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thalaivii, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Thalaivii (2021)

Two years ago, audiences were subjected to two three-hour long biopics covering the film career and political career of N. T. Rama Rao. Thalaivii manages to confine itself to one film in its essay of NTR’s contemporary and occasional co-star Jayalalithaa. Yet even at half the length this biopic still feels awfully long, a fact not helped by the director's overuse of slow-mo.

After a particularly nasty parliamentary debate sees Jayalalithaa tossed out on her ear (literally), Thalaivii flashes back over twenty years to the actress’ first film with Bollywood superstar M.G. Ramachandran. Despite the protestations of an overly protective advisor, a romance blossoms between the two co-stars. Yet when MGR embarks on a political career, he abruptly puts an end to their relationship. Flash forward ten years to when Jaya is asked to perform at one of his political events, providing her with the opportunity to not only renew old acquaintances, but also take the first tentative steps on a career change of her own.

An uneasy mix of Bollywood and biopic, Thalaivii’s dramatic impact is repeatedly undermined by the film’s pervading theatricality. Though one can forgive the odd fantasy sequence, artificial backdrops and a stage that no theatre could possibly hold, the film cannot overcome a meandering first half in which the leads are required to deliver inane platitudes while supported by a cast encouraged to chew the scenery. Notwithstanding the impressive recreations of the actress’ movies and some instructive behind-the-scenes detail of Bollywood movie making, the portion dealing with Jayalalithaa’s film career remains listless.

More’s the pity for once politics comes to the fore, Thalaivii conveys a passion that was hitherto absent, despite all the histrionics on display. 

Kangana Ranaut, Jayalalithaa, Arvind Swamy, M.G. Ramachandran, Nassar
Karunanidhi, Bhagyashree, Sandhya, Raj Arjun, RM Veerappan

Though complimentary of the biopic as a whole, former minister D. Jayakumar took issue with some of the scenes depicting Jayalalithaa and M.G. Ramachandran’s political careers. Jayakumar disputed that Jayalalithaa kept Ramachandran in the dark about her dealings with Indira Gandhi and that subsequently Ramachandran downplayed her importance. Jayakumar also advised that M Karunanidhi did not thwart Ramachandran becoming a minister in CN Annadurai’s government as he had no desire for a ministerial post in that government.

Jisshu Sengupta, Sobhan Babu, Radha Ravi, M.R. Radha, Regina Cassandra

Biopic features many scene recreations from Jayalalithaa’s film career, including Ayirathil Oruvan, Nam naadu, Adimai Penn and Galatta Kalyanam.

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