Director Vijay (Devi 2, ‘Avanum Naanum’ from Kutty Story) talks about why he had a sense of fear before directing Thalaivii, (starring Kangana Ranaut) given J. Jayalalitha’s mystique and larger-than-life image, the inspiration he found from her journey, and the contribution of writer Vijayendra Prasad (Baahubali, Mersal) to the film, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
Did you have a sense of fear when Thalaivii came to you?
Yes, the fear was there because I haven’t done a biopic before. Vishnu Vardhan sir called me up to Hyderabad. Initially, he did not tell me about the details of the project. When I was there he said it is the biopic of Jayalalitha Amma, I had no idea how to react to it. I asked him for some time to think about it. I took two days, because when I do it, I have to do it right — there should be complete honesty. Then I said that I will be doing it but the story in the movie should be completed within the 1991 period itself. That was because after that everyone knew about her Journey, I wanted to showcase something people did not know, that’s when the whole journey started. I was convinced with the whole idea of making it.
What made you pick this particular idea? We have seen part of her in Iruvar, we have seen a few more parts in Reshma Ghatala Queen (directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon and Prasath Murugesan). What made you pick this part? You’ve said you always looked up to her…
When it was just an idea, we thought about bringing out the facts that people aren’t aware of. But when we got into the research, it was totally different. We actually look up to her with fear and respect. Yet, there is a human side to her — she has emotions, she smiles, she cracks up at jokes just like any other human. We have seen her in films but back in those times there was no concept of behind the scenes. So, the idea of covering those was an excitement. Another fact that inspired me was that now we are in 2020, but during her times most of the women were housewives. Even at that time, she proved that a woman can become a “Thalaivii”, before that we have seen Indira [Gandhi] ma’m, but south India is even more conservative. How did she handle all the obstacles? How she handled the people in her journey was an inspiration to me.
How did you find Vijayendra Prasad? What did you both discuss when you both first met?
We met through our producers who are from Andhra too. We had big boards placed for the discussion with year-by-year events. It took us 3-4 months to crack the full story. Then Vijayendra Prasad sir listened to us and I told him that she is someone who needs to be celebrated. He took our points — like who she is, how she connected with the people, the different roles that they played in her life — and brought out a flavour that was really beautiful. The scene where RN Veerapan tries to save MGR sir’s image is actually his scene. I had goosebumps when I heard it from him.