An iconic filmmaking quote often attributed to Alfred Hitchcock suggests that 90 percent of successful movie-making lies in the casting. Although one is not sure if Hitchcock really said that but it makes a lot of sense. On the face of it, the thought of Kangana Ranaut portraying the late matinee idol-turned-politician J Jayalalithaa in AL Vijay’s upcoming biopic Thalaivi is audacious, perhaps even bizarre. But once you give the idea some time to germinate, you cannot help but see it clicking big time. What could be one of the most inspired casting decisions in the recent past, Ranaut as Jayalalithaa, if done right, has the potential to go down as an all-time great onscreen portrayal of a real-life character.

What makes the prospect of Kangana playing Jayalalithaa more enticing is the manner in which the lives of the two women resemble each other. Both were known to swim against the tide and march to their own beat. While Jayalalithaa might have broken the shackles both on and off-screen, she, unlike Kangana did more in real life as opposed to reel life. The manner in which Kangana has rewritten the playbook for women on screen in Hindi cinema might not be a preferred topic of discussion for many but one cannot deny the impact she has had on the medium.

For the last few years, Kangana’s decisions, both in terms of picking up films and the manner in which the films have come to life, have been under the scanner. The confusion over writing credits in Simran, the rumours surrounding her ‘demanding’ a co-director credit along with Vishal Bhardwaj for Rangoon, and the exit of co-star Sonu Sood as well as her stepping in for Krish to ‘officially’ co-direct Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, have somewhere given the impression that nearly all recent Kangana projects have had their share of controversies.

Looking at Ranaut’s career, controversy has been a constant companion. But up until the release of Simran, there was hardly anything connected to her professional life. It was in the run-up to the release of Rangoon when Kangana, along with co-stars Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor, made an appearance on Karan Johar’s television show, post which the nature of the discourse changed. There were murmurs about her insisting on a co-director credit on Rangoon but nothing much was openly said by the involved parties. Following Kangana’s statement calling Johar the ‘flagbearer of nepotism’ in Bollywood, stories about her being unprofessional started coming to the fore. At the time of the release of Simran, writer Apurva Asrani cried foul over the manner in which he was arm-twisted into giving her a co-writer credit. And with the issues around Manikarnika, the focus has shifted from her personal to professional life.

There is a pattern to any discussion surrounding Kangana, the actor/star. After the release of each film, the question about what would she do next in the traditional sense of Bollywood is thrown up but unlike other actors, in Kangana’s case, there is a sense of scorn attached. The pundits want her to toe the line, which in other words means — sign up a typical A-list film (read a Yash Raj Production or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali extravaganza) with an A-List co-star (read the Khans or Akshay Kumar) and do the dog-and-pony trick. Her foray into playing the late Jayalalithaa in Thalaivi not only shows how Ranaut can think out of the box but also why she does not really need to play by the template that Bollywood appears to be desperate to box her in.

There were talks about Vidya Balan or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing Jayalalithaa. Ironically, Aishwarya has already played a character based on Jayalalithaa in her debut Iruvar(1997). Vidya Balan had reportedly expressed her desire to don the greasepaint and had even done a look test. There were rumours about Deepika Padukone, Tabu and Nayanthara being pursued as well. In fact, besides Vijay’s Thalaivi, there are multiple projects on the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, including Priyadarshini’s The Iron Lady, that features Nithya Menen as the lead. But one cannot deny that Ranaut as Jayalalithaa could take things to the next level.