So whether you like Kangana Ranaut or not, put your hands together for one of her best performances in a well-written biopic.
Though Jayalalithaa was vastly different from Silk Smitha, there will be an initial tendency to compare Kangana’s work in Thalaivii with Vidya Balan’s in The Dirty Picture given that both heroine-oriented films drew from the lives of the two popular actresses of Chennai.
But director AL Vijay skilfully immerses you in a different world, working with a polished screenplay by Vijayendra Prasad (Baahubali; Bajrangi Bhaijaan) and Rajat Aroraa (Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai; The Dirty Picture). One of the many feats he accomplishes is the heartbreakingly tangible chemistry between Jaya (Kangana Ranaut) and MJR (Arvind Swami), as they’re called in the film, that crackles without a single kiss or physical intimacy.
The ‘namaste’ sequence when she as a fledgling heroine encounters the mighty MGR, oops MJR, or the woman-without-a-status who cuts CM Karuna (Nassar) during his budget speech and ends up swearing that the next time she enters the Tamil Nadu Assembly, it will only be as the Chief Minister, tell the story of a woman who had the guts to stand up to power and look it in the eye.
Combine that courage with a rare resolve and the ability to gather her dignity every time she’s pushed to the ground, and you actually want this woman called Jaya to win. The man she gave her heart to, lets her down again and again. She allows him return to her but sets the terms in her own way. Even when they’ve shifted from the film studios to the political arena where he’s the CM and she’s once again the novice.
The one permanent fixture in their lives is RNV (Raj Arjun), the unwavering loyalist-producer-manager who’d rather burn every costume and reel of a film than allow an impudent heroine to compromise with MJR’s respect in public. He’s the one who checkmates Jaya, draws MJR away from her. And yet, it’s not cinematic villainy, it’s unquestionable loyalty.
Dialogues and scenes like little barbs at MJR’s tendency to want two heroines simultaneously or sailing in two boats at the same time, or his watching her dance after years and telling her what he’d have done if he weren’t the CM of the state, add little touches of humour to the carnival of emotions.
There’s drama, there’s heartfelt feeling, there’s wit, and there’s outwitting. Sometimes by Jaya, sometimes by RNV. But the amalgamation of fine writing, direction and performances keep crudity, boredom and heaviness at bay.
Making it immensely watchable is Kangana. It’s only after seeing her as Jaya that you agree with director Vijay who said the Himachali was the apt choice to play the Chennai cine star and Chief Minister. Kangana is what I’d call, award-worthy perfect.
Arvind Swami, the man who almost retired from acting, is unimaginably endearing as the actor and leader of the masses, a man caught in a hopeless tussle between image and heart.
Costume designer Neeta Lulla also plays a big part in giving credibility and authenticity to the various looks sported by Kangana and Arvind Swami.
I didn’t really care much for GV Prakash Kumar’s music but casting by Mukesh Chhabra is appropriate. Aiding the lead pair are Raj Arjun, splendid as the staunch loyalist, and veteran Nassar as heavyweight opponent Karuna (Karunanidhi). Making welcome returns to the big screen are also Bhagyashree as Jaya’s mother and Madhoo as MJR’s wife Janaki. (An aside: Arvind Swami and Madhoo had played husband and wife in Mani Ratnam’s iconic Roja way back in 1992.)
If you can’t catch it in a theatre, watch it later on an OTT platform. Thalaivii will get the majority vote.