Thalaivii movie review: Kangana Ranaut is solid, but the film provides an incomplete look at Jayalalithaa's life
Thalaivii movie review: The Kangana Ranaut-starrer is packed with solid performances and an attention to period detail, but is let down by its length and an incomplete-feeling story.
I went into Thalaivii thinking I'd get to see Jayalalithaa's turbulent journey as a politician who held power for years while serving six times as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. But, as it turns out, this Kangana Ranaut-starrer is about how a naive Jaya transformed into someone more formidable -- an Amma to millions. Staying true to the story he set out to tell, director Vijay tackles aspects of her life that Jaya's followers may have never got to see up close.
As a quintessential Indian biographical drama, Thalaivii is laced with song-and-dance sequences and a lot of ‘dialogebaazi’. It is extremely focused on getting the look and accent of the characters right, and of course, transporting you to the era in which the film is set. The first half takes you to the mid-60s, when Jaya (played by Kanagna Ranaut) was pushed into acting to support her family, all but burying her dreams of becoming a lawyer. As a young, charming, beautiful heroine, she was paired opposite one of the most legendary actors of his generation, MG Ramachandran (played by Arvind Swamy). Their love story goes through its shares of highs and lows, until the political bug bites Jaya and their lives take a different turn.
Watch the Thalaivii trailer here:
Without any distraction or even the slightest interest in politics, the first half of Thalaivii chronicles Jaya's unconditional devotion to MGR. Through some heartwarming scenes that highlight their silent exchanges and a mutual admiration and trust in each other, we see how their bond survived against all odds. The second half is full-on dramatic with MGR now actively pursuing a career in politics with Jaya as their 'propaganda secretary', much to the apprehension of his party workers, who slyly joke, 'Khaas dost ke liye khaas post'. It is from hereon out that the political drama takes the centerstage and Jaya unveils a side of her that she never wanted to let out. But, her unwavering love for MGR remains the core of the story.
Amid all this, something felt amiss. You know all those stories about Jayalalithaa's splendid collection of saris and sandals (that often came under the scanner during raids)? I was waiting for this bit to be shown in the film. Alas, the best we get was her getting dressed up to meet MGR one last time.
That being said, 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 felt incomplete to me.