Nadigaiyar Thilagam is the Tamil dubbed version of Mahanati, a biopic on the late legendary South actress Savitri. Keerthy Suresh plays the titular role in this Nag Ashwin-directed film, which also stars Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan and Samantha as a journalist named Madhuravani.
The plot: Nadigaiyar Thilagam depicts the rise and fall of Savitri, starting with her humble beginnings in a village. With her extraordinary abilities, she goes on to rule the Telugu and Tamil film industries. She falls in love and marries Gemini Ganesan, who has two daughters from his first marriage. Her fall from the top is dramatic and controversial, as she gets mired in personal and professional issues.
- Keerthy Suresh is fantastic. In just her fourth year in the industry, she pulls off a heavy-duty performance such as this. In the first half – the early years of Savitri’s career – we get to see Keerthy’s energetic, bubbly and romantic side. In the latter half, she displays a great range of expressions in the emotional moments. She also gets complex scenes in which she must play an alcoholic. It takes guts for a young upcoming actress to take on this part and emerge with flying colours. Working with prosthetics must have also been challenging. Keerthy will be a strong contender for all the awards in 2019.
- Just one film old, director Nag Ashwin has managed a biopic of this scale and delivered the goods convincingly. His producers also deserve praise for their vision and will to do something out of the ordinary. This tribute will surely make Savitri’s near and dear ones and her fans proud.
- With his style, lean physique and great looks, the charming Dulquer Salmaan pulls off the vintage costumes with élan. He has a complex part with grey shades, as Gemini starts feeling insecure about Savitri’s growing popularity. His chemistry with Keerthy appears natural.
- Samantha plays the stammering, introverted journalist who drives the film ahead. It’s sportive of a big star like her to take on a film where she isn’t the center of attention. She shines in the emotional final sequence and the one in a church. Manasi has dubbed well for her, with an authentic Tamil Brahmin slang.
- Composer Mickey J Meyer delivers a terrific soundtrack with melodies like ‘Mouna Mazhaiyilae’, ‘Thandhaay’ and the grand, uplifting title track (with its trumpets in full bloom).
- Cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez, production designer Shivam Rao and art director Avinash Kolla must have slogged to bring alive the period flavour of the film. Their top-notch work shows. Madras’ film studios and other famous landmarks of yore have been authentically presented. The VFX team has also pitched in, recreating the legendary NTR for a small sequence.
- Costumes and accessories hold a lot of significance in any period film, especially one based on a superstar. Great work in this department as well.
- The highly capable Madhan Karky has worked on the Tamil version’s dialogues and lyrics. He is quite the expert in Telugu-to-Tamil crossover projects (he had worked on Baahubali too). The interplay of Telugu and Tamil in the dialogues is enjoyable.
- The little girl who plays the young Savitri is an absolute charmer and quite memorable. Rajendra Prasad gets a solid part as Savitri’s paternal uncle. Many popular actors have cameos – Mohan Babu, Naga Chaitanya, Prakash Raj, Shalini Pandey and Malavika Nair. All of them are likely to have jumped at the opportunity to perform in a potentially classic biopic.
- Vijay Devarakonda doesn’t add much to the film. He plays a photographer who works with Samantha and falls for her. Their romance scenes, though brief, take the focus away from the film’s core. Also, he could have been given a better wig.
- The film has a slow, unhurried pace and a run time of close to three hours. Some trimming in the first half wouldn’t have hurt.
Final Word: Nadigaiyar Thilagam falls in the ‘Must Watch’ category. It is a nostalgic, emotional experience for those who have followed Savitri’s life and career closely. Keerthy Suresh delivers the performance of a lifetime. Given its Telugu flavour, the film is bound to connect more strongly with audiences in the two Telugu states. No wonder Mahanati is faring so well there!