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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 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. 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 Diwali 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 hot tempered youth 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 Deva threatens that if his friend was laid to rest then he will kill Surya. Ramana succumbs to his wounds, and Surya is imprisoned. However, when Deva discovers Ramana's offence, he decides to get Surya released from jail.

Surya is surprised to see Deva send his 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, but 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 futile.

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 any other relationship. 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 to death 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] Ratnam wanted to present a realistic Rajinikanth, which he saw in 16 Vayathinile and Mullum Malarum minus all his style elements.[3] 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".[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, the film being his first with Ratnam.[8] 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."[9] 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".[10] Aravind Swamy made his acting debut with this film.[11] 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.[12]

The songs "Rakkamma" and "Sundari" were filmed at Rayagopura, Melkote and Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura in Karnataka respectively.[13][14]


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,[15] making it his last collabaration with Mani Ratnam.[1] Lahari Music acquired the audio rights by paying 7.2 million.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18][19] 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.[20] 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).[21]

Original version (Tamil)

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

Track listing (Hindi)[22]

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

Track listing (Telugu)[23]

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".[24] IndiaGlitz said "Manirathnam's excellent direction, and Ilayaraja supplementing with spellbound music makes this movie a definite watch."[25] 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.[26][27] 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."[28]


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".[29] Atlee who directed Raja Rani (2013) cites Thalapathi was the main inspiration for him to consider cinema as a career.[30] Soundarya Rajini said that Rajini's hairstyle in Kochadaiiyaan (2014) was inspired by his appearance in Thalapathi.[31]

In November 2011, Bollywood producer Bharat Shah acquired the rights to remake Thalapathi in Hindi.[32]



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


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

External links[edit]