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Thalapathi poster.jpg
Theatrical 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 Ltd
Distributed by G. V. Films Ltd
Release date
5 November 1991
Running time
167 minutes
Country India
Language Tamil

Thalapathi (English: The Commander) is a 1991 Indian Tamil-language crime-drama film written and directed by Mani Ratnam and produced by G. Venkateswaran. 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 based on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The score and soundtrack were composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The film, which features the last collaboration of Mani Ratnam and Ilaiyaraaja, was dubbed and released in Telugu and Hindi as Dalapathi.[1] The film emerged as a critical and commercial success during its theatrical run.[2][3] It was later remade in Kannada as Annavru.[4]


A 14-year old forlorn Kalyani delivers a boy in seclusion fearing societal backlash and incapacity. She abandons, heavy-heartened, placing him inside a moving goods train, which, a slum finds. They procure him as their child-naming Surya and raise him honest. But he grows intolerable against injustice especially to the poor, amidst worry behind the real reason regarding why his biological mother had impetuously abandoned him. A yellow shawl was the only identity he had of his mother which she had placed him in when casting apart.

Devaraj, a powerful, kind yet feared by most in the society, also fights injustice but by enforcing violence. Ramana, an auxiliary of Devaraj's whose abusive demeanour made Surya pounce him, succumbs. While Surya gets apprehended, an exasperated Devaraj soon perceives Ramana's felony, realises Surya was genuine and bails him. This makes Surya and Devaraj get to understand each-other as both share similar social ideologies. Devaraj declares Surya his "Thalapathi", a best friend.

Arjun, the new district collector, wants to end all means of violence by law. Arjun is the second son of Kalyani, now a doctor. After the abandonment of her first offspring, she wed (Jaishankar) who accepted her, despite knowing her past. Never did Kalyani let Arjun know her past, but constantly is grubbed by thoughts of her long-lost first child (Surya). Meanwhile, Surya gets wooed by a Brahmin girl, Subbalakshmi, haven smitten by his transparent nature restraining crimes. Surya's appraisal to Devaraj leads the people in the locality, to pay utmost respect to both as they continue objecting societal in-congruencies other dons like Kalivardhan incite through moles in governance.

While Devaraj leads Surya to help curb those unlawful discrepancies, Subbalakshmi initially despises Surya's necessitate of violence and persuades him against it, but Surya says instils as she cesses. Devaraj efforts to get an alliance between Subbalakshmi and Surya but fails as her father, an Orthodox priest, was uninterested in giving her married to Surya he considered an orphan. Her marriage subsequently gets arranged with Arjun.

Arjun targets Devaraj and Surya as they bestow violence despite fighting organised illegitimate crime. His pacts to chain them vain. Meanwhile, Padma, Ramana’s wife, widowed by Surya makes him feels guilty for the sufferings he brought her-forth. Devaraj, understanding the pain stakes a widow as a single mother bear, shelters them. Padma, however, confesses a quagmire that men surround her with dishonourable intentions concoct frivolous reasons to make untoward advances. Devaraj considering Padma and her daughter's safety and Surya’s future from lost love, Devaraj requests them to accept each other. A guilt-ridden Surya marries Padma, wins her child’s and eventually her affection.

Later, at a medical camp, Kalyani meets Padma and her daughter along with the same shawl in which she wrapped her child she repelled. Jaishankar, too, imbibes that Surya was none but Kalyani's long lost son during a suspect pointing. Jaishankar secretly meets Surya and tells his past. Surya gets promised to not have his mother known of him as it would pain knowing that her son has grown to be a vigil.

