Queen: Ramya Krishnan Resurrects Jayalalithaa, And How!
'Did you love him?’
That’s what Simi Garewal asked J Jayalalithaa, late CM and ‘Amma’ of Tamil Nadu, in her popular talk show Rendezvous. It is this interview that drives the narrative of Queen, a ‘biopic’ series based on the novel of the same name.
The first season (eleven episodes of about an hour each) is out on MX Player. Here’s The Quint’s review. It’s a bilingual (English-Tamil), but the Tamil version is dubbed and feels like a shoddy afterthought. There are quite a lot of Tamil dialogues in the English version, but that’s mostly spot on.
Directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon and Prasath Murugesan, Queen has Ramya Krishnan playing the lead role. Queen tells the familiar story of Jayalalithaa's childhood, life as a cinema star and MGR's protege, and as a politician. But it takes the viewer into the living rooms of these familiar characters, and lets you listen in to their personal conversations.
The trailer, btw, is unimaginative, and carpeted with a single music track that has nothing to do with the visuals. Those who look past it, and begin to watch the show, are rewarded.
It's like breaking the coconut of banality to get to the sweet water and pulp inside.
Queen, the series, is a heady mix of the political history of Tamil Nadu, the story of Kollywood (Tamil cinema), and some insidious cinematic liberties. And Ramya Krishnan reigns supreme, as J Jaya... I mean, Shakti Seshadri.
And therein lies the first hook. Everything about the series is familiar. The story of J Jayalalithaa, right from her 'class-leader' student days, to her tantrum protesting her mother's decision to push her into cinema, to her MGR and Soban Babu’s love stories. But the names have been changed slightly, the party colours altered just a tad, Ramya Krishnan looks nothing like Jayalalithaa but her personality is identical.
Any resemblance to characters or incidences in real life seem purposely incidental. The problem of finding 'lookalikes' is thus eliminated, and the viewer is left to pick out the very obvious easter eggs strewn across every episode.
The first season is of eleven episodes. Each episode is anywhere between 45 minutes to over an hour in length. All of the actors think before they speak, and after they speak. And also speak slowly, as if thinking while they speak.
Queen isn't a movie, nor is it the typical digital series. It is its own animal, and one that takes full advantage of the fact that time is not a limitation in this format. Yes, everything is slower than normal. But in spite of this, and despite the fact that the entire series hinges on conversations between people; it holds.
Pre-teen and teenage Jayalalithaa is played by Anikha. She has played the daughter to Tamil star Ajith in two films. She plays herself, and does it well. Anjana is the young Jayalalithaa. She is burdened with dialogues that aren't. Most of her lines in English are ramblings that fit into the pages of a diary. And her body language is far from that of a hyper-intelligent, supremely confident woman who is used to looking her best under the constant spotlight and cameras.
A woman born in a conservative family, pushed into a profession she wants no part of, taken advantage of, her silence mistaken for arrogance, toughened by circumstance, at the top of her profession; This is Jayalalithaa's life, by her own admission, in a nutshell. And it rings equally true of Ramya Krishnan's life too, as she admits in an interview to The Quint.
Her portrayal therefore is electrifying, despite the fact that it's slower than real life, and despite the fact that we can compare these visuals to Jayalalithaa's video interviews.
Indrajith Sukumaran plays GMR (like MGR), and reveals the silently menacing side to the original superstar CM of Tamil cinema. He's not melodramatic by any measure. And sometimes, his pauses between dialogues feel like they're more cued by someone off-screen than as part of the character. Yet, the Shakti Seshadri-GMR conversations are gold. The chemistry is electrifying, and Indrajith coolly holds his own against a consummate actor.
Adapted from the novel to the screen by Reshma Ghatala, the tone of the narrative in Queen occasionally goes adrift, especially when the characters begin to philosophise their situations. Shakti Seshadri's suicide note to her childhood friend is the best example of this malaise. It starts off in a simple enough ramble, and then;
The Tamil-English version is the best option (versus Hindi or Tamil). Most of the dialogues between the characters is in Tamil, while the Simi Garewal interview and some personal ramblings are in English. This keeps English dialogues that have no connect with the ethos of the world, as marginalia.
It’s the actors and their performances that somehow makes the dialogues work. Surprisingly, the Tamil dubbing over the English dialogues has even less of a connect, since it's spoken in a generic, ad-film dialect.
Queen has its flaws. But it is the largest, and most ambitious Tamil language series to hit the digital platform yet. Ramya Krishnan truly shines in her character, because she lives each moment of it. Despite the disconnect in dialogues, the plot twists that are surprisingly close to reality, keeps the audience hooked. And while Darbuka Siva's music is uninspired and safe, and probably from a licensed music bank, it doesn't disturb.
Gautham Vasudev Menon has delivered content that can be considered a fresh twist to a familiar genre, if not the first steps towards a whole new genre of storytelling. Watch Queen, for Ramya Krishnan, and for the familiarity of a story you know, but just barely.
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