies has its own fun.
Tags: movie review, Kangana Ranaut, Netflix, Thalaivi
First Published: September 28, 2021, 11:10 IST