In her very first film, Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was cast as Jayalalithaa. It was a well-kept secret not revealed to this day, by either the director or his leading lady. Though it was obvious that Iruvar was all about the infamous friendship-turned-rivalry between two of Tamil Nadu’s most high-profile film personalities turned politicians — M G Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi — no one, back then, was vocal about the role that Jayalalithaa played in shaping Indian politics.
Now, with Amma’s demise, there seems to be a renewed interest in the film. One even hears that the film may well be revived and re-released in languages other than Tamil. However, a prominent member of the film’s cast, spilt the beans — “Iruvar was plotted around the close relationship between cinema and politics in TN. Aishwarya played Jayalalithaa. This was Aishwarya’s acting debut after winning Miss World, and she wasn’t sure if doing such a volatile subject was the right start. But Mani convinced her.”
“This was also the era when the ‘de-Mani-tization’ (post his flops) had not started. Sure enough, there was a lot of trouble when Iruvar released — first, from the censor board, which wanted many key scenes deleted as it showed ‘easily recognisable political figures from Tamil Nadu’ in a less-than-flattering light. Protests were staged throughout Tamil Nadu on the film’s release,” the source adds.
But to this day, Aishwarya refuses to acknowledge her character in Iruvar as being based on Jayalalithaa. In one earlier interview, she did concede though that her role in Iruvar was closer to real life than any other she had played — “I’ve always believed in taking leaps of faith and always gone in pursuit of roles that require me to explore facets of my personality that are not known to anyone, not even me. I’ve been doing character-driven parts from the time I did Iruvar. I’ve taken risks from the start.” Apparently, Jayalalithaa had seen Iruvar too and spoke about how much she liked the film!