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Sadly, this incoherent, loose narration of several events in Jayalalithaa’s life fails to stitch together her formidable personality – both as an actor and as a politician.

Kangana Ranaut in purple saree and red bindhi from Thalaivii movie
Flix Review Friday, September 10, 2021 - 16:41
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After what seemed like two-odd long hours in a largely empty theatre, the only thought that occupied my mind when leaving it was about the title Thalaivii. Is it spelt with an extra i only because J Jayalalithaa had an extra a to added to her name? If that was the idea, the film fails abjectly in documenting why the extra a was added – her unswerving belief in astrology, one of the many traits that shaped her personality. Unfortunately, the film fails to capture such nuances.

Directed by AL Vijay, Thalaivii aims at documenting the life of a leader who held an unassailable sway over Tamil cinema and politics for well over half a century. But it ends up at best being a story on the relationship between her and her mentor MG Ramachandran, with her political career thrown in as some scenes.

The film starts with the scene at the State Assembly in March 1989, where Jayalalithaa was assaulted, goes back to her cinema days establishing her as a reluctant young woman who later willingly embraces her role and goes on to become a celebrated actor. It then shows her reluctant entry into politics and ends with her conviction to hold ground and bring the party under her total control. Towards the end, the film shows senior male leaders bending before her in reverence.

Through the incoherent, loose narration of several events in Jayalalithaa’s life strung together (especially in the first half), what remains constant is her relationship with MGR - with its ups and downs. Sadly, this incoherent, loose narration of several events in Jayalalithaa’s life fails to stitch together her formidable personality – both as an actor and as a politician.

Kangana Ranaut works very hard to bring the subtle grace and charm of the on-screen Jayalalithaa – the most paired heroine of MGR, but not just that. The film fails to do justice to the actor in her. To her credit, Jayalalithaa was also a fine performer. Films like Suryagandhi where she played the role of a wife earning more than her egoist husband or Engiruntho Vandhal where she played a sex worker who helps a mentally challenged hero on the request of his family are proof of her histrionic talents. Interestingly, both were non-MGR movies.

Watch the trailer of Thalaivii here:

The film is also a botched-up attempt at capturing her as a politician. Jayalalithaa’s role as politician was more important in the post MGR period. While making efforts to portray her transition from Ammu to Amma, the film makes no attempt to document the other side of her – the post 1991 period which made her so infamous that she lost the next election. There is Sasikala yes, but the film fails again to show her importance in Jayalalithaa’s life.

Arvind Swami is perhaps the only redeeming aspect of an otherwise insipid movie. He manages to capture the nuance of the actor and politician in MGR, delivering a fine performance in the process. Nasser as Karunanidhi could have been given a better deal while Samuthirakani does justice to the role of RM Veerappan.

But Thalaivii is not only about Jayalalithaa. It is more about her and her relationship with MGR. Whether it does justice to that relationship which exerted considerable influence on Tamil Nadu’s cinema and politics is another question altogether. The irony of showing her as an icon of women's liberation in the last scene is just too telling. Whether she was really one is again another point of debate.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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