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Review of Tamil movie Nadigaiyar Thilagam
Actress Savitri ruled the roost in the Tamil and Telugu movie industries during the 50s and 60s. Known for her beauty and formidable histrionics, Savitri was a child of destiny.

Destiny played a large role in her life which began in an obscure village in Guntur district which was part of the Madras presidency during the year of her birth, 1936. It took her to Madras at the age of 12 seeking a career in films but it was only in 1951 that fortune finally smiled on her in the form of a second heroine role in the film, Pelli Chesi Choodu.

Directors were quick to notice the spark in the winsome young girl and as producers began to beat a path to her door, the girl from Guntur began her journey to fame and stardom in the south Indian film industry where she would reign supreme for more than a decade. During this period she also married Gemini Ganesan who began as a casting director in films and went on to become a popular actor himself. In fact, it was GG's photograph of Savitri which caught the interest of a director and led to her first offer in films.

Nag Ashwin's bilingual, Nadigaiyar Thilagam/Mahanati is a loving tribute to Savitri who won hearts not only with her acting skills but also her boundless generosity. Keerthi Suresh is an apt choice to play the actress and brings her to life in a way even Savitri would approve of. Dulquar Salman shines as Gemini Ganesan, the charming actor who could sweep women off his feet effortlessly and was known for his multiple marriages and offspring. The film focuses on Savitri, tracing the trajectory of her eventful life which climbs steadily upwards before eventually spiralling into an all too familiar descent into obscurity and poverty. Death finally claimed her in 1981, after a 19-month-long battle, as she lay in a coma, probably brought on by her insulin dependency. She was just 45 years old.

Whether it is as the innocent and star-struck 12-year-old, the young heroine madly in love with her dashing co-star, or as the successful actress slipping with ease into a life of privilege and luxury and then as a betrayed woman, seething with anger and self-pity, drowning her sorrows in alcohol, Keerthi amazes us. That this young actress, only a few films old, could carry off such a weighty role with such aplomb augurs well for her future in films.

No doubt, GG's philandering and their break-up played a significant role in Savitri's downfall. But it is clear that she chose GG knowing his weakness for women, hoping perhaps that her love would change him. But the director does not paint GG as an outright villain. The scene where GG jumps on top of a tram to announce his marriage to Savitri after overhearing people gossip about their affair, shows his sensitivity to her feelings.

There is also a scene where he turns up at her house and announces to the media that he has hired a nurse to care for her. The film does not dwell on the complicated equations between the three important women in his life and how they negotiated the minefield of domestic relations. Though GG is shown as supporting Savitri in her career, there are moments of disquiet when he realizes that his wife, younger to him by many years, has upstaged him career-wise.

Generous to a fault, Savitri was known to help people even if some of them were intent on parting her from her hard-earned money. She also burnt her fingers producing some films which bombed at the box office and this led to mounting debts which were further compounded by frequent run-ins with the tax men. With no capable person to guide her (she had fallen out with her uncle after her marriage to GG), there was no one to protect her from the human vultures who constantly hovered around her. At the end of her life, she was living in a small, non-descript house, doing small roles.

Samantha plays the role of a journalist who is assigned to cover the story when Savitri goes into a coma. The movie is about her journey too, a young girl trying to find her voice not just as a writer but as a woman who wants to make her own choices in life, be it a career or husband. Savitri's choices may not always have been right but as a woman she had agency, thanks to her talent and the opportunities she was blessed with.

The songs enhance the film's appeal. Each song corresponds to a particular period of Savitri's life. They evoke the era that Savitri was part of and capture the different moods beautifully. The romantic Mouna mazhayile, the haunting Iruthiyil enna enjum, the classical Thanthaay, the triumphant Mahaanati... Mickey J. Meyer has created a superb soundtrack that will linger in our minds long after the movie has departed from theatres.

Every year, thousands of starry eyed youngsters flock to the big cities to try their luck in films. Some make it, some fall by the wayside. The world of movies is powered by dreams, the dreams of those who hunger for fame, money, and that elusive thing called love. But even as they come true, dreams have a way of turning into dust. Mahaanati Savitri's life was no exception to this rule. For those who loved Savitri the actor, and for those who loved Savitri, the trusting and compassionate human person, Nadigaiyar Thilagam/Mahaanati is an engrossing watch.

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