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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
Distributed by G. V. Films
Release dates
5 November 1991
Running time
157 minutes
Country India
Language Tamil

Thalapathi (English: 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,[1] was dubbed and released in Telugu and Hindi as Dalapathi.[2] 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.[3][4] The film was later remade in Kannada as Annavru.[5]


A 14-year unmarried young girl gives birth to a baby in a secluded place. Fearing societal backlash, she abandons the baby by placing it in a train. An old poor lady finds the baby in the train and decides to adopt it. She names the baby as Surya. Surya (Rajinikanth) grows up to be an honest person who cannot tolerate injustice happening to the poor. But Surya always keeps thinking about his biological mother abandoning him. Surya only has a red shawl as an identity of his mother as she had placed the new born baby along with a shawl in the train.

Deva (Mammootty) is a powerful man in the locality/slum that Surya inhabits who helps the poor fighting for justice. Surya gets into a clash with Ramana, the right hand man of Deva. Ramana molests a girl which makes Surya attack him. Ramana dies from his injuries the next day. Deva is angered knowing this and Surya is imprisoned. But when Deva realises the mistake committed by Ramana, he understands that Surya is genuine and releases him. This makes Surya and Deva close to each other as both of them have similar ideology. Deva also make Surya his "Thalapthy".

Arjun (Arvind Swamy) is the newly deputed collector and he wants to end all means of violence in the city. Arjun is the son of Kalyani (Srividya) and her husband (Jaishankar). Kalyani is actually the mother of Surya who had abandoned him. Although Kalyani abandoned her first child, she realised the mistake later and keeps constantly worrying about the fate of the child. Later she is married to Jaishankar and he knows about her past life but accepts her despite that. Surya falls in love with a Brahmin girl, Subbalakshmi (Shobana), and they both decide to get married. Surya by now has turned into a hero figure for the people in his slum, and they are devoted utmost to him and Deva. Subbalakshmi, however, does not agree with Surya's necessity to use violence, and tries persuading him against it, but Surya says he does not know otherwise. Deva goes along with his family to meet Subbalakshmi’s father to get the alliance fixed between her and Surya. Subbalakshmi’s father, an orthodox priest, is not interested in getting her married to Surya as he is an orphan who does not know about his biological parents. Her marriage subsequently is arranged with Arjun. Surya is angered hearing this and decides to break up with Subbalakshmi. Later Subbalakshmi marries Arjun.

Arjun’s main targets remain Surya and Deva as they are frequently involved in violence. Although they protest for justice, Arjun feels it to be against the law and tries to arrest them but all his efforts fail. One day, Surya meets Padma (Bhanupriya) and her child. Padma is the widow of Ramana. Surya feels guilty that he is responsible for Padma’s sufferings. Deva, being the large-hearted slum lord that he is, takes care of Padma and her kid and treats them as members of his own family. Padma, however, one day, confesses to Deva that the situation is becoming unbearable and that men (from the slum, including from Deva's own gang) with dishonourable intentions are concocting frivolous reasons to make untoward advances towards her. Angered by this, Deva convinces Padma and Surya and Padma is married to Surya, who also takes care of Padma's daughter.

One day, during a medical camp organised by Arjun, Kalyani meets Padma and her daughter along with a shawl (the same shawl on which Kalyani placed her baby in the train). She starts crying seeing the shawl understanding that her son is somewhere in the nearby locality. Jaishankar understands that Surya is Kalyani’s son and Arjun’s step brother. Jaishankar meets Surya and informs the truth but Surya prefers not to inform this to Kalyani as she would feel bad knowing that her son has grown to be a wanted criminal.

Surya promises to Jaishankar that he will not harm Arjun as he is Surya’s step brother. There is also a long standing feud between Deva (by virtue of association, Surya too) and Kalivardhan (Amrish Puri), who is Deva's main rival. In due course of time, among other incidents, Surya blurts out the facts about Arjun to Deva when Deva starts doubting Surya's intentions. Deva feels proud that despite knowing Arjun is his brother, Surya preferred staying with Deva supporting him. Surya values his friendship with Deva above everything. Finally Deva and Surya decide to surrender and they both go to meet Arjun, who has also been made aware of who Surya is. Suddenly, Kalivardhan’s men come and shoot towards Deva. Surya comes in between but one bullet catches Deva in the heart and he dies.

