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Thalapathi poster.jpg
Official poster
Directed by Mani Ratnam
Produced by G. Venkateswaran
Written by Mani Ratnam
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography Santosh Sivan
Edited by Suresh Urs
G. V. Films
Distributed by G. V. Films
Release dates
  • November 5, 1991 (1991-11-05)
Running time
157 minutes
Country India
Language Tamil

Thalapathi (Translation: Commander) is a 1991 Indian Tamil crime drama film written and directed by Mani Ratnam and produced by G. Venkateswaran under the banner of G. V. Films. It stars Rajinikanth, Mammootty and Shobana in the lead roles with Arvind Swamy, Srividya, Amrish Puri, Bhanupriya, Nagesh, and Charuhasan playing supporting ones. The theme is loosely based on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana of Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The score and soundtrack were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The film, which features the last collaboration of Mani Ratnam and Ilaiyaraaja,[1] was dubbed and released in Telugu and Hindi as Dalapathi. The film, being set in a contemporary milieu at the time of its release, emerged as a critical and commercial success during its theatrical run.[2] The film was one among the Deepavali releases of 1991.


Surya (Rajinikanth), the abandoned child of fourteen-year-old unwed mother Kalyani (Srividya) is brought up by a generous lady living in the slums. He grows up to become a fearless kind-hearted slum king who fights the injustice that takes place daily. These qualities lead him to cross swords with the local don Devarajan (Deva) (Mammootty). Deva's friend Ramana is fatally beaten up by Surya, and he threatens Surya that he will find himself in a dangerous situation if the friend was laid to rest. His friend passes away, and Surya gets placed in prison. However, when Deva discovers Ramana's offense, he decides to get Surya released from jail.

Surya is surprised to see Deva send his own man to get him out from jail, and there he tells Surya, Nyayamnu onnu irrukku (there is such a thing called justice). From that moment, Deva surrenders his ego and offers his hand of friendship to Surya. Surya pledges that he has nothing else but his life to give his new friend. From then on Deva makes Surya his "Thalapathi" (commander). Meanwhile Surya falls for a local girl Subbulakshmi (Shobana). They soon fall in love and their relationship continues. Surya and Deva virtually rule the town with their muscle and their sense of justice. In the eyes of the government, they are anti-social elements. Arjun (Arvind Swamy), posted as the new district collector, plans to arrest both so that he can end their brutal activities. But his opportunities are in vain.

At this time, Deva and his wife go to Subbulakshmi's house asking for her betrothal to Surya. But her father refuses stating he cannot marry his daughter to a person who doesn't know about his parents. Instead, Subbulakshmi is married to Arjun. Surya eventually marries another girl (Bhanupriya) who was widowed by him earlier (her husband was Ramana). Surya, still troubled by the guilt, prefers to remain as a guard to the widow and her daughter.

A struggle breaks out between the collector and Deva/Surya during which Surya learns that Arjun's mother is his mother, too. Surya promises his mother that he will not harm Arjun but refuses to leave Deva, whose friendship is more valuable to him than his relationship with his brother. Deva is stunned to learn that collector and Surya are brothers and admires Surya for not parting with him in spite of discovering his identity. During the process of surrendering to the collector, assuring him completely stopping their activities, Deva is shot by his enemy. Surya, in a fit of rage, brutally kills Kalivardhan (Amrish Puri) who was the cause for Deva's death and surrenders to the police after performing the final rites of his friend. But the police withdraw the case due to lack of evidence and witnesses. The collector goes to another place on a new posting accompanied by his wife. His mother then changes her mind to stay with her elder son, Surya.



Rayagopura, Melkote seen in the song "Rakkamma"

Rajinikanth was a friend of Mani Ratnam's brother G. Venkateswaran, and they were talking about a film together. Ratnam had met him twice because he had expressed interest in working with him, although Ratnam did not have anything for him then.[3] He needed a film that would have scope for Rajinikanth's stardom but yet remain Ratnam's film. He wanted something right for both himself and Rajinikanth. He wanted something that Rajinikanth could not say no to and something that Ratnam really wanted to do. And then the concept came up, of the story of Karna from the Indian epic Mahabharata, who Ratnam considers "one of the best characters in the Mahabharata".[4] Mani Ratnam wanted to present a realistic Rajini, which he saw in 16 Vayathiniley and Mullum Malaram minus all his style elements.[3] Rajini recalled that he had tough time while shooting for the film as "He [Mani] was from a different school of film making and asked me to feel emotions even when taking part in a fight scene".[5]

