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Thalapathi poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMani Ratnam
Produced byG. Venkateswaran
Written byMani Ratnam
Music byIlaiyaraaja
CinematographySantosh Sivan
Edited bySuresh Urs
G. V. Films Ltd
Distributed byG. V. Films Ltd
Release date
5 November 1991
Running time
167 minutes
Budget₹30 million[1]

Thalapathi (transl. 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 and Mammootty in the lead roles, with Arvind Swamy, Shobana, 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 of the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The film, which features the last collaboration of Mani Ratnam and Ilaiyaraaja, was dubbed and released in Telugu and in Hindi as Dalapathi.[2] The film emerged as a critical acclaim and major commercial success during its theatrical run.[3][4] It was later remade in Kannada as Annavru.[5]


A 14-year-old forlorn Kalyani delivers a boy in seclusion, fearing societal backlash and incapacity. She abandons him, heavy-hearted, placing him inside a moving goods train, which a slum dweller finds. The slum procures him as their common child, naming him Surya and they collectively raise him honest. He grows up, intolerant of injustice especially to the poor, though he wonders 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 him away.

Devaraj, a powerful don who is kind yet feared by most in the society, also fights injustice, but by violent means. Ramana, an auxiliary of Devaraj's, whose abusive demeanour led Surya to attack him, succumbs to his death. Surya gets apprehended for this. An exasperated Devaraj soon perceives Ramana's felony, realises Surya's cause was genuine and bails him out. Thus, Surya and Devaraj get to understand each other as both share similar social ideologies despite getting off on the wrong foot. Devaraj declares Surya his "Thalapathi", a best friend.

Arjun, a new district collector, arrives in the city. He wants to end violence by lawful means. Arjun is the second son of Kalyani, now a doctor. After the abandonment of her first offspring, she wed a man who accepted her, despite knowing her past. Never did Kalyani let Arjun know the ordeal she faced as a teen, but is constantly grieved by thoughts of her long-lost first child. Meanwhile, Surya gets wooed by a Brahmin girl, Subbalakshmi who is smitten by his transparent nature, restraining crimes. Surya's appraisal to Devaraj leads the people in the locality to pay utmost respect to both. Both of them continue objecting to societal incongruencies, which other dons, like Kalivardhan, incite through moles in governance.

While Devaraj leads Surya to help curb those unlawful discrepancies, Subbalakshmi initially despises Surya's use of violence and tries to persuade him against it. Devaraj tries to get an alliance between Subbalakshmi and Surya. However, he fails because her father, an Orthodox priest, was uninterested in having her married to Surya, an orphan. Her marriage subsequently gets arranged with Arjun.

Arjun turns to target Devaraj and Surya as they inflict violence, in the name of fighting organised crime. His attempts to chain them are futile. Meanwhile, Padma, Ramana's widow, makes Surya feel guilty for the sufferings he brought her by killing Ramana. Devaraj, understanding the pain a widow and a single mother bears, shelters them. Padma, however, confesses that she is constantly troubled by the men surrounding her with dishonourable intentions, who concoct reasons to make advances towards her. Devaraj, considering Padma and her daughter's safety and Surya's future, requests both of them to accept each other. A guilt-ridden Surya marries Padma, and wins her child's affection eventually.

Later, at a medical camp, Kalyani meets Padma and her daughter along with the same shawl in which she wrapped her child she rejected. Kalyani's husband, too, indicates that Surya was actually Kalyani's long lost son during a suspect identification. He secretly meets Surya and reveals the truth of his origin to him. Surya asks his stepfather to promise not to let his mother know of him as it would pain her to know that her son has grown to be a vigilante.

Regretful Kalyani, though, eventually finds Surya and meets him. Surya vows that he will not harm Arjun for her sake. The long-standing feud between Devaraj and Kalivardhan, who is Deva's main rival, in due course of time, makes Surya admit the truth about his family when Devaraj doubts Surya's intentions after learning of his secret meeting with his stepfather and mother. Deva is pleased to know that despite knowing Arjun was his own half-brother, Surya still preferred to stick with him and supported him during unforeseen situations, thus valuing Deva's friendship more than family. Devaraj, as an outcome of this, decides to surrender. They both go meet Arjun, who is now aware of who Surya is because mother has revealed it to him. Suddenly, Kalivardhan's men retaliate, and during the fight, Devaraj is killed. Enraged, Surya avenges Devaraj by killing Kalivardhan and surrenders to the police, but is released due to lack of evidence. Arjun is later 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.[10] 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".[10] Ratnam wanted to present a realistic Rajinikanth, which he saw in Mullum Malarum minus all his style elements.[11] 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".[12] Thalapathi remains the only collaboration between Mani Ratnam and Rajinikanth.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] Krishna was chosen to play the younger version of Surya, although the character was later scrapped because it affected the film's length.[16] Cinematography was handled by Santosh Sivan, the film being his first with Ratnam.[17] 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."[18] 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".[19] Aravind Swamy made his acting debut with this film.[20] 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.[21]

The songs "Rakkamma" and "Sundari" were filmed at Rayagopura, Melukote and Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura in Karnataka respectively.[22][23] For the latter song, Rajinikanth donned Samurai apparel; according to The Hindu's S. Shiva Kumar, this was the closest Mani Ratnam came to doing something like his idol Akira Kurosawa.[24]

It was the most expensive South Indian film at the time, with a budget of ₹30 million[1] ($1.3 million).[25]


Soundtrack album by
LabelLahari Music
Ilaiyaraaja chronology

The music score for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja,[26] in his last collaboration with Mani Ratnam.[27] According to the film's cinematographer Santosh Sivan, Ilaiyaraaja finished composing the entire soundtrack in "half a day".[28]

