A vague inspiration from Jayalalithaa’s life (Book Review)

Book: The Queen; Author: Anita Sivakumaran; Publisher: Juggernaut; Price: Rs 350; Pages: 279

A young, talented and beautiful 16-year-old school-going teenager girl is inspired by her mother to enter the movie industry in what was then Madras (now Chennai). Though unwilling initially, life changes forever for Kalai Arasi as she stepped into the film industry.

Enter PKB, a filmstar enjoying super-stardom by then and soon going to be a politician, who offers Kalai a chance to share the screen with him. There was no looking back for her. Kalai finds it difficult to restrain her feelings for PKB, who was more than double of her age, and eventually falls for him.

Years later, when PKB coaxes Kalai to campaign for him, she meets with spectacular success. Following PKB’s death, Kalai seizes the throne to become the Chief Minister.

Does the story sound familiar’ It is, after all, Tamil Nadu — where politics intersects with the Tamil film industry — and with this book author Sivakumaran takes on the life of none other than late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.

Spanning four decades, the plot goes back and forth, slowly and steadily unfolding Kalai’s rise and rise with PKG’s support.

The fictional characters, with strong resemblance to real ones, are easily acknowledged; PKB replicates MGR, while Selvi is Sasikala. Some dialogues seemed inconsequential, simply dragging the narration and the fictional part often appears to be weakest. There also remains a strong disparity with factual episodes related to the former Chief Minister’s life and therefore fails to generate curiosity among readers.

But a few episodes, although known, will take your breath away while reading. Like when Kalai is stopped from attending PKB’s funeral by his family and yet decides to walk along with the masses who have come to pay their last respects, and receives their support with chants of “Long live Kalai Arasi. Long live PKB”.

Sivakumaran writes “she strode like a queen to lay her dead king to rest” — strong enough to develop a “queen” image of Jayalalithaa in the reader’s mind.

Other engaging episodes are when Kalai gets her first major breakthrough after PKB’s death in politics, with her landslide victory in a by-election, “making her presence felt in the world of politics”; and not to forget the assembly scene — “her hair was dishevelled, her eyes red and weeping, her blouse torn and her sari a wreath of snakes” — that will make readers relate to the real-life incident.

But just when it seems the book will engage the reader’s interest, it fails because of its vague fictional dialogues. Had the book been based more of facts, revealing unknown or lesser known tales of Jayalalithaa, it would have been a great read.

“The Queen” may thus not succeed in leaving a deep impact on readers, a disappointment from an author whose poems have always exuded vivacity.

(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at somrita.g@ians.in)

By Somrita Ghosh

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