Saluting the superstar

The World Is Not Enough

It’s the stuff of comic-book cliché, the classic tale of a mild-mannered everyman without a vain bone in his body, the last person you’d look at in a crowd, a man who has the ‘aging relative’ look down pat… yet when Sivaji Rao Gaekwad ambles out of his wigless real life and swaggers onto the silver screen, there has to be a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet moment where he steps through a phone booth, for the transformation is incredible. Growing instantly to several times the size of life, this man is so suddenly, awesomely mega that… that he’s CAPITALISED, for god’s sake.

And his latest film sees him at his most magnificent. Shankar’s Enthiran (or Robot or Robo, depending on where you watch it) is a remarkable technical achievement, a $35 million film that, while touted as Asia’s most expensive, has effects comparable to Hollywood’s $150 million behemoths. A spectacle it truly is, yet the film’s true strength lies in turning the myth of Rajnikanth on its head, in stripping him of his ‘punch-dialogues’ and his ‘entry shot’ and making that all-powerful persona worshipped by millions into an ordinary protagonist, one who can barely make a fist.

And while the man plays a believable scientist, noble to the core, it is his creation — a robot made in his own image, a Rajninstein, if you will — who does what Rajni routinely does in his films: the impossible. Thus is the fantasy — that invariable, bullet-halting, cigarette-juggling superhuman fantasy lying at the core of every Rajni blockbuster — given a shred of credibility, turning the unbelievable into, well, the legitimate. As the robot imbibes feeling and grows increasingly, wonderfully evil, narcissistically developing enough Rajnis to keep his fans in throes of ecstasy, the scientist himself is man enough only to run from a fight.

It is an immensely clever subversion, further enhanced by the fact that audiences can, in this film, finally root for the bad guy. I’ve heard tell of a tiny local theatre where a drunkard, incensed by a vamp berating the superstar on screen and leaving him without a place to sit, yanked out his own and flung it at the curtain. It is the irrational, irony-free adulation reserved usually for the gods, and that devotion would mean immediate hatred for any antagonist daring to stand in their hero’s path. Yet when it is Rajni himself, everything’s allowed.

We of the Bollywood habit, not blessed as often by this man’s screen-conquering presence, roll our eyes and laugh and make Chuck Norris jokes. Yet a film from this man, a smirk, a swagger, a line of ridiculously contrived dialogue, come as opiate to millions of people. We routinely celebrate escapism in our cinema, but Rajni stands higher up on this peak than any man in Hindi cinema. Is he then India’s biggest star? Please. He’s too big for competition. Even with a heroine who can’t act, he’s delivering the country’s biggest hit, the mediocrity simply bouncing off his bulletproof grin. Smashing.

Oh, and like the very best superheroes, he doesn’t wear a cape.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, October 6, 2010

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Saluting the superstar

  1. Good one Raja. My favourite line was “We routinely celebrate escapism in our cinema, but Rajni stands higher up on this peak than any man in Hindi cinema”.

  2. Dr.Kenshuk Marwah

    Raja ,

    Finally it seems you have done justice to a film ! Its indeed magnificent to see Rajnikant , no one else is well fitted to do the role . Its Rajni , Rajni all the way ,
    Looking for more such great movies from Indian Cinema .And offcourse your reviews Raja which shred ’em apart .

    Kenshuk

  3. Rajini, as I wrote in my blog, is a nice human being to start with. He through shrewd planning has connected well with his base. He has consistently entertained with his fans. Serving them with what they require. While style was, is and will remain his trademark, the stories in his movies provide hope to common man on the street. Almost all his movies are about the struggle and success. And we all know his own story.

    Here are some thoughts on why he is a phenomenon that he is.
    http://cinema-kaaram-coffee.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-rajinikanth-is-superstar.html

  4. Hey Raja,

    Nice post! He has got a charisma that is seldom found in our Bollywood stars and that is his magic. I have thought about this and written a post in my blog.

    Do check out about the magic of the superstar’s movies on his audience in my latest blogpost- Thalaivar Rajini and the HR Dept! at http://blog.hnshyam.com/2010/10/thalaivar-rajni-and-hr-dept.html

    Cheers!
    -Shyam

  5. Awesome review… u nailed it!!

  6. Sathyan

    Great One Raja! ” He’s too big for competition ” – how True! Which other star commands ticket rate of Rs. 5,000 INR in black and USD 40 in US Theaters?

    Missing your reviews in Rediff man!

  7. yah i like rajnikant action moves……………..they are awesome and magical…………no one can do actions like rajnikanth does

  8. Wow! I have started loving your posts! For all those who roll” their ” eyes and laugh and make Chuck Norris jokes”, all Rajini has done is embrace what the masses want, rather than pretend to give good films.

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