Thalaivii Movie Review: Kangana Ranaut shines as J Jayalalithaa but lacks Amma's empathetic nerve

Director AL Vijay took on the challenge of bringing the life of J Jayalalithaa, a woman who was not only a superstar and an influential figure but an indomitable Amma that everybody loved. Leading the cast is Kangana Ranaut.

Vaishali Jain Vaishali Jain
Updated on: September 09, 2021 17:08 IST
Kangana Ranaut

Kangana Ranaut as J Jayalalithaa

Photo:INSTAGRAM/KANGANA RANAUT
  • Movie Name:Thalaivii
  • Critics Rating: 2.5 / 5
  • Release Date: Sept 10, 2021
  • Director: AL Vijay
  • Genre: Biographical

It's hard to remain neutral when it comes to J Jayalalithaa. The actress-politician was a devout protector of Tamil Nadu, yet managed to have dramatically cinematic moments in all her pursuits. Director AL Vijay took on the challenge of bringing the life of a woman who was not only a superstar and an influential figure but an indomitable Amma that everybody loved. Thalaivii promised us to bring a wholesome package fully exploring aspects of her life, making Jaya wholly sympathetic — but Kangana Ranaut (as J Jayalalithaa) and Arvind Swami's (as MG Ramachandran) biopic made it hard to swallow. While the national award-winning actress masterfully managed to bring the first two aspects of J Jayalalithaa's life on screen, the makers of Thalaivii surprisingly missed to show her as the beloved Amma. 

In the first half, she is a cumbersome newcomer smitten by the charming MGR. It's a hide-reveal sort of plot. Jaya does not elude her feelings in the dressing rooms but when asked about it publically she has a simple reply, "Who doesn't love MGR?" The film steers clear from commenting on their relationship and the result is bleak with no force. In the second half, the giggly superstar is an aged heroine paving way for Ranaut to turn into the assertive future state chief minister. Not so subtly, the actress goes to adopting the persona of a pompous feminist crusader. 

If considered as an ode to the bond MGR and Jayalalithaa shared, Thalaivii does score a point. But in terms of humanising the grandiose figure we all have seen and heard about, it's a chance limited to trying a prosthetic face and act 'edgy'. Kangana is not bad per se. We all know how versatile she can be (Queen, Tanu Weds Manu, Manikarnika are only a few examples). Here too she shows the audience what she's capable of. As we see the actress hopping on the train to cover the enormous life of Jaya, she seamlessly transforms herself and exudes into her ageing persona but the plot limits her. Her dialogues get too preachy and melodramatic to leave an impact. Songs don't help either. They're easily forgetful. 

Why we miss the empathetic nerve for Thalaivii's Jaya can be because it lacks a feminine vision. The film seems better when it comes to exploring the thought behind the whispers that go around when a female superstar steps inside a male dominated political zone. However, putting a spotlight on Jayalalithaa's ordeals is only verbal. 

In this drab biopic of the former TN Chief Minister, the plot aches to explore her psychoanalytical oddities. They are underplayed in pounds of makeup and prosthetic that bury Jaya's adoration and ambition. There was more — much more — to the indomitable J Jayalalithaa than being a pretty face of showbiz and 'Propaganda Secretary' to MGR, but you wouldn't know it from watching Vijay's diluted portrait of Jaya as a woman driven by MGR. Of course, he had influenced her life, but by many accounts, Jaya was a fierce, powerful identity, the kind of woman who was loved and followed by millions. Here, Jaya is just swayed by fortune, fate and circumstances. Without her will, she first became a superstar and later a stringent leader. But we never know her thoughts and turmoil. 

Written by KV Vijayendra Prasad, Madhan Karky (Tamil), and Rajat Arora (Hindi) and directed by Vijay, it feels right to say that the film could have been different with the addition of female members. 

However, Thalaivii finds its strength in its supporting cast. Nassar as M Karunanidhi and Raj Arjun as R M Veerappan shine brighter in balancing the plot. Also, director Vijay made sure some postcard moments from Jayalalithaa's life found space on the screen. Famous pictures of Jayalalitha like the car moment, the one where she is seen standing beside MGR's mortal remains and another one where an injured Jaya is seen with Rajeev Gandhi are remarkably brought to life. They seem like a replica of real life.

However, at present, when Bollywood is running high on biopics, replicas won't suffice. From sports dramas to military majors to eccentric record holders, you name it and you'll probably find a recently released film in the genre or at least one in making. In this long list, Kangana Ranaut's Thalaivii doesn't make the impact we expect from it.