8 Biopics Of Political Leaders From The South
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It’s not just common for actors from the South to venture into politics (and aspire for Chief Ministership) but a political inclination is also considered a somewhat necessary part of their stardom. For three decades, Rajinikanth’s possible political entry was not just a preoccupation for politicians but also an essential part of his stardom and enigma. But there have been several actors who ended up in electoral politics, some of whom went on to become iconic leaders like MGR and NTR. And in a kind of reversal after their demise, the actor-politicians came back to the silver screen, reimagined in films like Iruvar (MGR) and Kathanayakudu (NTR). 

With Thalaivi, a biopic of Jayalalitha releasing on September 10, here’s a list of previous political biopics from the South: from the various depictions of superstars like MGR, NTR and Jayalalitha to narratives of lesser known but iconic leaders like Kamaraj and YS Rajasekhara Reddy:

Iruvar (1997) — Tamil

An unofficial adaptation of the real-life friendship and political rivalry of Dravidian stalwarts MGR (named Anandhan and played by Mohanlal) and M. Karunanidhi (named Tamizhselvan, played by Prakash Raj), Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar also dealt with the relationship between MGR and Jayalalitha (Aishwarya Rai). It talks about these political icons and their relationship with Dravidian Politics and Tamil Cinema. The film tracks the complicated relationship between the two icons, torn constantly between admiration they had for the other and that they had for themselves. 

*Available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Queen (2019) — Tamil

The 11-episode web series starring Ramya Krishnan is based on the life of former Chief Minister, J. Jayalalitha. It starts with an interview that is based on the interview given by J. Jayalalitha on Rendezvous by Simi Garewal. All the incidents in her life starting from her childhood till her entry into politics are depicted in this season, told from the point of view of the Jayalalitha, the Iron Lady, as she narrativises her mostly tragic, mercurial, and always dramatic journey in her personal life, films, and politics, with all of them intersecting in complicated ways. 

*Available for streaming on MX Player

One (2020) — Malayalam

Mammootty plays Kadakkal Chandran, a Communist leader and Chief Minister, who unofficially stands in for Pinrayi Vijayan. He plays the role to perfection in this biopic that depicts the person’s political beliefs and personal simplicity. In fact, you get the feeling that Kadakkal Chandran is more of an ideological force than a common human being with quirks and doubts — an ideal leader. 

*Available for streaming on Netflix

NTR Kathanayakudu (2019) — Telugu

Director Krish’s Kathanayakudu is based on the acting and political career of the legendary NT Rama Rao with his son Balakrishna playing him. The film’s story starts with NTR as a sub-registrar at Guntur sub-courts and you get a feeling that NTR was always a legend and the only thing left was for the world to recognize it. Arguably hagiographic, the film captures the gregarious exuberance of NTR and gives you a sense of his personal magnetism.

*Available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

 Yatra (2019) — Telugu

The Telugu biopic on their former chief minister;  Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, played by Mammootty, is based on his Padayatra — a journey taken by politicians to become closer to their citizens. Mammootty avoids mimicking YSR physically, and instead plays it true to the spirit of the person.

*Available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Kamaraj (2004) — Tamil

Kamaraj had nothing to do with films, and his image was in a sense the antithesis of M. Karunanidhi (who was a formidable intellectual) or MGR (who had a lot of personal magnetism). Kamaraj was known instead for his simplicity — a seeming everyman who surprisingly had the power to help other common folk. A. Balakrishnan’s Kamaraj  starts with his childhood in Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, and then his entry into politics and showcases the humanitarian values and principles of Kamaraj.

*Available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Lal Salam (1990) — Malayalam

Inspired by the lives of Communist Party of India members — Varghese Vaidyan (Mohanlal), T.V Thomas (Murali), and KR Gowri Amma (Geetha), this Malayalam political drama starred  Mohanlal, Murali, Geetha, and Urvashi. Even though it wasn’t an official biopic — even the names of the characters are changed — the similarities are well established. In fact, it was scripted by Varghese Vaidyan’s son, Cheriyan Kalpakavady.

*Available for streaming on YouTube.

Periyar (2007) — Tamil

This 2007 biopic is based on the life of the social reformer, atheist, and robust enemy of superstition EV Ramasamy who was also referred to as Thanthai Periyar. The role of Periyar was played to perfection by Sathyaraj and also starred Khushboo Sundar. 

*Available for streaming on YouTube.

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