Director: AL Vijay
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Arvind Swami, Nassar, Bhagyashree and Raj Arun
I have often wondered why film stars exert such an influence over the course of Tamil Nadu politics. Somewhere in the middle of the new, two-and-a-half-hour long, AL Vijay’s Thalaivii- Arvind Swami who portrays Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran popularly known as M.G.R. tells J Jayalalitha played by Kangana Ranaut, “Agar tum janta ko pyaar dogi, toh wo bhi pyaar dega," I get the answer for the demi-god status that actors turned politicians mostly in South India enjoy.
Thalaivii chronicles the life of the late J. Jayalalithaa, an actress turned politician who served as the Chief Minister for the state of Tamil Nadu six times. But by no means, Thalaivii is a political film. It is a romantic film at heart.
The film takes us through the journey of the rumoured relationship between MGR and Jayalalithaa with politics as a backdrop. Jayalalithaa was “Ammu” for MGR. She hoped to live with the matinee idol who was already married and 31 years older than her. The MGR-Jaya pair became such a hit in Tamil cinema that between 1966 and 1970 they had acted in more than 40 movies together of which around 28 films were blockbusters.
It starts off in the 60s when Jayalalithaa was just an upcoming actor while MGR was already a superstar and spans out over the next three decades showcasing how time and politics created a rift between the two superstars. But as they say, love prevails all. Years later, MGR and Jaya joined forces as politicians All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Viewers are instantly sucked into the world of MGR-Jaya, both having strong personalities. The film presents the bare truth of their relationship and also showcases the rise in their individual political career. There are a few scenes that showcase the unspoken love between Jayalalithaa and MGR. The director captures these moments in a beautiful way.
We already know the climax of the film, but even with that constraint, filmmaker Vijay packs in enough layers of drama and emotion, with just the right amount of wit and light humour, that at every point of this wonderful screenplay written by K. V. Vijayendra Prasad, Madhan Karky (Tamil) and Rajat Arora (Hindi), we are continually anxious to know what happened next. The makers have been consistent with the timeline and haven’t tried to over dramatise any of the incidents.
Of course, like all great dramas, Thalaivii has an unhurried, deliberate pace, that at times gets a bit too slow. Things pick up in the second half as we see the transformation of an actor into a politician. The movie could have definitely ended at least 15 minutes before it did, but by and large, the proceedings are far too compelling to worry about the time.
One of the biggest problems with biopics is that it tries to become a hagiography. While Thalaivii doesn’t really tend to venture into that zone, it surely doesn’t touch upon political controversies in J Jayalalitha’s life. It touches upon all the good work done by the leader who was fondly referred to as Amma by the people of Tamil Nadu but fails to address the other issues. There’s so much that is missing here - which could have imbued flavour into this flat “the rise of a woman" story.
What works wonderfully for the film are the performances. The fact that Kangana doesn’t try to modulate her voice or pick up a Tamil accent is a wise decision. With deft nuance and the assistance of minimal makeup, she transforms into this actor turned politician and delivers a pitch-perfect portrayal.
Swami gets under the skin of the role and makes MGR his own, and from the pause, he takes between his lines, to the twitch of his face and many other little nuances, he is so convincing, that there’s absolutely no way MGR could’ve been any different in real life. A special mention to Raj Arun, who we remember as the cruel father from Secret Superstar, portrays the role of producer turned politician R. M. Veerappan. He stands tall against Ranaut’s character and delivers a winning performance. Veteran south actor Nassar as Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister M. Karunanidhi is excellent.
Despite a few glaring hiccups, Thalaivii is an otherwise watchable and frankly, very enjoyable film.