Regretful Kalyani, though eventually finds Surya and meets him. After an emotional poignance, Surya vows that he will not harm Arjun for her. The long standing feud between Devaraj (by virtue of association) and Kalivardhan, who is Deva's main rival, in due course of time, makes Surya force out about his family truths when Devaraj doubts Surya's intentions after knowing his secret meet with his stepfather and mother. Deva gets pleased that Despite knowing Arjun was his own blood, Surya still preferred sticking with him, supporting him during unforeseen situations thereby, valuing his friendship more than family. Devaraj, in glee, decides to surrender. They both go meet Arjun, who has also been made aware of who Surya is by his mother. Suddenly, Kalivardhan’s men retaliate where Devaraj gets killed. Angered, Surya avenges Devaraj by killing Kalivardhan and surrenders to the police. End, Arjun is transferred and relocates to another city with Subbalakshmi, while Kalyani prefers staying with 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.[5] 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".[5] Ratnam wanted to present a realistic Rajinikanth, which he saw in Mullum Malarum minus all his style elements.[6] Rajinikanth recalled that he had tough time while shooting for the film as "[Mani Ratnam] was from a different school of film making and asked me to feel emotions even when taking part in a fight scene".[7] Thalapathi remains the only collaboration between Mani Ratnam and Rajinikanth.[8]

Mammooty's character Deva was the equivalent of Duryodhana, while Rajinikanth played Surya, the equivalent of Karna. Shobana played the equivalent of Draupadi, while Arvind Swamy and Srividya played characters based on Arjuna and Kunti respectively.[9] Jayaram was initially considered for the role of Arjun, but rejected the offer due to scheduling conflicts. It was Mammootty who suggested Jayaram to Ratnam.[10] Kreshna was chosen to play the younger version of Surya, although the character was later scrapped because it affected the film's length.[11] Cinematography was handled by Santosh Sivan, the film being his first with Ratnam.[12] 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."[13] 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".[14] Aravind Swamy made his acting debut with this film.[15] Malayalam actor Manoj K. Jayan was cast after Ratnam was impressed with his performance in the Malayalam film Perumthachan, thus making his acting debut in Tamil cinema.[16]

The songs "Rakkamma" and "Sundari" were filmed at Rayagopura, Melukote and Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura in Karnataka respectively.[17][18]


The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Ilaiyaraaja
Released 1991
Genre Soundtrack
Length 32:30
Label Lahari Music
Producer Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja chronology

The music score for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja,[19] in his last collaboration with Mani Ratnam.[20] According to Sivan, Ilaiyaraaja finished composing the entire soundtrack in "half a day".[21]

Lahari Music acquired the audio rights by paying 7.2 million.[22] 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.[23] 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, because he used the song without permission.[24][25] 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.[26] In July 2011, D. Karthikeyan of The Hindu singled out the film's re-recording and ranked it alongside the music director's other films such as Mullum Malarum, Uthiripookkal (1979), Moodu Pani (1981) Moondram Pirai (1982) and Nayakan (1987).[27]

Original version (Tamil)

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

Track listing (Hindi)[28]

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

Track listing (Telugu)[29]

All music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

Track listing (Malayalam)

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


Thalapathi was released on 5 November 1991,[30] during the festive occasion of Diwali.[31][32]


On 8 November 1991, The Hindu said, "Moving his pieces with the acumen of an international grandmaster, the director sets a hot pace".[33] The same day. The Indian Express said, "One reason why Thalapathi, despite its visual grandeur is not as riveting as it should have been is that it does not have a strong antagonist."[34] 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."[35] Critic Nandini Ramnath wrote for the website Upperstall, "Thalapathi underlines Ratnam's skill in reinventing genre cinema to extract new pleasures out of old stories. The movie is tightly plotted, and doesn't feel overlong despite its running length (137 minutes), the presence of several songs, a romantic sub-plot as well as a handful of action sequences to keep Rajini fans happy."[36]


