Producers: Vishnu Vardhan Induri and Shailesh R Singh
Director: A.L. Vijay
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Arvind Swamy, Madhoo, Bhagyashree, Nassar, Raj Arun, M.R.R.Vasu
Streaming on: Netflix
By Jyothi Venkatesh
Though the inefficient PR of the film Sanchita had conveniently forgotten to invite a senior film critic like me for the press show of the film in Mumbai, thanks to the OTT platform Netflix and my friend Rajni Acharya, I for one found that the film Thalaivii was a trip down nostalgia to see the film setting out to chronicle the interesting and colorful life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa (Kangana Ranaut), her intense relationship with the legendary M. G. Ramachandran (Arvind Swami) and her tumultuous rise to power as the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Thalavii opens in 1989 with the infamous Assembly incident that stripped Jayalalithaa of her dignity, which Karunanidhi termed a “black day” in Tamil politics. Jayalalitha alias Ammu swore not to return to the Assembly if not as the Chief Minister and lived to prove her point too.The film beautifully delves into the rise to fame first as an actress and later as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu of J. Jayalalitha, perceived as the ‘other woman’ in MGR’s life, who got things easy for being his blue eyed girl, and received everything but respect at the beginning of her political career. Despite being cornered, slut shamed and humiliated time and again, we see as the film unfolds in the form of a flashback how she marches on with her head held high. It is the starlet’s relentless and fierce fight to earn for herself her place in the male ridden society that forms the crux of the film.
At the outset, I would be failing in my duty, as someone who had also interacted with not only Jayalalitha but also MGR as a film journalist in those times, if I were not to hail Kangana for the ease with which she succeeds in rendering a power-packed portrayal of a obstinate and shrewd but at the same time a lovelorn woman who keeps rising like a phoenix from the ashes. To put it in a nutshell, Kangana is simply outstanding in getting into the skin of the character of the fierce actress in the film.
Though frankly speaking, I had never liked Aravind Swamy’s performances in any film other than Mani Ratnam’s Roja and Bombay, in this film he is a revelation and is superb in getting into the character of the late MGR.I should say that there couldn’t have been a better actor to play the Tamil screen icon and people’s leader. Bhagyashree as Jayalalitha’s mother renders a good account of herself but it is Madhoo who scores as MGR’s wife. Raj Arun is superb as Veerappan the aide of MGR, referred to as MJR in the film, while Nasser does a perfect job as M. Karunanidhi.
Unfortunately in his eagerness to concentrate and focus almost wholly on Jayalalitha and MGR, the director fails to do justice to other characters including the M.R. Radha who shot MGR at an important stage in his life. Also the director does not address the issues Jayalalitha had to face when she decided to act also with Sivaji Ganeshan who was MGR’s arch rival in Tamil Cinema. Also no reference has been made to that chapter in Jayalalitha’s life when she was involved with the married Telugu actor Shobanbabu.
Another thing that stands out is that with the exception of a few cursory references to Adimai Penn, Nam Naadu and Ragasiya Police 115, the film does not at all bother to capture Tamil cinema from that era in detail or the relationship between MJR and Veerappan who becomes a trusting aid in his life.To sum up, Thalaivii is an interesting exercise, in spite of the flaws the film has but all said and done, it is a film which will have Tamilians who know about the history of Tamil Cinema and the late 60’s romance of MGR and Jayalaltha, empathize with the characters when they are unfurled.