In the film, Kalpana is ‘understood’ to have perished in a car crash. In reality, however, she survived to win the Tamil Nadu elections not once, not twice, but four times! Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Iruvar (1997, Iddaru in Telugu) maps the Dravidian Movement with its lead players MG Ramachandran, M Karunanidhi and its leading lady J Jayalalithaa! Both MK and Jayalalithaa denied the relevance of the film to their lives and never admitted to the film being a bio-pic but watch some of the scenes doing the rounds on FB and WhatsApp now and it all adds-up! While the print media covers the last rites of Tamil Nadu’s late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and has dedications which befits her political status, the new-age television anchors seem to display a bit of irreverence to the Iron Lady’s legacy! In that context I recommend they watch Iddaru, to comprehend the contextual significance Jayalalithaa played in TN politics and how her film career embellished her entry into the AIADMK party because of her 27 films with its brand ambassador MGR!
MGR’s first wife and Jayalalitha bear a striking resemblance and this came through in the dual role played by Aishwarya Rai’s Pushpa and Kalpana. MGR was ‘brought to life’ with great aplomb by Mohanlal’s Anandan while Prakashraj gave his career’s best performance as the poet-politician Thamizhselvan! The situations and scenarios unfold in unpredictable ways which make the story more than just a political saga.
Iruvar is as much a love story as it is a tale of friendship! It is the only surviving celluloid version of the Dravidian political history which is mostly hearsay today or what one might read on the internet! The film highlights stellar personalities who shaped the DK/DMK/AIADMK parties, their personal equations which propel their political decisions and as their careers expand, the political landscape of this state also widens! Craft-wise, it is Mani’s best film till date!
Jayalalitha had a superb start to her political innings when she was chosen to become the Propaganda Secretary for AIADMK and then as MP. Post 1980, she refused to act in films, even the ones starring Rajnikanth, whom she describes as a reigning superstar as early as dated in her letter to a publication which called her “an actress who was desperate to make a comeback”! She explains how she was asked to play Sripriya’s role in Billa (1980) by producer K Balaje.
There was an instance earlier when she had turned down the offer to play Rajnikanth’s sister (later played by her so-called replacement in the list of MGR heroines - Latha) in Devude Gelichaadu (1976)! Her reason to say no to films, as cited by her in the letter also makes me focus on the one word she uses to describe herself – Queen!
Indeed she lived and died as a queen, a queen-mother if one can give her the dignity of being called Amma, a nomenclature she had to build from scratch to annihilate the glamorous image she enjoyed when she was a star heroine! Her lifestyle, choice of attire, her stardom and political supremacy proved beyond doubt that her innerself was destined to rule! She quit films permanently with Panchu Arunachalam’s Nayakudu Vinayakudu in 1980. By then she had donned bolder roles in films starring younger heroes of her times like Jaishankar - the ghost flick Aame Evaru (1966) and the comedy caper Bommalaattam (1968). She also acted with Telugu Superstars NTR and ANR as Telugu films were produced in the then film capital Madras!
Her number of films given the fact that she entered cinema only in 1965 and ruled Tamil and Telugu filmdom equally as a numero-uno heroine till 1980 gives her just 15years for a staggering tally of 277 films! She worked three to four shifts in a day and managed different language films thanks to her sharp mind and a penchant for learning her lines by-heart ahead of shoot and arrived on time despite her multiple commitments to star in different films. Her singing came in for much praise when she crooned for Amma Endraal Anbu in MGR’s Adimai Penn! The recording of the song happened under the supervision of the erstwhile Saraswathi Stores (now AVM Audio) S Kannan who also arranged her music training with Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan to catch the basic swaras and techniques so she could record with minimal ‘takes’!
Jayalalitha’s filmography started and ended as she channelled it – she led from the front and never played sister-mother roles for younger heroes or character roles in films starring MGR or Sivaji like Savithri and Padmini did! Jayalalithaa came in as a Queen on the silver-screen and her tenure in politics also show she died as one.