THALAPATHY

A movie review by Balaji Balasubramaniam


Cast: Rajnikanth, Mammootty, Arvind, Shobana, Srividya, Jaishanker, Banupriya, Geetha, Amrish Puri
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Direction: Manirathnam

Manirathnam once mentioned in an interview that the three Indian actors most difficult to make a movie with were Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi and Amitabh Bachan. His style of moviemaking clashes with the image these actors have cultivated for themselves and the expectations their fans have from their movies. But he manages quite nicely in Thalapathy with Rajnikanth. It is definitely more a Manirathnam movie than a Rajnikanth movie. The basic, familiar story(with its roots in one of our most famous epics) has been skilfully modernised with his trademark screenplay and dialogs, great cinematography and foot-tapping numbers.

Surya(Rajnikanth) was abandoned by his mother as a baby and has grown up as a rowdy in the slums. The area is ruled with an iron hand by local dada Devaraj(Mammootty), whose thug is killed by Surya. The two are against each other initially but become thick friends soon. Surya thereafter becomes Deva's thalapathy(commander), carrying out his orders. Surya's mother(Srividya) has since married and has a son Arjun(Arvind), who comes to the town as collector. Surya loves Brahmin girl Subbulakshmi(Shobana) but her father marries her off to Arjun while Surya weds Padma(Banupriya) whose husband he had earlier killed. Surya and his mother soon comes to know the truth but are torn between relations and loyalties since Arjun vows to eliminate Deva and Surya while Deva swears revenge on Arjun for police atrocities.

Manirathnam uses the Mahabharath as the base with modern day versions of the main characters here and makes several nods to leave us in no doubts about this fact. So we have characters named Surya(for Karnan) and Arjun(for Arjuna). There also a couple of other hints like the name of a town where Arjun goes to quell some riots(Pandavapuram). The ending is different here, though I believe this might have something to do with the standing of its main stars.

Thalapathy gives us some strong characters and then builds on the emotional interactions between them. Naturally, the movie works best during the scenes of confrontation between these characters. Sparks fly during Rajni's meeting with Mammootty in the rain and later, when the two go up against Arvind Swamy. This scene is picturised very well with the camera cutting between the two teams on opposite sides of the table and Rajni's aggression providing an effective foil to Mammootty's calmness. Sentiments take the upper hand once the hidden relationships are revealed. Rajni's loyalty to Mammootty and Srividya's desire to see neither Arvind or Rajni hurt provide ample fodder for sentiments.

Romance takes a backseat to emotions and we see very little of Manirathnam's touches in this department. Shobana falls for Rajni a little too quickly but the scene where she reveals that she likes Rajni's 'goonda' activities is nicely picturised in a great location. Their meeting after her marriage to Arvind is also conducted naturally and decently.Rajni only has a 'guardian' relationship with Banupriya inspite of their marriage but the girl who plays her daughter is cute and delivers her lines well in her conversations with Rajni. Mammootty and Geetha make a nice radiant couple.

Rajnikanth gets a chance to emote quite a bit more than his other recent movies and does quite well though his fans would not have been happy to see their hero being tortured by a policeman and not fighting back(though he gets his revenge later) or losing the girl he loves. He displays some nice footwork in two songs. Mammootty is dignified and the Manirathnam's clipped dialogs suit his character well. Arvind Swamy looks young and smart in his debut and stands up well to the much more senior artistes. Shobana uses her large, expressive eyes to good use in the initial scenes when she is scared of Rajni and later when she tearfully asks Mammootty to let go of her father. It looks rather odd to see Srividya, who played Rajnikanth's wife in his first movie, play his mother here but she does her job well while Jaishanker gives her good support. Banupriya is underused.

Thalapathy, like all Manirathnam movies, is technically excellent. Manirathnam stuck with Santosh Sivan, his cameraman for Roja. The photography though is completely different. Here, all the scenes have an orange hue and this lends an even greater effect to the already glorious scenes like sunsets. Ilaiyaraja reserved some of his best songs for Manirathnam and things are no different here. Adi Raakkaamma... is extremely catchy and the change into the slow tune towards the end is surprising and done very smoothly. Yamunai Aatrile... is melodious and its shortness leaves us asking for more. Sundari... is another melodious duet while Kaattukuyilu..., with SPB and Jesudas lending voices to Rajni and Mammootty, is fast-paced and nicely choreographed.