Call it cultish. Call it ridiculous. My fanfare for Rajnikanth gets thicker with every release – yes, including ‘Baba’ and even ‘Lingaa.’
Like me, millions across the world, I am sure, might feel that tingle in the spine, that devil-care-boldness, whenever they watch the next Rajnikanth trailer/movie. It is a hard-to-describe feeling.
There is something emboldening about him that no other actor can bring.So when he asks with that sly shake of his head, ‘Bhayamaa?’ in the new trailer of Kabali, and in the very next frame, does that walk – oh, that walk, oh that walk – I feel that I am watching the last original superstar.
It will take a long time before any other actor can rise like him, with all his vulnerabilities.
I believe it is a basic, unpretentious, unencumbered connection that he makes with his fans.
The resonance is felt everywhere– from the UAE to Malaysia, and the US to Japan.
Suddenly, there seems to be some logic to the much-abused word 'cross over' that Bollywood, the Hindi film industry, has been trying to call its own.
Rajnikanth transcends all that ‘cross-over’ claims with an extra step.
He has a brand equity of his own that is hard to understand. You couldn’t fault Egyptians for falling in love with Amitabh Bachchan. But what makes the Japanese love Rajnikanth?
For whatever reason, am sure fans in Japan do not flock theatres to laugh at him.
I sincerely believe that his antics, his down-to-earth and at the same time larger-than-life appeal works for everyone who sees cinema as nothing but unmitigated escapism.
That is what Ramakrishanan Sir taught me – without perhaps him knowing it.
Watching Rajnikanth films with the learned professor (my friend’s dad), he taught me how to appreciate Tamil films for what they are.
Well, the platform was already there.
Otherwise, why should a teenager cry and clamour for a ticket of Murattukaalai, playing then at Thiruvananthapuram Shiva. (Does anyone even recall that theatre hall?)
At some subconscious level, I have always been following Rajni.
When Ninaithaale Inikkum was playing, I was a Kamal fan. But the magic of Rajni was such that he gained his own space without denting or taking out my blind adulation for Kamal.
So I wasn’t even shocked when he did that ‘rape’ scene in the 1979 film Alavudeenum Adbhutha Vilikkum, and for some reason, I can still see the desert landscape against which it was set – and Rajni rising up after the act with guilt writ all over him.
Since then, it has been a process of watching him grow, grow and grow. The absolute delight, at one point, was to wait for the movie Geraftaar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth.
And what a way he exits from the screen in it? Watch it to believe it.
Rajnikanth brings to life good old fanfare, the sort that has been missing in action for its sheer spontaneity.
It is a no-strings attached mass appeal for an actor, who is not even expected to act by his legions of fans.
Unlike his peers in Bollywood, Rajnikanth has no pressure on him to perform an off-beat role, create a new trend or transform himself into a Hollywood clone. That is what people like Ram Gopal Varma in their infinite wisdom fail to get.
He has been the epitome of formula in Indian cinema, and his fans expect him to stick to it.
They want him to walk his walk, talk his talk and stick to his style, where bullets light cigarettes, and chewing gum sticks ricochet off his enemy's forehead straight to his mouth.
Style is what Rajnikanth fans demand, and style is what they get. Period.
The bottom line: Don't be cynical when it comes to Rajnikanth because your cynicism doesn't matter.
And to think that as an actor, he started his career on the black note. He was villain to all evergreen but plastic heroes who got to romance the heroine, sing songs, dance around in foreign locales.
Rajnikanth, the bus conductor turned actor, then only had to ‘molest girls, chew on cigars and eventually be beaten to pulp and thrown down from palatial buildings.
He did it all with an endearing style, which was his rider to success. Style shaped Rajni and Rajni continues to flirt with his inimitable style in reel-life.
In real life, he is hardly distinguishable as the flashy superstar.
No, he doesn't make a spectacle of his family affairs either.
His fans know that beyond the actor they love to watch on screen, there is a sensitive man, who doesn't ask them to eat chocolates, drink fizzy syrups, invest in banks or ride fancy vehicles.
They know that he doesn't covet the chair of power nor does he seek to be an icon.
Rajnikanth stands where he is today having endured enough star traumas.
At one point in his career, his ego wasn't easy for producers and directors to stand and his wild pursuits were taking a toll on his career and health –mental and physical.
In typical underdog fashion, he sprang back, and discovered that no matter what, the style that he shaped remains entrenched in the minds of his fans.
Direction, camera, music, editing, the works – all be darned!
Just give the fans the charm of undiluted, uncompromised Rajnikanth. That will do.
And with Kabali, we see the man rise up even one step further – playing his age (albeit with a wig, as a colleague pointed out).
But what the heck, Rajni can do anything. He must.