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‘Thalaivii’ review: Kangana and Arvind Swami power this biopic

Ambica Sachin /Dubai
ambica@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 9, 2021

The movie plays out more as a romance than a political drama

As a popular actress-turned-political leader, J Jayalalithaa has etched her name in the annals of India’s most powerful female figures. So when someone of the stature of award-winning Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut takes on the role of the larger-than-life character, it is but natural to expect a cinematic journey par excellence.

The multi-lingual Thalaivii (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu) , directed by Vijay doesn’t disappoint in the scale and scope of the subject matter. To Kangana’s credit she doesn’t try to mimic the iconic leader but rather delves into the spirit of a woman whose transition from Ammu (her pet name) to Amma (mother, as her people referred to her), a figure revered and reviled in equal measures by those who knew her, is the stuff of folklore.

WATCH: THALAIVII REVIEW

The movie is based on the book Thalavi by Ajayan Balan and traces the journey of a young girl who is forced to give up her studies and enter the lucrative Tamil film industry by a mother (Bhagyashree) who has fallen on bad times.

Thalaivii is predominantly centred around the reverential relationship Jaya shares with her co-star and mentor MGR (MG Ramachandran) who in her own words is akin to a father, mother and even God to her.

Arvind Swami plays the erstwhile actor-turned political leader considered a messiah by his followers with aplomb. His is the kind of acting that doesn’t depend on dialogues, but rather a gentle smile or a tightening of the lips is enough to convey his emotions.

To watch the talented actor completely erase himself to play the cult figure whose mere presence is enough to fill everyone around him with awe is a delight.

As played by Kangana a young Jaya is wilful, petulant and headstrong, all characteristics we have come to associate with the actor and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two.

In the latter part of the movie when she has to rely on prosthetics to showcase the changes in her body due to the overuse of steroids following a deadly car accident (no explanation is given for her corpulent frame though) Jayalalithaa might seem a bit plasticky.

But there is no taking away from the fact that here was a woman who was dragged into the limelight reluctantly and yet managed to hold her head high despite some extremely public humiliations and rise to the top position in a male-dominated political party.

Raj Arun who plays MGR’s man Friday and PA, Veerapan, turns in a formidable performance, as does Nassar as Karunanidhi, MGR’s one-time friend-turned political foe.

Thalaivii is a movie that plays out as a feminist parable of the rise of a strong single woman, who had to fight her way to cult status.

The writing by Vijayendra Prasad (Baahubali, Manikarnika) is forceful with many dramatic flairs especially the dialogues where Jaya compares herself to Draupadi from The Mahabharata.

The background score can be a bit jarring at times, overpowering the action on screen. Thalavii is not a movie that believes in subtlety - though the romance between MGR and Jaya is what will tug at your heartstrings. But then again, real-life story of Jayalalithaa has more drama than any regular potboiler.

In the hands of director Vijay and Kangana the story gets a powerful medium even if it just manages to touch upon the fringes of the actual story.

Thalaivii in the end leaves us wanting for more - the movie offers us only a brief glimpse into the background of a young girl whose rise to power is just beginning even as the curtains come down.

Thalaivii is currently playing in UAE theatres

Thalaivii

Director: A.L. Vijay

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Arvind Swami, Raj Arjun, Nassar, Bhagyashree

Rating: 3 out of 5

author

Ambica Sachin

Armed with a double masters in English Literature, Ambica Sachin embarked on a career that has seen her straddle teaching, assisting an award-winning author, and reviewing books and movies, before finding her forte in critical writing and interviewing celebrities. She is currently Editor, City Times, the lifestyle and entertainment portal of Khaleej Times.