The life of Jayalalithaa makes for an engaging dramatic story. She was someone who treaded her own path in the industry and later became an iron- fisted politician. There are highs and lows in her life both as an actress and also as a politician. Not surprisingly many biopics were announced after death. You have already had Gautam Menon’s web series Queen starring Ramya Krishna as Jayalalithaa. There was also the announcement of Nithya Menon playing Jayalalithaa alongside the Kangana Ranaut’s one directed by AL Vijay.
Out of the two AL Vijay’s one has been creating lot of buzz. Apart from the real life personality Kangana playing the title role has also helped in the buzz. After seeing Thalaivii the first thing that comes to your mind is how much of Kangana’s presence affected the film particularly in the second half. Al Vijay does a good job in exploring in the Jayalalithaa and MGR relationship along with the impact that MGR had in her joining politics. The MGR character is played by the terrific Aravind Swamy. But the film dips badly in the second half and never really recovers.
There is nothing wrong in playing to the gallery but AL Vijay along with writer Vijayendra Prasad overplayed the masala. It also doesn’t help that the film becomes melodramatic. It is a shame because Thalaivii had lot of potential.
Thailavii begins off with a disturbing scene where Jayalalithaa is molested in the Vidhan Sabha. She compares herself to Draupadi and makes a vow that she will enter the assembly only after becoming the chief minister. From there we move to Jaya’s acting journey. We see her dancing around the tress and also wearing some striking retro costumes. The first half is mostly devoted to establishing the bond between Jaya and MGR. We see MGR helping her in being more comfortable in front of the camera. Slowly Jaya starts having a significant space in MGR’s life. It doesn’t go down too well with Raj Arun who plays the trusted man of MGR. There are also glimpses of Karunanidhi played by Nassar and MGR entering into politics. The second half takes a big shift as the plot looks at Jayalalithaa’s political entry and how she became a revered leader.
One of the things that AL Vijay gets right is recreation of the period. The atmospherics in the first half fits the time zone aptly. The costumes are beautiful without making it come across as gaudy. The set design is also appropriate and there are times where you will get nostalgic.
Also read: ‘She is real, not an imaginary queen’
Aravind Swamy, as I earlier said, is brilliant. He does an outstanding job in making sure that MGR doesn’t come across a caricature. He particularly shines in the second half as the politician. His scenes with Kangana are emotionally quite moving. A scene which I really liked was after her bharatnatyam performance. He says to her that if he hadn’t come as a chief minister he would have whistled there itself. After that we see him closing the door and giving a loud whistle much to Jaya’s surprise.
The biggest issue with Thalaivii is the rushed portrayal of Jayalalithaa’s entry into politics. An important incident related to the misuse of MGR’s Midday Meal scheme doesn’t have the emotional impact that it needed to have. There are many instances in the second half where you feel that the makers are playing to Kangana’s image instead of focusing on the core story.
The character of Karunanidhi also doesn’t leave any impact whatsoever. Nassar has the presence but is severely underutilised and comes across as a caricature.
Coming to Kangana Ranaut the actress tries hard to fill in the big shoes. She fares better as an actress than as a politician. The makeup and the effort to look hefty in the second half just doesn’t work.
A personality like Jayalalithaa deserves a far better attempt than this.