When I first heard the news that Kangana Ranaut is reportedly essaying the role of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the latter’s biopic — Thalaivi — my immediate response was to check for its veracity. While in the era of fake news and Whatsapp Universities, it is prudent to run a quick fact-check for each piece of news that comes one’s way, this particular piece of information left me with certain distress.
I expected more from director AL Vijay.
I have admired Kangana as a newcomer in Gangster, subsequently evolving into a big-league star with Queen. I have no qualms over her acting prowess. However, to play Jayalalithaa requires a certain depth — which I feel Kangana sorely lacks.
The iron lady of Tamil Nadu was not someone to be taken lightly — as a film star or as a politician.
And Kangana, I feel, is too flighty as an individual to essay the role convincingly.
Take her statement — soon after signing a Rs 24 crore deal with the filmmakers — for instance. Kangana reportedly pointed out that her life story is similar to that of Jayalalithaa's. “I was working on my own biopic, but her (Jayalalithaa) story is very similar to my story. In fact, it is a bigger success story than mine. When I heard the narration of this film, I found many similarities between both the stories. So when I had the option to do a film based on her story or my story, I decided on the former," the media reported her saying.
With all due respect to the immense hardships you have been through to make your mark in the Hindi film industry, Miss, you probably have not read or heard enough about Amma’s life.
With no family or support to speak of, being deserted or accepted on the whims of the man who practically owned her, being used, abused and wronged by everyone she trusted and mistrusted in every manner possible — yet standing up stronger after each time — Jayalalithaa’s story is an inspiration to those in the know. There is no denial whatsoever that her character had flaws — and major ones at that — but those shaped her into what she became: an actress par excellence and a formidable politician.
Kangana as Jayalalithaa? I am not convinced. (Photo: India Today)
There are tomes out there on her razor-sharp intellect and intuitive understanding, be it cinema or politics. As a popular political analyst once said, “Crowds gather to hear Karunanidhi speak. They throng to catch a glimpse of Jayalalithaa.” And this was when she had lost the exquisiteness of her youth as a cinema star to illness, medication and steroids.
She was a woman of very few words — a mere nod or even a sharp look was enough to quell the senior-most members of her party. Very few had the authority to speak to her the way Cho Ramaswamy — the political Chanakya to whom she was the devout Chandragupta — spoke to her. And not without reason. It is spoken in hushed tones by senior journalists and political analysts in the state about how he stood by her like a rock — risking his well-being — during her darkest hours.
I strongly doubt if Kangana has it in her to essay that depth of Jayalalithaa’s character convincingly.
Weeks after as her death was announced, there were filmmakers vying to make Amma’s biopic. In fact, there were as many as five Jayalalithaa biopics racing to outrun each other. Last year, director Priyadarshini announced the biopic on Jayalalithaa's life reportedly titled The Iron Lady. The film stars Nithya Menen and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar in the lead roles.
However, considering her tumultuous life, it would take a filmmaker with immense intrepidity to portray her story with some semblance of balance. And a casting director par excellence.
One would have thought Vidya Balan, or Anushka Shetty (after her splendid performance in Baahubali), or Ramya Krishnan (with her powerful screen presence), or Nithya Menen (superb actress with brownie points in resembling Jayalalithaa) could essay the role. In fact, in a rare candid interview in 1999 with Simi Garewal on her show ‘Rendezvous with Simi Garewal’, Jayalalithaa herself said that Aishwarya Rai was the most suitable to play her on-screen if her biopic ever gets made. "Aishwarya Rai would be suitable to play me in my younger days, but then to play me as I am now (back then) or I am likely to be in the future, I think it would be a little difficult," she had said.
Perhaps the late Chief Minister had seen Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar — despite denying the relevance of the film to her life. Rai had played the fictitious character said to be inspired by the Jayalalithaa during her cinema days in the 1997 film. The film was loosely based on Dravidian stalwarts MGR and Karunanidhi. However, the character was killed towards the end and did not get into her political career in full.
The present project starring Kangana is being directed by the famed Tamil director AL Vijay, produced by Vishnu Vardhan Induri and Shailesh R Singh. The script is being penned by writer KV Vijayendra Prasad (of Baahubali and Manikarnika fame), and Madhan Karky will pen the lyrics.
The project titled Thalaivi will be primarily made in Tamil, and will also release in Hindi as Jaya. Kangana reportedly said that she will be learning Tamil for the film. "Unless I fail miserably and they (the makers of the film) have to look for an option for my dubbing.” Proficient in six languages, Jayalalithaa would have been horrified to say that to her director/producer in her days.
Maybe I am judging her too harshly — but the team better come up with a phenomenal script, ace direction, production, camera work and music to distract us from Kangana’s likely ineptitude in essaying the role.