The audio rights were sold to Lahari Music for of 7.2 million, then a record price.[29] The soundtrack was included in The Guardian's 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die [30] . The song "Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu", performed by S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and Swarnalatha, was placed fourth amongst the songs listed in a BBC World Top Ten Popular Songs of All-time.[31] 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.[32][33] The recording for the song "Sundari" had taken place in Mumbai with R. D. Burman's orchestra. When Ilaiyaraaja gave them the notes they were so moved and taken in by composition that all the musicians put their hands together in awe and gave a standing ovation as a mark of respect for Ilaiyaraaja.[34]

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

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

All music is composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

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

Release and reception[edit]

Thalapathi was released on 5 November 1991,[37] during the festive occasion of Diwali.[38][39] On 8 November 1991, The Hindu said, "Moving his pieces with the acumen of an international grandmaster, the director sets a hot pace".[8] The same day, N. Krishnaswamy 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."[40] On 1 December 1991, the review board of Ananda Vikatan praised Ilaiyaraaja's music, and called the film a mountain of a masala entertainer, adding that Rajinikanth had several scenes in which he could emote in a film and looked a caged lion left in the open.[41] At the 39th Filmfare Awards South, Ratnam won the Best Director – Tamil award, and Ilaiyaraaja won for Best Music Director – Tamil.[42]


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".[43] Thamizh Padam (2010) parodied Thalapathi by featuring scenes with characters under dim light and one-word dialogues.[44] Atlee who directed Raja Rani (2013) cites Thalapathi was the main inspiration for him to consider cinema as a career.[45] Soundarya has stated that Rajinikanth's hairstyle in her directorial venture Kochadaiiyaan (2014) was inspired by his appearance in Thalapathi.[46] 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".[47] In November 2011, Bollywood producer Bharat Shah acquired the rights to remake Thalapathi in Hindi.[48]


  1. ^ a b "Mani Rantam's multicrore film promises electrifying experience with southern superstar cast". India Today. 15 November 1991. Archived from the original on 17 September 2019. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  2. ^ Telugu Filmnagar (22 December 2015). "Dalapathi Telugu Full Movie – Rajinikanth – Mammootty – Shobana – Ilayaraja – Thalapathi Tamil Movie". Retrieved 7 June 2017 – via YouTube.
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  7. ^ Rangarajan, Malathi (23 August 2012). "Candour, Charuhasan style". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  8. ^ a b Rajinikanth 12.12.12: A Birthday Special. The Hindu. p. 73.
  9. ^ Ghosh, Devarsi (10 November 2017). "Violins please in cover of Ilaiyaaraja's 'Rakkamma' from 'Thalapathi'". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b Rangan 2012, pp. 106-107.
  11. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 108.
  12. ^ "Rajini talks about his Thalapathi experiences". Behindwoods. 15 April 2014. Archived from the original on 28 April 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  13. ^ Ramachandran 2014, p. 135.
  14. ^ "'Raavan', 'Raajneeti': Epic inspirations in Indian cinema". CNN-IBN. Archived from the original on 22 June 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
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  16. ^ "Did You Know?". The Times of India. 20 October 2012. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 104-105.
  19. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 105.
  20. ^ "For better or worse, they made headlines". The Hindu. 1 January 2013. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  21. ^ "From across the border". Chennai Online. Archived from the original on 26 November 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ Ramachandran 2014, p. 169.
  24. ^ Kumar, S. Shiva (5 October 2018). "Mani is the matter: on Chekka Chivantha Vaanam". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  25. ^ "Official exchange rate (LCU per US$, period average)". World Bank. 1991. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  26. ^ "Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". iTunes. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  27. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 132.
  28. ^ Ramachandran 2014, p. 140.
  29. ^ "Bahubali audio sold for Rs 3 cr". Bangalore Mirror. 21 May 2015. Archived from the original on 23 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  30. ^ "100 Best Albums Ever". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
  31. ^ "The Worlds Top Ten – BBC World Service". BBC. Archived from the original on 30 March 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  32. ^ "Saif Ali Khan's Agent Vinod again in copyright case". The Times of India. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ "The Raja still reigns supreme". The Hindu. 21 October 2005. Archived from the original on 31 August 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  35. ^ "Hindi Film Songs – Dalpati (1991)". MySwar. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  36. ^ "Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". Apple Music. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  37. ^ "Thalapathi". The Indian Express. 5 November 1991. p. 11.
  38. ^ "When Deepavali Was Not About Big-Budget Releases, But About Feel-Good Films & Friendly Box-Office Fights". 18 October 2017. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  39. ^ Kamath, Sudhish; Manigandan, K. R. (12 November 2012). "Blasts from the past". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  40. ^ Krishnaswamy, N. (8 November 1991). "Thalapathi". The Indian Express. p. 5.
  41. ^ Vikatan Review Board (1 December 1991). "சினிமா விமர்சனம் : தளபதி". Ananda Vikatan (in Tamil).
  42. ^ "39th Annual Filmfare Awards Nite". Archived from the original on 8 February 2017.
  43. ^ "Blasts from the past". The Hindu. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  44. ^ "Everything You Know about Tamil Films Is Probably Wrong". OPEN Magazine. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  45. ^ "Atlee displays his chops". The Hindu. 15 March 2014. Archived from the original on 19 January 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  46. ^ "Mani Ratnam inspired to make Kochadaiyaan! - The Times of India". 4 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  47. ^ ""Kadal"... Coast analysis". Baradwaj Rangan. Archived from the original on 17 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  48. ^ 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.


External links[edit]