Thalaivii Review: Bad Writing, Dialogues Mar Kangana Ranaut's Jayalalithaa Act

Thalaivii Review: Bad Writing, Dialogues Mar Kangana Ranaut's Jayalalithaa Act

Our review of the much-awaited Jayalalithaa biopic starring Kangana Ranaut.

3 min read

Thalaivii Review: Bad Writing, Dialogues Mar Kangana Ranaut's Jayalalithaa Act

(Note: This is a review of the Hindi version of the film)

I must start the review with a confession. I have often wondered why do we in India even bother with biopics when we can simply perform a bhajan and get away with it. We choose a worthy subject and go on and on eulogising the subject the film is based on. That way no one gets hurt and we still do what we intended to do in considerably less time, because it takes guts and a certain degree of chutzpah to make a film on a person keeping all their complexities intact. One doesn’t need to take sides, but surely ironing out creases in a character and rounding off all rough edges isn’t the purpose of films, not unless they are PR driven.

Based on J Jayalalithaa’s life, Thalaivii directed by AL Vijay has an incredible subject at hand. She was a former actor herself and no matter which part of the world you belong to, an ingénue‘s journey who is pushed into films at a very young age and her eventual rise to the position of Chief Minister is a fascinating one. What play of fate and inner fortitude resulted in this kind of denouement? A lot of details are already in public domain. Be it Jayalalithaa's closeness to MGR, how their successful pairing on screen resulted in umpteen blockbusters, how she irrevocably fell in love with the man the masses worshipped, how MGR was instrumental in getting her into politics and the troughs and crests of life in public service.

Based on the book Thalaivii by Ajayan Bala, Vijendra Prasad’s screenplay delves headlong into the task at hand as we witness Jayalalithaa being attacked and assaulted inside the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. A disheveled Jaya emerges, her saree torn as she vows to return only once she becomes the Chief Minister of the state. Next, we find ourselves on a film shoot where Jaya first set eyes on MGR, already a revered and loved figure. Arvind Swami shares an uncanny resemblance to the matinee icon, emulating his mannerisms to the T.

Kangana Ranaut is brave and uninhibited in her portrayal as a young woman trying to make sense of her immediate world she has been thrust into by her mother.

It’s clearly a patriarchal order where older men think nothing of romancing young girls on screen. We see how conveniently the female lead can be killed off or replaced depending on the whims of the powerful men running the industry. There is also an excellent Raj Arjun in the role of MGR’s confidante and supporter who registers his disapproval of Jaya blighting his grand plans for MGR. He luckily has a better written character and makes the most of it. While these aspects are touched upon, nowhere does Vijendra Prasad attempt to delve deeper into the hegemonic powers. Thalaivii however is watchable purely for the actors and their performances, who despite being saddled by the most banal dialogues by Rajat Arora (in the Hindi version) manage to be credible.

The dialogues become burdensome after a while, an unnecessary “filmy” exchange that robs the scenes of their credible potency.

If pre-interval is spent trying to establish the Jaya-MGR bond, post-interval it’s her eloquent rise within the party that is the central focus of Thalaivii. In its 153-minute runtime which could clearly have been pruned, there are lots of well-crafted, powerful scenes full of impact. Be it the assembly assault or how Jaya was treated during the MGR funeral procession. There are also moments depicting MGR and DMK stalwart Karunanidhi’s close bond (played by veteran actor Nassar who gets the look just right but is otherwise wasted). But these individual moments never come together as a whole. In fact, sometimes they appear like existing in a vacuum because the narrative stubbornly doesn’t even attempt to give us any other perspective or point of view. How was Jaya’s relationship with MGR’s wife, who in the film is played by Madhoo and has only a handful of lines? Was Jaya resentful of having to give up her dreams of higher studies to enter films? What drew her to public life? Thalaivii is very coy about the Jaya- MGR bond which is strange because that remains the central focus of the narrative.

The writing and dialogues severely let down Thalaivii. It is the kind of film that wants to dictate what we should think or feel at any given point of time and that can prove to be very frustrating. However, the casting adroitly helps it stay afloat. One is willing to go the distance for Kangna Ranaut's performance.

Rating: 2.5 Quints out of 5.

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