Director Vijay considers Thalaivi, the official biopic on former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, as the most important film in his career. “It is not pressurising, but I consider this as a huge responsibility,” Vijay smiles, quickly adding, “What we attempt, that too, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thalaivi, which will be released in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, traces the life of madam Jayalalithaa, between 1965 and 1991. We are striving to make our film as authentic as possible.”
Excerpts from a conversation:
Biopics are not always objective. Tell us about your approach towards Thalaivi.
Our biopic intends to celebrate madam Jayalalithaa. At the same time, we aim to give a good cinematic experience to the audience. She was a warrior woman, and her story deserves to be told. The film is written by KV Vijayendra Prasad sir, who penned Baahubali and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. As a team, we are aware that screen adaptations of the lives of the famous tread a fine line—what and what not to show. I am eternally grateful to J Deepak, nephew of madam Jayalalithaa, who has given us the ‘green signal’.
How did you choose the portions of Jayalalithaa’s life you wanted to recreate?
Thalaivi provides insights into madam Jayalalithaa’s eventful life – both as an actor and a politician. Of course, not everything can be shown in two-and-a-half hours. We have captured the significant ones. For example, in 1980, when MGR became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, there was a huge meeting on Mount Road, and one lakh people had gathered for the same. We have recreated this in Thalaivi, besides two MGR-Jayalalithaa songs. From Arignar Anna, Kalaignar Karunanidhi to Sobhan Babu, our biopic has it all.
It’s amazing how Arvind Swami nailed the look of MGR in the teaser, which was unveiled last month.
Thank you! The idea was to recreate “Naan Ungal Veettu Pillai” song from Pudhiya Boomi (1968). We were particular that we retain the look and feel of the MGR-starrer (in black and white). Right from the costumes to the hair-do Arvind Swami was sporting, everything was handpicked. I am happy it got an overwhelming response. The film holds many more surprises. (Smiles)
Did you watch Gautham Menon’s web series Queen?
I caught three episodes, barring another featuring Indrajith Sukumaran. From Gautham Menon’s interviews, I understand the web series was a fictional take on madam Jayalalithaa’s life. To be honest, I didn’t want to watch it completely. Enga adhoda influence vandhrumo-nu bayam! (Laughs) But I quite liked Anikha Surendran’s performance.
Also Read | Queen review: A fascinating watch
All biopics promise to tell “the truth” about respective subjects.
I believe the intention is the ultimate key. And, we have given our 100 per cent. Producers believe in the content, and so do I as a filmmaker. Generally, I am not overconfident, but for some reason, I believe Thalaivi will work because people can connect with what is happening on the screen. They are familiar with madam Jayalalithaa and her life. They still adore her for the person she was. She stood up stronger after every time she was defeated. She was an inspiration. Moreover, to make viewing more interesting, we have not tweaked the facts.
But biopics tend to glorify the well-known personality on whom it is based.
Madam Jayalalithaa is what she was. A legend like her needs no glorification. She endured so much pain as a woman. Further, she led her life with so much dignity.
Many are doubtful if Kangana Ranaut can pull off Jayalalithaa’s character convincingly. There were trolls on social media.
It is too soon to pass judgement. (Pauses) No one is better than Kangana Ranaut to play madam Jayalalithaa, trust me. She put on 10 kilos for Thalaivi, and someone of her stature need not have done this. Give her anything, she aces it—emotional scenes or Bharatanatyam steps. Kangana is not someone who can be described by one adjective. She is a director’s delight, and I have never seen a dedicated actor like her. Avunga lady Aamir Khan! (Laughs) I request the audience to come with an open mind and see madam Jayalalithaa in Kangana.
Don’t you think it is easier putting together a good biopic about a controversial figure who is no more?
Is that what you think? I beg to differ. A good biopic requires a perfect blend between the subject and the actor portraying them, as well as a director with a good sense of drama and script. In Thalaivi, we are telling the real story of a person. Biopics are tricky to handle because you know you have a big audience to satisfy. They are a win-win situation for artistes as they provide a golden opportunity to showcase their acting skills.
Tell us about the research work that you put in for Thalaivi.
It is humongous. For instance, an incident that happened may have different perspectives, and I should know of everything. First, I decided the style of narrative I wanted to incorporate. Second, I made sure the information I collected was factually correct. Third, I made sure my product should not sound like a documentary. The whole process took more than a year. I started to write around July 2018 and got my first draft ready by February 2019. Till now, I would have made 30-35 drafts. I loved the Baahubali franchise because it had everything a film should have. Likewise, Thalaivi has something for everybody. Thanks to Vijayendra Prasad sir, who was instrumental in bringing Kangana Ranaut on board. I enjoyed working with him. For six months, I spent time at his Hyderabad residence discussing madam Jayalalithaa. We talked so much. Without his contribution, Thalaivi would not have been what it is today. Also, I believe every film is destined and attracts what it requires subconsciously.
— Rangoli Chandel (@Rangoli_A) February 24, 2020
Has Thalaivi come out the same way that you envisioned?
Absolutely. Half the battle was won when Kangana stepped into madam Jayalalithaa’s shoes. She is a proven star. Kangana equally had an idea of how her character should be. She didn’t want to mimic madam Jayalalithaa. That is what I wanted, too. For those who have known our former Chief Minister, Thalaivi will be a nostalgic moment. And for the new generation, a revelation. Every day, before shooting, I visit the temple. So far, it has been a fantastic and positive journey. Films like Iruvar are a huge inspiration for me to direct Thalaivi.
Why did you zero in on June 26 as the release date?
Perhaps, if you ask my producers, you will get an answer. (Smiles) In Bollywood, whoever finances a film decides when it will be released. But the date has nothing to do with madam Jayalalithaa’s life whatsoever.
During the interview with Simi Garewal, Jayalalithaa had said she doesn’t want her life to be made into a film.
(Pauses) This is a tough question, indeed. I don’t know what to say.
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