If you live in Chennai and aren’t familiar with the frenzy surrounding Rajinikanth’s films, July 22 might come as a shock to you. The undisputed superstar of southern cinema is ready to enthrall his fans with his new film, Kabali, on Friday.
There’s no stopping Rajinikanth even at 65. Though his last two films – Lingaa and Kochadaiyaan – didn’t hit the bull’s eye at the box office, he is ready to reinvent himself. Probably the only superstar in the world who isn’t afraid of showing his balding head, Rajinikanth is a people’s man. From setting up retirement funds for his director friends to obliging politicians, he has done it all. And now his fans are ready to pay the star back for his courtesies.
With a fifteen-minute role in Apoorva Raagangal (1975), Rajinikanth launched a scintillating career that was to become synonymous with charisma, magic and miracles. The tricks learnt during his stint with the Karnataka State Transport Corporation turned Shivaji Rao Gaekwad aka Rajinikanth into the actor every fan of Tamil cinema was waiting for. With that style, that ruggedness, that majestic gait and that enchanting persona, things had little choice but to fall in place. By now, we have heard and read so much about the man that we almost believe Rajinikanth was born to be a superstar.
His Hindi films didn’t work, and even if they did, somebody else ended up taking the limelight. But then, he was not the same man then. Had the movies been released today, many of them would have crossed the Rs 100-crore mark. The things Rajinikanth can do naturally, contemporary stars cannot hope to achieve even with the help of technically adept camera crews and state-of-the-art editing softwares.
The recently released Robot (Enthiran) was also successful in Hindi. Shivaji the Boss and Chandramukhi are shown regularly on some film channels, and nobody objects to him romancing the likes of Shriya Sharan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Sonakshi Sinha. In fact, some die-hard fans would go to the extent of saying that these heroines can’t match up to Rajinikanth’s dancing, screen presence and looks.
Research scholars could do entire projects on the reasons behind Rajinikanth’s mass popularity in North India, a region where he hasn’t done any ‘original’ film since Bulandi in 2000. And, mind you, those who remember Bulandi do so only for this man and how Anil Kapoor copied him in the second half. In case you’re trying to remember, his name was Gajraj Thakur in the film.
Rajinikanth was initially all about jokes of the ‘Chuck Norris’ kind, but everything turned into respect for the thespian before anybody even realised it. Be it his pictures with ailing children or be it his photographs from the sets of his films, he always comes across as a genuine person. His personal life reflects the same. Unlike some other Southern superstars, who used stardom to destroy their own superstar status, Rajinikanth’s never entangled into any controversy that was personal. Whenever he spoke for a cause or about something political, he cared to keep his personal away from it.
It’s difficult for big stars to keep away from politics in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states. The alluring seats of power attract with so much force that one lets go of legacy and jumps on to the favouring tides without thinking much of the people who made them the stars and masters of the local spheres.
We know of other actors who are desperately trying to fit into the shoes of Thalaiva. It’s so in-our-face yet the audience is making these ventures successful. You think it’s happening without Rajinikanth’s unseen help. He may not have asked for it, but the fans know their duty. They simply can’t see Thalaiva going out of prominence. Now, you understand why that Chennai Express song was such a perfect marketing gimmick.
The boss of Tamil cinema is ready to reclaim his throne with Kabali. Will the fans help him this time?
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- Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times, New Delhi …www.hindustantimes.com