39th Filmfare Awards South


C. S. Amudhan said Thalapathi was "really ahead of its time" and called it "intellectual entertaining cinema". Karthik Subbaraj said that he watched the film during his childhood. Several references to the film are made in Subbaraj's 2015 blockbuster gangster film Jigarthanda. Rajinikanth's daughter, director Soundarya recalled, "I remember Thalapathy most vividly as that was the first time I went for a first-day-first-show ever".[37] Thamizh Padam (2010) parodied Thalapathi by featuring scenes with characters under dim light and one-word dialogues.[38] Atlee who directed Raja Rani (2013) cites Thalapathi was the main inspiration for him to consider cinema as a career.[39] Soundarya has stated that Rajinikanth's hairstyle in her directorial venture Kochadaiiyaan (2014) was inspired by his appearance in Thalapathi.[40] Baradwaj Rangan compared Kadal (2013) to Thalapathi as they both feature a character "who yearns for a lost mother and who is coerced into a life of crime".[41]

In November 2011, Bollywood producer Bharat Shah acquired the rights to remake Thalapathi in Hindi.[42]



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  5. ^ a b Rangan 2012, pp. 106-107.
  6. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 108.
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  8. ^ Ramachandran 2014, p. 135.
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  11. ^ "Kailash Sankara Narayanan's Photos - Kailash Sankara Narayanan". Facebook. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Naig, Udhav (28 June 2014). "Behind the cameraman". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 7 June 2017. Retrieved 7 June 2017. Some of his best works have been a result of his collaboration with Mani Ratnam, which began with the iconic Thalapathi 
  13. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 104-105.
  14. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 05.
  15. ^ "For better or worse, they made headlines". The Hindu. 1 January 2013. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "From across the border". Archived from the original on 26 November 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  17. ^ "Indian locations provide stunning backdrops for film shoots". The Hindu. 3 July 2010. Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  18. ^ "Thalapathi". Where Was It Shot. 21 May 2010. Archived from the original on 21 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". iTunes. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  20. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 132.
  21. ^ Ramachandran 2014, p. 140.
  22. ^ "Bahubali audio sold for Rs 3 cr". Bangalore Mirror. 21 May 2015. Archived from the original on 23 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  23. ^ "The Worlds Top Ten - BBC World Service". BBC. Archived from the original on 30 March 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  24. ^ "Saif Ali Khan's Agent Vinod again in copyright case". The Times of India. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012. 
  25. ^ "Saif pays the price for using old songs in Agent Vinod". 2 April 2012. Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  26. ^ "Entertainment Chennai / Music : The Raja still reigns supreme". The Hindu. 21 October 2005. Archived from the original on 31 August 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  27. ^ Karthikeyan, D. (15 July 2011). "Three gems who changed the course of cinema". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 20 September 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  28. ^ "Hindi Film Songs - Dalpati (1991)". MySwar. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  29. ^ "iTunes - Music - Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Ilaiyaraaja". Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  30. ^ "Thalapathi". The Indian Express. 5 November 1991. p. 11. 
  31. ^ "When Deepavali Was Not About Big-Budget Releases, But About Feel-Good Films & Friendly Box-Office Fights". 2017-10-18. Retrieved 2017-10-28. 
  32. ^ Kamath, Sudhish; Manigandan, K. R. (2012-11-12). "Blasts from the past". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2017-10-28. 
  33. ^ Rajinikanth 12.12.12: A Birthday Special. The Hindu. p. 73. 
  34. ^ "Thalapathi". The Indian Express. 8 November 1991. Retrieved 25 July 2017. 
  35. ^ Randor Guy (September 2007). From Silents to Sivaji! A look into the past — Part II. Galatta Cinema. p. 68. 
  36. ^ Ramnath, Nandini. "Thalapathi". Archived from the original on 25 July 2017. Retrieved 25 July 2017. 
  37. ^ "Blasts from the past". The Hindu. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  38. ^ "Everything You Know about Tamil Films Is Probably Wrong". OPEN Magazine. Retrieved 2017-09-23. 
  39. ^ "Atlee displays his chops". The Hindu. 15 March 2014. Archived from the original on 19 January 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  40. ^ "Mani Ratnam inspired to make Kochadaiyaan! - The Times of India". 4 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  41. ^ ""Kadal"… Coast analysis". Baradwaj Rangan. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  42. ^ Mehul S. Thakkar (21 November 2011). "Thalapathi goes to Bollywood". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 15 April 2016. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 


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