‘Queen’ is a befitting though self-limited homage to Jayalalithaa

The characters and forces that contributed to the making of the formidable ‘Amma’ are all there in the series, though many of the character are frightfully freed of nuance

Ramya Krishnan in ‘Queen’
Ramya Krishnan in ‘Queen’

Subhash K Jha

Having washed their hands off all claims to being a Jayalalithaa biopic, this web series, with as many dips curves highs and lows as the real character’s life, can safely be assumed to take some interesting flights of fancy, even while putting on screen enough meat from the true mart to keep the consumer sniffing and admiring the offering on display.

Queen opens with Lilette Dubey doing a Rendezvous With Jayalalithaa styled interview with an actress-turned-politician named Shakti Seshadri.

As …errrr, Shakti, Ramya Krishnan hits the right notes from the outset.  She conveys all the gravitas dignity and obstinacy of the original without trying look like the lady who lorded over  Tamil hearts and minds for decades.

The  series has some terrific moments from the protagonist’s childhood where little Shakti (played beautifully by Anikha Surendran)’s troubled relationship with her  mother is captured in scenes that convey plenty without tripping over its own eagerness to satiate the audiences’ curiosity about what really happened in Shakti’s  childhood. The characters and forces that contributed to the making of the formidable ‘Amma’ are all here in the series, though many of the character are frightfully freed of nuance. They nonetheless constitute a vivid slide-show into the  shadowplay of myth and reality exploring the woman behind the iron mask.

In the earlier episodes I especially loved one lengthy mother-daughter bonding scene on a beach where  Shakti’s young mother (played very interestingly by Sonia Aggarwal) tried to explain to Shakti why further education is no more possible for the girl and why she must take up acting to save the family from penury.

The sequence ends with the determined girl sneering, “Forget it, this mother-drama  never suited  us anyway.”

I looked for more such warm illuminating moments in the series but found it to be mostly concerned with getting the period ambience and the protagonist’s surroundings right without exploring her relationships in too much detail. This is not a  bad thing, considering the idea behind the series seems to be to humanize the demi-goddess politician without showing her in a negative light.

Yes, ‘Shakti’ is human after all. But not in the way we are.

The contribution of MG Ramachandran in shaping the destiny and personality of  Jayalalithaa is given substantial space. MGR (played by Indrajit Sukhumaran) here becomes GMR(!!!). This vital chunk of the protagonist’s life is among the weakest in the plot. As ‘GMR’ turns into an over-possessive mentor and lover,  the series almost ends up demonizing his character.

Some sections such as  the one where Shakti’s  brother  is shown a drug addict,are mawkish and melodramatic. Early in her career as a leading lady Shakti’s romance with  the director of her Telugu film is conveyed with a gentle hand. But the relationship is affected by the lack of chemistry between the young Shakti (played by Anjana Jaiprakash) and the director. Their long embrace accompanied by schmaltzy music plays out like a scene from one of Jayalalithaa’s films.

Incidentally, the first time when they get close during the outdoor shooting Shakti is seen  reading John Le Carre (pronounced  ‘John Le Car’ by the Telugu director) . Throughout she is shown reading English –language novels to convey her intellectual superiority  to the world she inhabits. In fact knowingly or not, Shakti often comes across as a snob harbouring a bloated sense of self that’s humorously shown to be punctured by director CV Sridhar (played nicely by Gautham Menon co-director of the series).

Elsewhere when MGR, now CM of Tamil Nadu, pays Shakti a visit she keeps him waiting as she takes her time getting ready. Her languorous walk from her bedroom to the living room is proof of  Madame’s growing arrogance. Or is it an indication of the leisurely space afforded to the director on the digital platform? We will never know.

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