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The temple of Rajnikanth

Disclaimer: I haven’t watched Kabali

India was a much divided nation on Friday, 22nd July. It was divided between people who had Kabali tickets and those who didn’t. By Monday, the nation was still divided between people who had watched Kabali and those who hadn’t. And between those who liked it and didn’t. People seemed to be more interested in telling everyone that they were going for the movie than they were in the movie itself. After the initial reviews started to trickle in, the nation was still unclear on what stance it had taken. Was Kabali a hit? A flop? After the smoke from the crackers has died down and the milk used to pour on the star’s massive cut outs had curdled, the nation still wants to know.

I’m not a very religious person but I would presume that many people reading this piece are. No one asks for proof of God. If you pray and your prayers aren’t answered, you don’t stop praying. You will visit more places of worship but not give up on your hopes and dreams.

Rajnikanth, on the other hand, has only half the advantage that God possesses. People have unreasonable expectations, pile all of their hopes, dreams and unmet aspirations on him, stand in serpentine queues to see him and don’t mind paying whatever the occasion demands to get a glimpse of their god. If you have visited any major temple, you will be pushed and shoved and abused but everything is forgiven because the end justifies the means. When you get a glimpse of God, dormant religious forces from within surface and a sense of quasi peace envelopes you.

Sometimes what is prayed for is met in some form or the other. If it isn’t met, God is waiting for the right time is the rationalization. No one writes reviews on God if their expectations aren’t met.

That is where Thalaivar is gullible. After seeking his blessings, people come out of the theatre and try to justify what they just saw. They try and derive the meaning of life from a celluloid picture.

Rajnikanth is a wonderful actor whose fan base has made him bigger than the film itself. The experience no longer lies in the plot but in seeing the movie in a theatre full of people gone berserk, in the milk abhishekams, the 3 a.m. screenings and the chartered flights that drop die-hard fans to the temple of their idol. My favourite Thalaivar movie is Thalapathi where he delivers a brilliant performance as a young boy who was abandoned by his mother when he was a baby. Those were the days when Mani Ratnam’s directorial brilliance was paired with Illayaraja’s musical genius. In his repertoire of 184 films, there are more a few classics that will stand as testimony to Rajni the actor and not just Rajni the star.

In Tamil Nadu, where the natural progression is for an actor to don the politician’s role after achieving everything there is to achieve and film stars have temples devoted to them, Rajnikanth has remained surprisingly grounded. He hasn’t endorsed any product and doesn’t wear a wig to disguise his real age when he steps away from the spotlight. His political utterances have been few and far between and he is friends with the DMK and the AIADMK. When he took a stance on the Cauvery issue that is a perennial thorn in the flesh between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, his fans didn’t burn is effigies on the street in Karnataka.  

Does Rajnikanth belong to Maharashtra, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu?

He was born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad and then became a bus conductor in Bangalore before he met K Balachander and became a God in Tamil Nadu. He resurfaces whenever a movie is about to release and then seemingly disappears from the public eye.

With Kabali, people have said he has finally come of age by playing his age. No one wants their heroes to grown old and fans are finally coming to accept that while their thalaivar is part God, he is also part man. That hasn’t diminished their hopes. Rajnikanth single-handedly created the cinematic experience of watching his movie in the theatre to a review in its own right. That it may have compromised his acting abilities over the years is up for debate.

Thalaivar’s journey can be summed up in one line – he was a bus conductor who one day had a chartered flight to ferry people to his movie.

If that isn’t a film plot in its own right, tell me what is.


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