Manufacturer: Vishnu Vardhan Induri and Shailesh R. Singh
Director: AL Vijay
Throw: Kangana Ranaut, Arvind Swamy, Madhoo, Bhagyashree, Nassar, Raj Arun, MRRVasu
Stream on: Netflix
By Jyothi Venkatesh
Although the inefficient PR of the film Sanchita conveniently forgot to invite a senior film critic like me to the film’s press show in Mumbai, thanks to the OTT platform Netflix and my friend Rajni Acharya, I found out that the film Thalaivii was a journey through nostalgia to see the film which chronicles the interesting and colorful life of actress and politician Jayalalithaa (Kangana Ranaut), her intense relationship with legendary MG Ramachandran (Arvind Swami), and her stormy rise to power as the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
Thalavii begins in 1989 with the infamous gathering incident that stripped Jayalalithaa of her dignity, which Karunanidhi called a “black day” in Tamil politics. Jayalalitha aka Ammu vowed not to return to the congregation if not as prime minister and lived to prove her point as well. The film beautifully deals with the rise to fame, first as an actress and later as Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu by J. Jayalalitha, perceived as the “other woman” in MGR’s life who had it easy as his blue-eyed girl and who started out her political career received anything but respect. Although she is cornered, shamed and humiliated again and again, we see in the course of the film in the form of a flashback how she marches on with her head held high. It’s the starlet’s relentless and bitter struggle to earn his place in male society that is at the core of the film.
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In the first place, I would be neglecting my duty as someone who had interacted not only with Jayalalitha but also with MGR as a film journalist if I didn’t praise Kangana for the ease with which she succeeds in creating a powerful portrayal of a headstrong and clever , but at the same time a woman in need of love who rises from the ashes like a phoenix. In a nutshell, Kangana is just superb at getting into the skin of the wild actress character in the film.
While I honestly had never liked Aravind Swamy’s appearances in any movie other than Mani Ratnam’s Roja and Bombay, he is a revelation in that film and is excellent at immersing himself in the character of the late MGR who was a better actor to screen Tamil icon and to play popular leaders. Bhagyashree as Jayalalitha’s mother cuts a fine figure, but it’s Madhoo who scores as MGR’s wife. Raj Arun is excellent as Veerappan, MGR’s advisor, referred to in the film as MJR, while Nasser does a perfect job as M. Karunanidhi.
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Unfortunately, in his eagerness to focus almost entirely on Jayalalitha and MGR, the director doesn’t do justice to other characters, including MR Radha, who directed MGR at an important time in his life. Nor does the director go into the problems Jayalalitha faced when she decided to also play with Sivaji Ganeshan, MGR’s arch-rival in Tamil Cinema. Nor was this chapter mentioned in Jayalalitha’s life when she was with the married Telugu actor Shobanbabu.
It is also noticeable that with the exception of some superficial references Adimai Penn, Nam Naadu and Ragasiya Police 115, the film does not bother to capture the Tamil cinema of that time in detail or the relationship between MJR and Veerappan, which becomes a trustworthy helper in his life. In summary, Thalaivii is an interesting exercise, despite the shortcomings of the film But All Said And Done, it’s a movie that Tamils, knowing about the history of Tamil cinema and the romance of MGR and Jayalaltha of the late 60s, get into the characters will empathize when unfolded.