Starcast : Rajinikanth, Mammootty, Shobana, Amrish Puri
Director : Mani Ratnam
Like rest of India, the Rajinikanth frenzy hit me hard with ‘Sivaji- The Boss‘.And after watching it, I developed a certain amount of appreciation and liking for Rajinikanth. And after watching Robot , I became a total fan boy. Thanks to the movie Sivaji and movie buffs such as Cinemausher, Sethu and Ratnakar’s passionate reviewing and discussion on South Indian films amongst others, I ended up watching a fair amount of South Indian films (albeit with subtitles) . Such as Pithamagan, Bomarillu, Varanam aayiram, Baasha, Kaakha Kaakha, Vinnaithandi Varuvayaaetc. amongst others. And I have been hooked on to South Indian cinema since then.
It was during this time that I also watched Thalapathi directed by Mani Ratnam and featuring a mega star cast Rajinikanth, Mammootty, Shobana, Arvind Swami, Amrish Puri amongst others. And ever since then, it has been one of my all time favourite movies.
With Thalapathi , Mani Ratnam attempts a modern-day re-telling of Mahabharata and quite a successful one at that. The story of Karna and the friendship between Karna And Duryodhan is legendary. Out of the many stories of Mahabharata, Ratnam takes this story of Karna and Duryodhana and sets it in a more contemporary milieu.
Surya (Rajinikanth) is abandoned as an infant by his mother Kalyani(Srividya) and is raised by an old lady. Staying faithful to Rajinikanth’s on screen persona , he grows up to be a hot-headed man who fights against injustice and wrong doings. Due to this, he clashes with Ramanna a henchman of Devaraj (Mammootty), the local slum mafioso. And ends up killing Ramanna in the process. A furious Devaraj gets Surya arrested, but upon realizing that his henchman was at fault , Devaraj helps him get released. After which , they gradually become the best of friends with Surya standing by Devaraj’s side even in the worst of crisis.
Meanwhile, Kalyani’s Legitimate son played by Arvind Swami is posted to Chennai as a collector where he clashes with Surya and Deva.In between there is also a romantic angle between Rajini and Shobana which is nicely interspersed with the proceedings.
The way Ratnam has shot the movie in the slums , gives the film a gritty & realistic feeling. And helps to set the tone and pace of the film. The fact the movie has been shot by ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan, only helps things to a great extent. Sivan’s cinematography helps in setting and depicting the mood and ambience of the film . Many scenes in the film stand testament to that. Eg: the opening scene where Kalyani abandons an infant Surya in a goods train, the entry scene of Rajinikanth wherein he beats Ramanna mercilessly, the scene where Kalyani’s husband tells the truth to Surya.These scenes continue to linger in your mind days after you have watched the movie
Very few directors can portray realism as nicely as Mani Ratnam. For instance, the action scenes are portrayed very realistically and not larger than life, which is usually the norm for any Rajini movie. Note the scene in which Rajinikant kills Ramanna or the scene in which a cop bashes up Surya badly during an interrogation of Ramanna’s murder. Or the scene in which Kalivardhan‘s (Amrish Puri) men attack Devaraj. The action in these scenes has been choreographed as realistically as possible. Moreover, the minimal usage of background score adds to the overall effect of the scenes.
Mani Ratnam’s previous films were also very subtle. His films such as Nayagan,Anjali, Roja, Bombay etc. are proof of this fact. Ratnam uses this subtlety very effectively to depict relations between the protagonists and also in key scenes. Like the relation between Rajini and Shobhana or the relation between Bhanupriya (Ramanna’s wife) to whom Suriya unwillingly gets married to. Or the scenes between Surya and Deva which form the crux of the film. Also the relationship which Surya shares with Ramanna’s daughter is also depicted very beautifully. The scenes between Surya and Ramanna’s knee long daughter were one of the best parts of the film. Of late, I found this subtlety missing to an extent in Ratnam’s recent films such as Yuva, Raavan,Guru etc.
Kalyani’s husband played by Jaishankar understands her dilemma and supports her a lot. This was quite a change from the usual depiction of a husband who in an otherwise commercial flick would have been unforgiving towards his wife’s misdeeds. As mentioned earlier, Mani Ratnam very nicely uses subtlety in many of the key scenes which help in creating a more profound impact.
Like the scene in which Deva and Surya meet each other after Surya kills Ramanna. Or the scene in which Rajini expresses his outburst against Shobhana, after her father refuses to let them get married. Or the scene in which Surya follows Kalyani quietly after realizing the she is his biological mother. The way in which he quietly yearns for her affection is truly moving. Despite minimal usage of background score, the scenes leave a profound impact on the minds of the viewer.
It indeed takes guts to cast Rajinikanth in a role that is devoid of his trademark mannerisms and larger than life persona. And what a brilliant and understated performance Mani extracts out of Rajini. As the misunderstood and fearless Surya, Rajinikanth gives perhaps the best performance of his career. Watch him in the scene when he learn from Kalyani’s husband that he is the son of Kalyani. Rajinikanth displays varied expressions within a short span. He displays anger,sadness & guilt in the scene with such brilliance. Or the scene in which he quietly follows his mother yearning for her affection after learning the truth from her husband. It is no doubt a brilliant performance. It would be nice to watch Rajini enact such a role once in a while that is devoid of his trademark antics and mannerisms.
People who think that Rajinikanth is all about illogical action scenes, style,punch dialogues etc must watch this film. However to keep his fans happy, Mani Ratnam smartly gives him a somewhat trademark entry and climax scene where he set things straight. Also, as popular rumours suggest the climax was perhaps altered to keep Rajini fans happy. If one sees the climax, it gives such an indication. As the climax seems to be kind of forced and a bit rushed.
There is no doubt about Mammootty being one of the finest actors of Indian Cinema. And in the role of Devaraj, the slumlord with a good Samaritan side he lends the right amount of dignity and grace to the role. He shares a good chemistry with Rajinikanth. Their chemistry and scenes helps the film to reach notches higher. Arvind swamy is also effective. Shobana lends the right amount of grace and charm to her role. Bhanupriya does not have much dialogues but leaves quite an impression in most of her scenes. Amrish Puri is effectively sinister as Kalivardhan, Devaraj’s arch enemy. However I wished he had more screen time. Jayshankar is also effective as the caring and sympathetic husband of Kalyani. Srividya however gives the film’s best performance. As the helpless and guilt ridden mother who is forced to abandon her child under tragic circumstances , she is simply excellent. You cant help but sympathise with her plight as she yearns to meet her long abandoned child.
Watch Thalapathi and savour the vintage Mani Ratnam and Rajinikanth the actor and not the star.