I went to Thalevi thinking I would witness Jayalalitha’s turbulent journey as a politician who held power for years while serving six times as Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu. But, as it turns out, this Kangana Ranaut-starrer story is about how a naive Gaya turned into an even more awesome person – the Amma of millions. Staying true to the story he decided to tell, director Vijay deals with aspects of her life that Jaya’s followers may not have been able to see up close.
As the quintessential Indian biographical drama, Thalaivii is packed with song and dance sequences and plenty of “dialogue”. It puts a lot of emphasis on getting the look and tone of the characters just right, and of course, transports you back to the era in which the movie was set. The first half takes you to the mid-’60s, when Gaya (performed by Kananya Ranaut) was pushed into acting to support her family, all but burying her dreams of becoming a lawyer. As a charming and beautiful young heroine, she was paired up against one of the most legendary actors of his generation, MG Ramachandran (played by Arvind Swamy). Their love story goes through its fair share of highs and lows, until political dysfunction bites Jaya and their lives take a different turn.
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Without any distraction or even the slightest interest in politics, the first half of Thalaivii chronicles Gaya’s unconditional devotion to MGR. Through some intimate scenes highlighting the silent exchange, mutual admiration and trust in each other, we see how their bond survived against all odds. The second half is full of drama with MGR now actively seeking a career in politics with Gaya as “Propaganda Secretary”, much to the concern of his party workers, who cunningly joke, “Khaas dost ke liye khaas post”. From here, the political drama takes center stage and Gaya reveals a side of her she never wanted to let go. But her unwavering love for MGR remains the crux of the story.
Amidst all of this, I felt something was wrong. Do you know all those stories about Jayalalitha’s gorgeous collection of sarees and sandals (which were often under scanner during raids)? I was waiting for this part to be shown in the movie. Sadly, the best we got was wearing it to meet MGR for the last time.
However, Kangana’s performance as Jayalalithaa deserves applause; She holds her position in every scene. She doesn’t imitate Gaia, but she does leave a mark. And don’t forget her firm bodice, accentuated by the high bouffant, winged eyeliner, cone bras and chic drapes. Kangana taps into Gaya’s rebellious spirit, her ferocity in defying patriarchy, and her empathy when it comes to serving people.
Complementing her strong screen presence is the flawless Arvind Swami. It is my pleasure to watch it. His aura matches MGR and Arvind’s behaviors which give the character more power and depth. MGR’s funeral scene is perhaps one of the best moments in the movie. It was filmed extensively, with shots of his mournful supporters, and a wrecked Gaia.
In other pivotal roles, Raj Arjun’s character, RM Veerappan, is the backbone of the story. His character arc is perhaps the best written after Gaya and the journey they take is commendable. Bhagyashree as Sandhya (Gaya’s mother) lover and Madhoo as MGR’s wife, (VN Janaki Ramachandran) will remember Roja’s days (1992).
Rajat Arora’s dialogues in the Hindi version of the film also raise the script in many places. In the scene where MGR tells Jaya to join politics, she says, “Parde par aurat ke bin film feeki si lagti hai par jab woh aurat power mein aa jaye toh sabko mirchi si lagti hai”. This whole line deserves a whistle!
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The only thing the director could have been more aware of is the length of the film. At 153 minutes, he is not only long but also poorly paced in the first half. And for those who want to see Amma’s journey as a politician and how she served her people, well, maybe Kangana should consider doing Part Two, because Thalavi felt incomplete to me.