Surya is angered and retaliates by killing Kalivardhan. He is arrested but is not arrested by the police citing lack of evidence. When Arjun is transferred to another city and he relocates with his wife, 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.[6] 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".[7] Ratnam wanted to present a realistic Rajinikanth, which he saw in 16 Vayathinile and 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".[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
Anjali (1990) Thalapathi (1991) Mannan (1992)

The music score for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja,[19] making it his last collabaration with Mani Ratnam.[1] Lahari Music acquired the audio rights by paying 7.2 million.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22][23] 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.[24] 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 (1978), Uthiripookkal (1979), Moodu Pani (1981) Moondram Pirai (1982) and Nayakan (1987).[25]

Original version (Tamil)

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

Track listing (Hindi)[26]

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

Track listing (Telugu)[27]

All music composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

Track listing (Malayalam)

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



On 8 November 1991, The Hindu said, "Moving his pieces with the acumen of an international grandmaster, the director sets a hot pace".[28] 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.[29][30] 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."[31]


39th Filmfare Awards South


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. Several references to the film are made in Subbaraj's 2015 blockbuster gangster film Jigarthanda. Soundarya Rajinikanth recalled "I remember Thalapathy most vividly as that was the first time I went for a first-day-first-show ever".[32] Atlee who directed Raja Rani (2013) cites Thalapathi was the main inspiration for him to consider cinema as a career.[33] Rajinikanth's daughter, director Soundarya R. Ashwin, has stated that Rajinikanth's hairstyle in her directorial venture Kochadaiiyaan (2014) was inspired by his appearance in Thalapathi.[34]

In November 2011, Bollywood producer Bharat Shah acquired the rights to remake Thalapathi in Hindi.[35]



  1. ^ a b "The rise and rise of Mani". IndiaGlitz. 15 June 2010. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Happy Birthday Rajinikanth: How the superstar came to be". Indian Express. 12 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "Rajinikanth's 50 legendary posters". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  5. ^ "Tamil film Raam to be remade in Kannada". The Times of India. 26 March 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "The Journey of living legend Rajinikanth - Part 5 - The Journey Of Living Legend Rajinikanth Part 5- Rajinikanth- Amar Reddy". Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 106-107.
  8. ^ "Rajini talks about his Thalapathi experiences". 15 April 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  9. ^ "'Raavan', 'Raajneeti': Epic inspirations in Indian cinema". CNN-IBN. Archived from the original on 22 June 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "When Jayram Rejected Mani Ratnam's Thalapathi - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  11. ^ "Kailash Sankara Narayanan's Photos - Kailash Sankara Narayanan". Facebook. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  12. ^ "MANI RATNAM". Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Rangan 2012, pp. 104-105.
  14. ^ Rangan 2012, p. 05.
  15. ^ "For better or worse, they made headlines - TAMIL NADU". The Hindu. 1 January 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "From across the border". Retrieved 17 July 2015. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Indian locations provide stunning backdrops for film shoots". The Hindu. 3 July 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  18. ^ "Thalapathi". Where Was It Shot. 21 May 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". iTunes. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "Bahubali audio sold for Rs 3 cr". Bangalore Mirror. 21 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  21. ^ "The Worlds Top Ten - BBC World Service". BBC. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "Saif Ali Khan's Agent Vinod again in copyright case". The Times of India. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012. 
  23. ^ "Saif pays the price for using old songs in Agent Vinod". 2 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  24. ^ "Entertainment Chennai / Music : The Raja still reigns supreme". The Hindu. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ "Hindi Film Songs - Dalpati (1991)". MySwar. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  27. ^ "iTunes - Music - Dalapathi (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Ilaiyaraaja". Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  28. ^ Rajinikanth 12.12.12: A Birthday Special. The Hindu. p. 73. 
  29. ^ "Classical Movie :". Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  30. ^ "Rajini's finest moments on screen". Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  31. ^ Randor Guy (September 2007). From Silents to Sivaji! A look into the past - Part II. Galatta Cinema. p. 68. 
  32. ^ "Blasts from the past". The Hindu. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  33. ^ "Atlee displays his chops". The Hindu. 15 March 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  34. ^ "Mani Ratnam inspired to make Kochadaiyaan! - The Times of India". 4 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  35. ^ Mehul S. Thakkar (21 November 2011). "Thalapathi goes to Bollywood". The Times of India. Retrieved 15 April 2016. 


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

External links[edit]