Critic’s Rating: 3.5/5
STORY: The film chronicles the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa (Kangana Ranaut), her relationship with the legendary M. G. Ramachandran (Arvind Swami) and her tumultuous rise to power as the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
REVIEW: An iconic figure in Indian politics, Jayalalithaa’s political journey is known to most. Director Vijay attempts to unravel her icy cold persona and look at her as a woman passionately driven by love. Make no mistake, a woman’s fight for self respect and battle against patriarchy are integral to the story. However, what lies at the heart of the tale is her unconditional love for MGR, despite the societal contempt of her. She faced the wrath of his loyal followers, who deemed their extra marital relationship as illicit and a disgrace to his noble reputation. As days turned into decades, they became each other’s strength and weakness. Bound by the heart, the purity of their love stayed intact even as murky politics, power struggle and people got hellbent on parting the two. The scenes where they indulge in phone conversations without uttering a single word but letting their silence do the talking are heartbreaking. The film essentially works for its poignant love story.
Perceived as the ‘other woman’ in MGR’s life, who got things easy for being his blue eyed girl, Jaya had everything but respect at the beginning of her political career. Despite being cornered, slut shamed and humiliated time and again, she marches on with her head held high. Her relentless fight to earn her place in the society forms the crux of the film.
Kangana in the titular role channels her inner rebel and unflinching self assurance to make a point — she plays second fiddle to no one. A classic case of her screen character imitating her real life in a way. She renders a powerful portrayal of a lovelorn woman who keeps rising like a phoenix from the ashes. She elevates the formulaic script with quiet determination and powerful presence, cleverly not mimicking Jaya but getting the tone and nuances of her character right. As a woman scorned by people for loving fearlessly and feeling deeply, Kangana is outstanding.
The actress finds a perfect companion in Arvind Swami as MGR, her mentor, the wind beneath her wings. He brings in a certain calm to the storm that engulfs Jaya. Swami is impeccable in his mannerisms and body language. There couldn’t have been a better actor to play the Tamil screen icon and people’s leader.
A lot of dialoguebaazi and dramatic slowmo walks populate the stretchy political second half. A former ‘filmwali’ rising to power doesn’t go down too well with the men and the misogyny is conveyed in a rather theatrical & repetitive manner. Shoddy editing and a loud background score feels jarring. The execution lacks restraint and objectivity. The filmmaker takes one dimensional approach to storytelling and his observation of the lead character. Jaya is either smirked at or worshipped. There is no in between. The treatment gets reverential especially in the political portions. The chink in Jaya’s armour doesn’t find at outlet.
Dialogues are painstakingly written and hit the right note. “Mahabharat ka dusra naam jaya hai” sums up Jaya’s life perfectly. In a scene where Jaya tells her ailing mother that people only remember you when they need you, her mother righty argues, “Bina Matlab ke log bhagwaan ko bhi yaad nahi karte.” When Jaya is told that everyone reveres MGR and that she is no different, she says, “Krishna ko sab pasand karte the, phir bhi Radha ki sab mein ginti nahi hoti.” Neeta Lulla’s costumes are detailed and effective. From conical bras of the 60s and 70s to the winged eye makeup, bouffant and vintage props, the recreation of a bygone era is decent if not specific.
Thailaivii pays a resounding ode to Jaya-MGR’s poignant love story, a relationship without labels. The political aspect feels talky, half baked and one-sided. What eventually stays with you is the story of a woman who defied the odds and wrote her own destiny.