Iruvar is based on the life of MGR and it focuses on the friendship between MGR (played by Mohanlal) and Karunanidhi (played by Prakash Raj) also. Marudur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, betterknown as MGR greatly influenced the Tamil Film Industry in 1960s and 1970s when he became a popular hero and TN politics in 1980s when he became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Anandan(Mohanlal) is an ambitious young actor who wants to make it big in the film industry. He had to face a lot of failures and insults though before getting the much needed breakthrough. He happens to meet Selvam (Prakash Raj) who is a writer. It so happens that Selvam is the dialogue writer for the film in which Anandan is the hero. They become close friends. Anandan is introduced to Selvam’s political party which is led by Velu Annachi (Nassar). He grows to the party’s ideology as time passes by. Anandan then marries a village belle Pushpavalli (Aishwarya Rai) while Selvam marries another village girl, Marathagam (Revathy) under the supervision of the party leader. Anandan is a simplistic man who just wants a good paying job so that he can look after his mother, while Selvam is more idealistic and wants to use his words to change the world.
Despite their unpromising beginnings, Anandan rapidly falls in love with Pushpa’s lively innocence and charm, although he leaves her with his mother when he goes back to work. Selvam on the other hand pontificates speeches about equality in marriage on his wedding night while Maragatham is more traditional and superstitious which doesn’t go well for their future together. As their careers progress, Anandan becomes a star, able to draw crowds although he doesn’t appreciate his popularity until it is forcibly shown to him by Selvam . This is demonstrated in an excellent scene where Selvam takes Anandan up onto the roof to show him the hundreds of people waiting for a chance to catch a glimpse of the film star. Anandan also joins Selvam’s political party, although he is looked on with suspicion by the other party members who feel that Anandan is using the party to further his film career, while Anandan feels that his film fame is being exploited by the party to pull crowds. The relationship between these two contrasting protagonists is so unique, so complicated that it defies conventional definition. Poles apart with respect to ideologies, they go beyond that to work together professionally and also become close friends. They view each other with suspicion even when they are partners and then became overt enemies in politics. But throughout their lives, they never lose admiration and respect for each other. The film captures all the dimensions of this complex relationship beautifully.
Mohanlal has a difficult role as he plays a man still revered by millions. Considering that his character arc makes it clear who he is playing, he doesn’t have to overplay it and employs MGR’s well-known movements – the lift of the hand, the unique skipping run, the shake of the head – only in the song sequences. The rest of the time, he delivers a lesson on how much can be conveyed with downplayed ‘acting’. Whether as the frustrated actor or as the star loved by the people or the politician battling his best friend, he combines his eyes, expressions and body language to play the complicated personality in pitch-perfect fashion. Prakashraj’s character doesn’t have quite as many nuances but he fits the role perfectly, from the firebrand young politician to the more matured statesman. Aishwarya, in her debut, overdoes the coy, timid bit in her first role (just as she did a few years later in Jeans). She is more at home as the bold, self-assured actress though. Revathi (as Prakashraj’s first wife), Tabu (as Prakashraj’s second wife) and Gauthami (as Mohanlal’s second wife) are underused. The music and songs by A.R. Rahman are of a high quality and vary in style to illustrate the different cinematic eras encompassed by the film, although the time frame is never explicitly stated. These range from the jazzy and more upbeat songs pictured on Kalpana to the more traditional and classically driven song Narumugayie. At a time when theatres boasted of their colossal cinemascope screens, Ratnam shot his film in a classical 4:3 aspect ratio. Iruvar may not be perfect or even Manirathnam’s finest film but as a chronicle of one of the most important and influential periods in TamilNadu politics, its place in Tamil cinema history is assured.