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Thalaivii movie review: The film provides an incomplete look at Jayalalithaa's life

Modified On: 12 September 2021 | Reviewed By:

An iconic figure in Indian politics, Jayalalithaa’s political journey is well known. Director Vijay attempts to unravel her icy cold persona and look at her as a woman passionately driven by love.


Director: A.L. Vijay | Music Director: G. V. Prakash Kumar

Thalaivi  Movie Poster

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STORY: The film chronicles the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa (Kangana Ranaut), her relationship with the legendary M. G. Ramachandran (Arvind Swami), and her tumultuous rise to power as the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Make no mistake, a woman’s fight for self-respect and battle against patriarchy are integral to the story. However, what lies at the heart of the tale is her unconditional love for MGR, despite the societal contempt of her. She faced the wrath of his loyal followers, who deemed their extramarital relationship as illicit and a disgrace to his noble reputation. As days turned into decades, they became each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Bound by the heart, the purity of their love stayed intact even as murky politics, power struggle, and people got hellbent on parting the two. The scenes where they indulge in phone conversations without uttering a single word but letting their silence do the talking are heartbreaking. The film essentially works for its poignant love story.

Perceived as the ‘other woman’ in MGR’s life, Jaya had everything but respect at the beginning of her political career. Despite being cornered, slut-shamed, and humiliated time and again, she marches on with her head held high. Her relentless fight to earn her place in society forms the crux of the film.

Kangana in the titular role channels her inner rebel and unflinching self-assurance to make a point — she plays second fiddle to no one. A classic case of her screen character imitating her real life in a way. She renders a powerful portrayal of a lovelorn woman who keeps rising like a phoenix from the ashes. She elevates the formulaic script with quiet determination and powerful presence, cleverly not mimicking Jaya but getting the tone and nuances of her character right. As a woman scorned by people for loving fearlessly and feeling deeply, Kangana is outstanding.

The actress finds a perfect companion in Arvind Swami as MGR, her mentor, the wind beneath her wings. He brings in a certain calm to the storm that engulfs Jaya. Swami is impeccable in his mannerisms and body language. There couldn’t have been a better actor to play the Tamil screen icon and people’s leader.

A lot of dialogues and dramatic slow-mo walks populate the stretchy political second half. A former ‘filmwali’ rising to power doesn’t go down too well with the men and the misogyny is conveyed in a rather theatrical & repetitive manner. Shoddy editing and a loud background score feels jarring. The execution lacks restraint and objectivity. The filmmaker takes one-dimensional approach to storytelling and his observation of the lead character. Jaya is either smirked at or worshipped. There is no in between. The treatment gets reverential especially in the political portions.

Dialogues are painstakingly written and hit the right note. In a scene where Jaya tells her ailing mother that people only remember you when they need you, her mother righty argues, “Bina Matlab ke log bhagwaan ko bhi yaad nahi karte.” When Jaya is told that everyone reveres MGR and that she is no different, she says, “Krishna ko sab pasand karte the, phir bhi Radha ki sab mein ginti nahi hoti.” Neeta Lulla’s costumes are detailed and effective. From conical bras of the 60s and 70s to the winged eye makeup, bouffant and vintage props, the recreation of a bygone era is decent if not specific.

In the film all those stories about Jayalalithaa's splendid collection of saris and sandals (that often came under the scanner during raids) are missing.

Kangana's performance as Jayalalithaa deserves applause; she holds her ground in every single scene. She doesn't imitate Jaya, yet leaves an impact. And don't forget her on-point physical appearance, accentuated by a high bouffant, winged eye liner, conical bras and classy drapes. Kangana taps into Jaya's rebellious spirit, her ferocity in challenging patriarchy, and her empathy when it comes to serving people.

Complementing her strong onscreen presence is the impeccable Arvind Swamy. It's such a treat to watch him. His aura matches that of MGR's and Arvind's mannerisms give the character more power and depth. MGR's funeral scene is perhaps one of the best moments in the film. It is filmed on such a grand scale, with shots of his grieving supporters, and a shattered Jaya.

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 Jaya's and the journey they go on is laudable. Bhagyashree as Sandhya (Jaya's mother) is endearing and Madhoo as MGR's wife, (VN Janaki Ramachandran) will remind of their Roja (1992) days.

Rajat Arora's dialogues in the Hindi version of the film, too, lift the script up 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'. That's a full-on whistle-worthy line!

The only thing that the director could have been a little more mindful of is the length of the film. At 153 minutes, it's not only too 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 a part two, because Thalaivii looks incomplete for some critics!

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