Mammooty's character Deva was the equivalent of Duryodhana, while Rajinikanth's played Surya, the equivalent of Karna. Shobana played the equivalent of Draupadi, while Arvind Swamy and Srividya played Arjuna and Kunti respectively.[6] Actor Kreshna was chosen to play the younger version of Rajinikanth's character, although the character was later scrapped because it affected the film's length.[7] Cinematography was handled by Santosh Sivan,[8][9] the film being his first with Ratnam.[10] Ratnam chose to shoot the beginning sequence in black and white instead of colour, because according to him, "Black and white gives the sense of this being a prologue without us having to define it as a prologue."[11] He has also refused to state who was the father of the protagonist, citing that the film "consciously avoids the who and the how of the underage girl's first love. It was the child, the son of Surya, who formed the story".[12] Aravind Swamy made his acting debut with this film.[13] Malayalam actor Manoj K. Jayan was recruited to play an important character after Mani was impressed by his performance in Malayalam film Perumthachan thus made his acting debut in Tamil cinema.[14]

The songs "Rakkamma" and "Sundari" were filmed at Rayagopura, Melkote and Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura in Karnataka respectively.[15][16]

Two endings were created: Rajinikanth's character survives in the Tamil version, but his character in the Malayalam version dies.[17]


The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Ilaiyaraaja
Released 1991
Genre Soundtrack
Length 32:30
Label Lahari Music
Producer Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja chronology
Anjali (1990) Thalapathi (1991) Mannan (1992)

The music score for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The soundtrack features seven songs. The song, "Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu", performed by S. P. Balasubramanyam and Swarnalatha was amongst the songs listed in a BBC World Top Ten music poll.[18] Controversially, it was also featured in the 2012 Bollywood film Agent Vinod, and Lahari took "legal action" against the producer of the film Saif Ali Khan, who used the song without permission.[19][20] The recording for the song "Sundari" had taken place in Mumbai with R. D. Burman's orchestra. When Raja gave them the notes they were so taken in by composition that all the musicians put their hands together in awe.[21]

Original version (Tamil)[edit]

All lyrics written by Vaali, all music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

Track listing (Hindi)[edit]

All lyrics written by P. K. Mishra, all music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

Track listing (Telugu)[edit]

All music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

Track listing (Malayalam)[edit]

All lyrics written by Vaali, all music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.



Reviews for Thalapathi have been positive. On 8 November 1991, The Hindu said, "Moving his pieces with the acumen of an international grandmaster, the director sets a hot pace".[22] IndiaGlitz said "Manirathnam's excellent direction, and Ilayaraja supplementing with spellbound music makes this movie a definite watch."[23] Behindwoods said, "In Dalapathi, [sic] although good ultimately prevails over evil, the journey is portrayed with the obstacles and difficulties. That is the greatest plus for the film." Rajini's performance was praised stating that it "is another moviewhich brought out the serious and highly skilled actor in Rajini.[24][25] Film historian Randor Guy called it a "superbly crafted movie", saying "Even though Rajinikanth is the main protagonist, the movie is entirely the film-maker's."[26]


39th Filmfare Awards South


In November 2011, Bollywood producer Bharat Shah acquired the rights to remake Thalapathi in Hindi, though it was already dubbed in the language upon release. The filmmaker had earlier co-produced Mani Ratnam's Saathiya (the Hindi remake of Alaipayuthey) and Dil Se.[27]

Year Film Language Cast Director
2003 Annavru Kannada Ambareesh, Darshan, Suhasini, Kaniha Om Prakash Rao


C. S. Amudhan said Thalapathy was "really ahead of its time" and called it "intellectual entertaining cinema". Karthik Subbaraj said that he watched the film during his childhood. Soundarya Rajinikanth recalled "I remember Thalapathy most vividly as that was the first time I went for a first-day-first-show ever".[28] Atlee who directed Raja Rani (2013) cites Thalapathi was the main inspiration for him to consider cinema as a career.[29] Soundarya Rajini said that Rajini's hairstyle in Kochadaiiyaan (2014) was inspired by his appearance in Thalapathi.[30]

In Popular Culture[edit]

In a comedy scene from Suriyan (1992), Ramasamy (Goundamani) sings "Rakkamma" while walking through forest.[31] In Guru En Aalu (2009), Azhagappan (Vivek) who is in a drag imitates Shobana's portion from the song.[32]



  1. ^ "The rise and rise of Mani". IndiaGlitz. June 15, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Rajinikanth's 50 legendary posters". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 106-107.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Thalapathi Review: The Tale of a Modern Day Karna". 
  9. ^ "Thalapathi: Topnotch Cinematography". 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 104-105.
  12. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 05.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Rajni's Tamil Top 10". Rediff. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  18. ^ BBC World Service. 2002. BBC World Service 70th Anniversary Global Music Poll: The World's Top Ten. Available from Accessed 11 November 2007
  19. ^ "Saif Ali Khan's Agent Vinod again in copyright case". The Times of India. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Rajinikanth 12.12.12: A Birthday Special. The Hindu. p. 73. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Randor Guy (September 2007). From Silents to Sivaji! A look into the past - Part II. Galatta Cinema. p. 68. 
  27. ^ "Rajinikanth's Thalapathi to be remade in Bollywood". OneIndia. November 22, 2011. 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^


  • Rangan, Baradwaj (2012). Conversations with Mani Ratnam. ISBN 8184756909. 

External links[edit]