Director AL Vijay’s Thalaivii opens with probably one of the most important moments in the history of Tamil Nadu politics. Jaya (Kangana Ranaut) is the sole woman in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. What is the best way to silence a strong woman? Talk about her character, humiliate her in front of the crowd and go to the extent of molesting her. That’s what happened to J Jayalalithaa and Thalaivii’s Jaya. Jaya takes a vow that she will return to the assembly after becoming the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. A powerful scene, aided by a powerful performance. But, that’s where the good bits end.
Thalaivii follows the journey of a naive girl becoming a top actress and then the CM of a state. Now, that’s a film waiting to be made.
Director Vijay’s Thalaivii, in its runtime of 153 minutes, tries to show us a glimpse of Jaya’s rise to power. From being pushed into films to developing a strong bond with MJR (don’t fret, read on) played by Arvind Swami, Jaya’s life takes a turn every now and then. But, she is a woman who would embrace the challenges thrown at her. MJR lures her into politics, a place that she ‘hates,’ but she still excels in it. Thalaivii’s attempt to show actress-politician Jayalalithaa’s life in celluloid is a noble attempt. But, did it do any justice to one of the most formidable figures in Tamil Nadu politics?
A lot about Jayalalithaa is already in the public domain. For a director to consolidate that into a story and to tap into the emotions of an inimitable person like her is surely a huge challenge. But, director Vijay’s Thalaivii is a glossier version of Jayalalithaa’s life. The opening credits suggest that Thalaivii is based on the novel of the same name, written by Ajayan Bala.
Kangana Ranaut’s mediocre act is the weakest link in a film like Thalaivii. Jayalalithaa is rooted in the history of Tamil cinema. But, when you play a powerful person like Jayalalithaa, every single expression and dialogue counts. In Thalaivii, Kangana’s lip-sync is off-putting. Half of the dialogues she mouths are in Hindi.
For example, Jaya is thrown out of an MGR film. But, she does not back down. She comes up with a clever plan to sign films with Sivaji Ganesan, which will bring back MGR into her life and career. This is a scene with a great build-up. Jaya’s assistant asks her who is the best actor MGR or Sivaji? Jaya sits on a sofa with her legs crossed and says, “Best Actor? It’s me.” While the voice is in Tamil, we can clearly see Kangana saying, “Best Actor? Main Hoon.” This dilutes the effect of a well-crafted scene that talks about Jaya’s intellect. Kangana has tried to emulate Jayalalithaa in the period sequences. But, she is no match for her powerful aura or tenacity.
Arvind Swami’s MJR is easily the best performer of Thalaivii. He nearly killed it with his act. Through him, we can see the charm of MGR and how the actor-politician dedicated his life to the people. Arvind Swami’s minute expressions and how he tapped into some of MGR’s iconic character traits worked wonders for his character. Another role that stole the show was by Samuthirakani as RN Veerappan. He comes across as a misogynistic aide of MJR, who is aware of every step the actor-politician takes. Samuthirakani delivers a kickass performance.
Director Vijay’s writing lets Thalaivii down completely. The first half of the film shows the bond between Jaya and MJR. It is safe to say that Thalaivii is a biopic of MGR rather than Jayalalithaa. The portions about Jaya and MJR’s relationship are shown rather elaborately, but on the flip side, Jaya’s rise in politics is rushed and given very little time.
Now, the discrepancies. Some of the characters call Arvind Swami MGR, while the others call him MJR in the film. Such glaring inconsistencies spoil the effect. Jayalalithaa’s rise after MGR’s death is what made her the leader that she was. Her cold war with MGR’s wife Janaki (played by Madhoo in the film) and how she took over the party from her is another iconic moment. But, Vijay chose to show it in just two scenes. What a waste.
Thalaivii could have been a strong biopic with a different actress who knows the language and the politics associated with Tamil Nadu. The film glorified Jayalalithaa and MGR, but never once showed the controversies or the negative aspects in their lives. But then that’s what biopics tend to do, right?
Thalaivii is a disjointed biopic that acts as a showreel for Kangana Ranaut’s version of Jayalalithaa.
2 out of 5 stars for Thalaivii.
This content was originally published here.