Production: Chandra Prakash Jain, CP Dinesh, CP Sunil
Cast: Abhimanyu Singh, Amala Paul, Rajiv Pillai, Santhanam, Sathyaraj, Vijay
Direction: AL Vijay
Screenplay: AL Vijay
Story: AL Vijay
Background score: GV Prakash Kumar
Cinematography: Nirav Shah
In the much-anticipated wait for Thalaiva, director Vijay remarked that he felt masses might begin referring to ‘Ilayathalapathy’ Vijay as “Thalaiva” Vijay instead of his long held moniker. Upon watching the film this perspective is not hard to understand as his latest, reveals a Vijay different from what we’ve ever seen before. Helmed as a more serious action flick, reminiscent of Godfather tones in its trailers, Thalaiva took on the bold task of marrying commercial action with a grittier look at how those without means seek justice for a myriad of social issues. Was the combo of Vijay & Vijay successful in delivering a balance of mass and meaning?
The film begins in beautifully picturized locales of Sydney, Australia where we meet typically talented and charming lover-boy Vishwa, played by Vijay, who along with a gaggle of dancers run a successful business while also pursuing fame in major dance competitions. The premise is the perfect excuse for Vijay to steal the scene with his youthful moves, and fulfill the comedy track of the film in combination with the always-entertaining Santhanam. A cute but at times silly & slow love story ensues between Vishwa and lead female character Meera, played by Amala Paul in her first pairing opposite Vijay. We learn early on of Vishwa’s close relationship with his father who resides in Mumbai, played by Sathyaraj who is depicted in an elusive but clearly powerful role, and through a plausible cause & effect the film shifts to India where the real story takes place. What follows is a portrayal of don-leadership for the good of the less fortunate, mixed in with familial politics and your typical revenge & good versus evil scenarios, but told in a stylized manner.
The first half of the film drags a bit given the lack of plot development. An hour into the film there is no real conflict at hand, however, within the few minutes immediately before the intermission the audience is rattled with shocking plot & character twists. There are several ‘gasp-worthy’ scenes soon after the break, based on Vijay’s portrayal and stunning cinematography of some raw (but not overtly gory) violence. Although the overarching revenge conflict & final climax scenes are not incredibly unique ideas, they are shot very well and add to the overall style quotient of the film.
Despite a large number of supporting stars the film primarily relies on a few strong performances to maintain the drama and suspense. Sathyaraj perfectly portrays and resembles the strong & silent elder type. Santhanam’s comedy is enjoyable as usual, but he evokes quite a few laughs particularly for referencing some of Vijay’s classic lines (“I am waiting”) & working hard for a chance to play the hero himself. Bollywood’s Abimanyu Singh as the key antagonist could have done a better job; given the intensity of Vijay’s character & the dark-running ‘Nayagan’ tones, a more legitimately frightening villain would have helped add to the serious tones of the film. Amala Paul does a decent job in a fairly interesting lead female character in a male-dominated story.
And of course when it comes to Ilayathalapathy, Thalaiva Vijay the film lives up to its selling point as his “time to lead”. His ever-present lover boy charm and penchant romantic-comedy is seen in abundance in the first half, but his true talent comes through after the break when we watch him so realistically portray someone whose innocence is erased with a few brief realizations and who takes to the ‘dark’ side with such ease. There are several moments when his character is vulnerable and unsuspecting, and that is refreshing as we witness true human weakness & then watch how he overcomes it. Although we have seen him in roles of authority or don-like symbols before (ie. Bhagavathy) Thalaiva shows us a quieter and more pensive hero who only flexes his muscles when necessary, but emits that intimidation from the moment he decides to lead. And his action & stunt work is superb as always, and with his well-maintained physique he looks great in both his avatars as a happy go lucky youth and as a leader. Credits also to Director Vijay in trying to present a different ‘Ilayathalapathy’ to his fans.
The song videos were a true highlight, not only for Vijay’s dance moves & the fresh choreography, but also for the beautiful cinematography. The melody of “Yaar Indha Saalai “ was made sweeter with a cute video weaving together plot development with beautiful Sydney sights, but the “Thalapathy” and “Vanaganna” videos stood out for their colorful and grand portrayals, amidst the dark shades of the second half of the film. The BGM stands out more in the second half.
Technically the film is a real feat, with the kind of camera work & fast paced editing by Nirav Shah and Anthony, respectively, which capture the raw nature of the non-urbanized sections of Mumbai. The film emits a generally sober tone in its colors and costumes while in India, except for the songs, and that coupled with generally realistic looking action sequences by Silva make for a more adult entertainer. Kudos should also go to the costume designer/makeup artist who takes Vijay’s hair & looks subtly from boyfriend to don, leaving us with a mature and powerful looking VJ.
Overall, although slow at the start and missing in some of its character backstories, the film makes up for it with few unexpected turns of events. It is not an overtly commercial film made for those who expect equal parts romance, comedy and action, but a more commercially lighter look at the ‘Godfather’ genre.