For the first time, in recent times, Kangana Ranaut fails to deliver in an underwritten film. You can watch Thalaivii in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu in cinemas near you…
In a conversation with Simi Garewal on her show, about 24 years ago, the late J. Jayalalithaa had remarked, rather humorously, “Nowadays, most men I meet are terrified of me.” That is a statement that stayed with me from when I had first watched this interview, only a couple of years ago, on YouTube. It’s impossible to not draw a parallel between the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s statement and Kangana Ranaut’s career. It is indeed true, that off late most men have been terrified of her. She’s had an enviable list of films to her credit, four national awards for her performances in these very films – who wouldn’t want a career like that! Who wouldn’t be afraid of her! But as Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom rightfully remarked, “kabhi kisi ko itna bhi mat darrao ki darr hi khatam ho jaye.” This analogy is open to interpretations, but what’s clear, after watching Vijay’s Thalaivii, starring Kangana Ranaut as Jayalalithaa, is that films don’t run on attitude, they run on merit. Sadly, Thalaivii gets buried under the weight of the former.
Biopics in Hindi Cinema are always questionable. The biggest question of them all is authenticity. Then comes the obvious questioning of why the film didn’t touch upon other aspects of a person’s life. The list goes on, but the questions are mostly redundant. A film is a director (and writers) vision. They choose what part of a person’s life they want to talk about. So, on most days, I’m okay with the aspects they choose to deal with, even if they leave out a great chunk of the person’s life, but as long as all of it remains authentic, and true to the said person’s actual personality. Director A. L. Vijay and writers K. V. Vijayendra Prasad and Madhan Karky’s write Jaya’s life well, but only on paper. This wasn’t meant for the big screen. The story keeps moving but at no point does it go somewhere. We’re only moving in circles, and not once do we get to see what it meant for Jaya for be Jayalalithaa, the actor or the politician. Their film delves into anything outside of Jayalalithaa’s Wikipedia page.
Post Queen Kangana Ranaut has done wonders to her most underwritten characters, except maybe one or two. But in Thalaivii, even Ranaut can’t rise above the writing. A character that should’ve ideally been a landmark character in her filmography, sadly goes by in passing. This is a miss!
The biggest problem of Thalaivii is that it’s a story about one of India’s most powerful woman, and yet, somehow, we’ve allowed men to write her. I’m not saying men cannot write wonderful women characters. Of course they can. Kangana Ranaut’s Rani (Queen), Simran (Simran), Tanu (Tanu Weds Manu) have been written by men, after all. But Thalaivii just proves otherwise. Jayalalithaa, in the film and in real life, is shown/was a humanitarian before being a politician, and we see glimpses of that, but it’s always only in passing. Her love for doing good for the people never really becomes a theme of the film. It always suffers in the background. What we do get are fierce dialogues about women empowerment and feminism.
But how seriously are we to take this feminism? Thalaivii’s brand of feminism rests on Akshay Kumar’s shoulder. Kangana Ranaut has always advocated women’s rights, and rightfully so, but here, she submits to the ideas of masculinity and fights for women empowerment through the very problem of patriarchy. In Thalaivii the actor gives in and walks in slow motion, against horrendous background music, whenever she’s walking towards victory. She’s the only woman in politics, somehow the only female actor romancing MGR, but we never get to know how it feels, or even what it took, to be the only woman up there. 25 years ago, it wouldn’t have been easy. But this is a surface level description of the struggles of being the youngest Chief Minister of and Indian state.
Kangana Ranaut is an actor par excellence. There’s no denying that. By now, we know that she can literally play any and every character. She’s even perfect as Jayalalithaa, but was she the best choice for this film, considering it’s also shot in Tamil? Certainly not. I watched the film in Tamil, and not Hindi, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the wonders a Tamil speaking leading lady could’ve brought to this character. Ranaut has the power, the aura to play this lioness of a character, but she doesn’t have her dialect, and that’s where she fails miserably, making her Jaya my least favourite performance of her in recent times. Even in Hindi, I don’t really think Ranaut would have much to offer, because there is nothing in the writing. Ranaut is an actor who has risen above the writing even in the most underwritten films – Simran, Rangoon, Revolver Rani come to my mind. Post Queen she’s done wonders to her most underwritten characters, except maybe one or two. But in Thalaivii, even Ranaut can’t rise above the writing. A character that should’ve ideally been a landmark character in her filmography, sadly goes by in passing. This is a miss!
Arvind Swami as M. G. Ramachandran, Nassar as M. Karunanidhi and Samuthirakani as R. M. Veerappan are terrific in their performances. Despite the writing they, somehow, manage to deliver. It’s probably the comfort they have with the language and their affinity to South Indian politics. In a small role, even Bhagyashree is lovely!
Thalaivii’s brand of feminism rests on Akshay Kumar’s shoulder. Kangana Ranaut gives in and walks in slow motion, against horrendous background music, whenever she’s walking towards victory.
Apart from these actors, the only person who knows what they’re doing in the film is costume designer Neeta Lulla. Lulla creates a wonderful wardrobe for Jaya. It’s never overpowering, always subtle and so pleasing to the eyes.
What could’ve saved the film, if you ask me? Research. The first half of the film plays out as a romantic saga between Jaya and MGR, while the second focusses on, first his and then her entry into politics. We came here to see Jayalalithaa, but sadly, we never truly get an idea of who she was, how did she manage to win six tenures in Tamil Nadu, the work she did for the people. Again, it’s the director’s choice. He didn’t want to get into these territories. But even those he ventures into, he doesn’t do justice to. Even with this writing, what could’ve saved the film is a Tamil speaking leading lady. Samantha Akkineni is my best bet!
All in all, as impressed as I was by the Thalaivii trailer, I would’ve preferred reading a book on Jayalalithaa than watching this mess of a film. Or maybe I’ll just go back to her interview with Simi Garewal…
Watch the Thalaivii trailer here:
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