Thalaivii - More About the Actor Than the Character
No insight into Jayalalitha
A Tamil film dubbed in Hindi and watched on an OTT platform carries its own baggage of troubles.
Thalaivii is no exception. It is not just the language switch that throws up a problem. Since this is a fictionalized account of a noted and controversial political leader where the politics of the region is intricately woven into the cultural and cinema matrix of Tamil Nadu, this creates yet another distancing impact on the audience of dubbed versions.
The third problem is Kangana Ranaut where the time-lapse and the much-publicized weight gain hardly makes its presence felt. Except for a puffed-up face which good make-up can easily create, and the body robe does not make her look much overweight.
As a result, Kangana Ranaut remains the much-awarded star who publicly claims she has ordered the dress she is going to wear for her fifth National Award for her work in the film. She fails to internalize the character she is demanded to perform. Her performance is impeccable to say the least, but it is not very different from her portrayal in Manikarnika as the Rani of Jhansi. Besides, the dubbing strips the performance of the finer nuances and cadences of the original language, very important in a film from the South made on this lavish scale.
Thalaivii is based on the book 'Thalaivi' by Ajayan Bala. The questions that arise in the case of fictional biographies of high-ranking political leaders are many.
One, how authentic are these to the real lives of these leaders?
Two, are they showcases of sycophancy disguised as ‘entertainment, information and education’?
Three, is it a kind of ‘rescue act’ to erase the many controversies the protagonist was embroiled in which made it to the mass media?
Four, do they intend to rake up controversies while the films are in the making to ensure that the initial box office draw will suffice to cover costs and some more? This should really be interesting.
The film has more or less a circular structure opening with Jayalalitha being battered on the floor of the assembly who challenges the ruling party that she will come back as CM of the State. Then it moves back in time to touch upon – not flesh out – Jayalalitha’s entry into films with her mother (Bhagyashree) constantly instilling her with confidence. Her first meeting with the much older MJR (Arvind Swamy) forever dressed in white with more than 30 years between them is a cutback to filmy romance dating back to the 1950s and 1960s with flashy costumes, synthetic sceneries and gardens, with a slightly bulky but much younger Jaya prancing around with the 50+ MJR.
The loud colours and louder choreography fit into the time-slot of the scenes which also apply to the song-dance choreography.
But after a while, one begins to wonder whether this is a film showcasing how Kangan Ranaut is essaying the character of Jayalalitha on screen or whether this is a genuine attempt to present and portray the life and times of the real Jayalalitha on celluloid or on streaming sites.
This is almost like a promotional film made to underscore the versatility of the star actor Kangana Ranaut rather than an attempt to represent the life and career of an Indian woman who crossed many barriers – familial, social, professional and personal to become the Chief Minister of a very politically sensitive state like Tamil Nadu not once or twice but six times. She was trained in several schools of Indian classical dancing under noted gurus but this is not even touched upon briefly.
Vijayendra Prasad and Rajat Arora's screenplay is very diabolically tailored to show off Jaya as a much-wronged, tortured and abused woman whose more-than-purely-platonic relationship with MJR is cleverly ignored while at the same time, her positive qualities as a young girl are also kept in the dark. For example, not once does the script touch upon her tremendous box office success as the top actress of South Indian cinema who once was the highest earning star in Indian cinema, who could speak six languages fluently. The film begins with Jaya’s physical humiliation on the floor of the House and ends with her achieving the CM’s post for the first time. Nothing before or after that. So, what kind of a fictionalised biography is this, pray?
Director A. L. Vijay has not cared to present how Jaya as a young girl, how deprived she felt without her mother who left her with an aunt as the former was busy working; or, her illustrious academic career which included a scholarship for college studies she was forced to surrender because her mother said she needed to earn by working in films.
MJR’s wife Janaki (Madhu) is as much reduced to a glamorised junior artiste as is Jaya’s mother very well essayed by Bhagyashree. Even the jaded Arvind Swamy as MJR, looked at in hindsight, seems not much more than a glamorised cameo character though he comes across with more conviction than the forever aggressive Kangana, both on-screen and off it.
His kindness for the injured junior artiste on the sets during the shoot is unwittingly undercut by his total ignorance about the terrible corruption in the mid-day meal scheme in schools which he himself introduced as a political leader. This marks Jaya’s official entry into state politics. The Opposition Leaders are boldly coloured as the black villains of the piece and are not permitted much by way of performance.
The cinematography does not place too many demands on imagination and inventiveness but the editing meets up with the challenges presented to it. The sound design is also very good.
Kangana’s evolution towards becoming a political leader is a bit too quickly shown but this lack is partly undercut by Kangana’s slow and steady change in personality, body language, manner of speech, slogans and clothes. Her physical torture by the gathering crowds in the assembly and later when MJR’s hearse is being carried and she is dragged away from it are of course, sentimentalised and reduced to melodrama. For example, the little beggar girl who approaches the car window to ask for alms growing up to become her right-hand Shashikala is a scene out of any cheap box office flick.
True that the biopic of a famous film and political personality does demand some songs but this film is so generously sprinkled with songs on the soundtrack or in the flashback shooting scenes that they tend to detract from the main story and also sound like an audio disturbance at times that disturbs the visual flow of the narrative on screen. Besides, the music and the songs are too loud and not very hummable at that.
This is a masala film in which the masala mix is wrongly blended that has spoiled the final dish. This is unabashedly targeted at the mainstream audience that certainly entertains but neither informs nor educates much less functions as an agency for social change.
Sorry guys, but this could have been a much more polished and finished film even within the commercial format. Remember Shahid, or Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?