Director: Mani Ratnam
Writers: Mani Ratnam, Suhasini
Cast: Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Aishwarya Rai
Iruvar is Mani Ratnam's take on the real-life rivalry between M.G. Ramachandran and Kaurnanidhi. The idea to make a film on this particular topic was sparked by a conversation Mani Ratnam had with renowned Malayalam author, M.T. Vasudevan Nair.
Previous to this, I had only seen Roja and bits of Bombay from Mani Ratnam's filmography. I really didn't like those films and the flag burning/hugging scene from Roja was so bad that it was good. A.R.Rahman's music is a fixture in Mani Ratnam films and while the songs maybe really good independently, I really can't sit through a film with five or six songs when they really don't play an efficient role in moving the story. In Iruvar, it is not the case and since the film's characters come from cinema background, Mani Ratnam was able to use the songs in relevant contexts and they do actually help move the story forward. Still he could have made it more efficient by not filming many of the songs in their entirety and it kind of hampered the film during its middle third. Still it kind of works in the sense that the characters age considerably over the course of the events shown in film and we also feel ourselves aging due to the length of the film.
The characters are not named with their actual names in real life due to understandable reasons and you got Anandam- instead of MGR- played by Mohanlal, Tamil Selvam-instead of Karunanidhi-played by Prakash Raj and Kalpana-instead of Jayalalitha-played by Aiswarya Rai who is making her feature film debut. Anandam is a struggling actor whilst Selvam is a poet/screenplay writer and they meet on set and form a strong friendship. Selvam is part of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu which aims at changing the caste equations in the state to make the society more equitable. He introduces the movement to Anandam who also joins the party whilst pursuing his acting career. Both of them become heavyweights in their own fields and the party uses Anandam's popularity to gain votes. At the time of a crucial election, Anandam gets injured by an accidental gunfire during a shoot, and the sentiments are utilized by the party to win the election and Selvam becomes the chief minister. Over the course of the term, the relation between the two stalwarts breaks down leading to the ouster of film star from the party. Anandam proceeds to form another party of his own and wins the election by running a campaign against corruption and thus becoming the CM. During all these he is attracted to his co-star Kalpana, who resembles his first wife who died young, and introduces her in to politics.
The films works as a vehicle for Mohanlal and Praksah Raj to exhibit their acting skills. The motivation for Selvam to prevent Anandam from entering his ministry is quite obvious as he is skeptical about the intellectual capability of actors from the beginning itself. We get a real perspective on Anandam's personal life but the reasoning for his political actions is not clear cut. It may very well be his ego getting hurt on getting brushed aside. The politics portrayed in the film is quite shallow and maybe that is fair since Tamil Nadu politics is actually quite shallow with it being hogged by stars from silver-screen. Film works better as a story about two characters' transformation after getting power in their respective fields rather than as a political film. Performances from both the lead characters are excellent, particularly from Mohanal whose character at the beginning and end are like chalk and cheese. The role of Selvam was offered to actors like Mammootty and Kamal Hasan who all declined it and Mani Ratnam decided to go with Prakash Raj, a relative unknown at that point of time. The title of the film translates as 'duo' and it is very much a story of both of them even though Mohanlal's character gets considerably more screen-time.
Overall it is a great watch whilst not being perfect. The songs from A.R. Rahman are excellent as is the not so subtle background score. Santosh Shivan handles the camera and there is one particular scene where Mohanlal is delivering a pivotal speech with Prakash Raj in the background and the camera circles the stage quite a few times over the course of which Prakash Raj grows more and more insecure. Not surprisingly, film was a box office failure but garnered universal critical acclaim. As for political films having similar kind of theme, 'Lal Salam' is a pretty good watch and it works better on a political level.