Sunday, July 24, 2016

How much more are you going to milk Rajinikanth? - A response

I came across this article which asks Rajini fans a question. Since I consider myself a Rajini fan I have responded to it and added my own thoughts about our Thalaivar.

First some house-keeping:
  • Kabali reminds me of the plight of King Trishanku. It just hangs there in between Madras and Padayappa. Between Thalapathi and Basha. Very much watchable and 40,000 times better than Thalaivar's previous two outings. But, I can't say the same about Ranjith. However, it is not an "over-the-top masala potboilers". My understanding of that term includes movies like Linga, Chennai Express, Sultan, Pokiri, Theri etc. Kabali definitely does not deserve to be put along side these movies.
  • Yes, milk being wasted is repulsive and "fans" must avoid this.
  • Comparing Kamal and Rajini is, with some exaggeration and inaccuracy, like comparing Woody Allen and Will Ferrell. Both draw audience of different kinds. The former works with cinema like it were his only purpose in life while the later just makes us laugh/cry without much ado. Unlike Ajith vs Vijay or Pawan Kalyan vs Mahesh Babu there is no fan-rivalry between the Kamal and Rajini. Both understand their spaces, their "type" and are comfortable with it.  
  • "every single Rajinikanth film is essentially the same...": This is simply incorrect and perhaps the writer refers to the films which have released post Thalapathi (I say a little more of this phase of his career below). Also, many in the audience, especially the family audience, would consider his cigarette smoking to be a serious flaw - something which is very much liable to influence youth in a negative way. We will remember that Rajini's predecessor, in terms of type of fan base, M.G.R, never did any such this: no cigarette, no liquor, no women (and no acting if you ask me).
  • Yes, I do agree it is cringey when Rajini dances with Shriya or Nayantara. But I also cringed when I saw Salman Khan dancing with Anushka Sharma or Sonam Kapoor. To be fair, if he interferes with the casting he will be criticized for it. Anyway, we are more than willing to see him get back with Sridevi, Jayapradha, Meena, Ramya Krishna and others if only the producers and these ladies are willing (they are better actors anyway). 
Now matter:

Firstly, about the origin of Rajini. The 90s did not create Rajini. Our Rajini was created in 1977 it self with the line "idhu eppadi irruku" in Padinaru Vayadinile. A movie dominated by Sridevi and Kamal in which Rajini had only a supporting role and a single substantial line (the aforementioned one). But he transformed that into a punch dialogue with his delivery. Rajini need not flip cigarettes and light them with guns to be Rajini. (This was a much later development and every actor is allowed to indulge once or twice. Have we not tolerated Kamal's Dasavatharam?) On the other hand, it is these little things which he does differently that makes him synonymous with style. Take Kabali for instance. Even if you have not seen the movie, the two minute leaked clipped will show you how differently he wears a bracelet. See the famous swing scene in Padayappa: More than the fact that he pulls down a swing which his shawl (which any sensible fellow knows is impossible) it is how he slightly twists his wrist, before placing it on his knee that sticks with us. That is what we imitate after coming back to our homes. These little things are enough. That is what we are after. In a way, his style is not really a style, it is just his mannerism. It is sui generis. The hype in social media in recent times coupled with Rajini-jokes has given him a dimension we never had of our Thalaivar. Our Thalaivar started off as a villain (like Chiranjeevi), used to drink, made flops, obliged friends for guest roles (Pedda Rayadu) and we know this.

Sivaji, though not the proper comparison for Rajini, also has such a mixed image. If it is true that there is yet to be someone to deliver dialogues like him in Tamil cinema, it is also true that there is yet to be someone who "over-acts" like he does some times. But when we remember Sivaji we remember both and place the former aspect of his higher than the latter. Again, Robert Di Niro (who has also done regrettable stuff like Meet the Fockers etc.) has been trying, since a long time, to erase his image of a hard-hitting gangster by taking up projects like Midnight Run, Analyse This, Meet the Parents etc. But the image of his from Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull are the ones that people keep referring to again and again.
In a similar way, Rajini has also done Aarilirunthu Arubathu Varai, Sri Raghavendra, Thalapathi, Baba etc. And when people remember him in the future they will remember all the Rajini-s. What they will place on top, time will tell.

The legacy of Rajini is not to be sought in his movies but in the actors he has caused. These include Murali, Vijaykanth (I admit with great regret), Paarthiban, Vijay, Surya, Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathi and many more to come: all dark. If it were not for Rajini, who showed that a dark guy need not just be a villain, these people would never have had a chance at making it this big. If Tamil cinema has such people as lead-actors when Telugu and Hindi cinema don't, it is because of Rajini (though he was ably guided by K.Balachander and aided by the general Dravidian Pride wave). And this legacy cannot be erased by flops nor by fanatic fans. 

Coming now to the point of letting him go, I would say that there are very few big stars (and Rajini is the biggest) in South who have as much freedom as Rajini (Upendra, Surya, Venkatesh also come to mind). Even Kamal is a slave to a stereotype - that of making "intellectual"/"deep"/"philosophical" movies like Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam, Virumandi etc. If Rajini was bound to fan demands, would he have done Baba ? Definitely not. Take another example: Robot.  The scene opens and he is working in his lab. That's all ! There is no bang, no somersault, no snake, no nadaswaram. Where is the "Hero Entry Scene", the entry song, which Rajini defined. If Rajini was indeed slave to the fans, would he have agreed to such an ordinary entry ? In Kushelan he had only a guest role. Which other big star do we know who has agreed to be part of experiments like Kochadaiiyaan ? (Of course, one may argue that he was perhaps pandering to his daughter's dreams. But I believe that his daughter knows him better than any of us fans and that if she knew her father cared more about his image than trying new things, she would never have approached him for the role and put him a spot.)

Now coming to the central question(s): "do you really love the man? Or do you love what you like to see of him?"
As fans we will see what ever he gives us and like him for that. As I said earlier, Baba is part of our image of Rajini and so is Baasha, so is Kushelan, so is Robot, so is Thillu-Mullu, and Billa. We want our Thalaivar to experiment to his heart's content. And we will lap it all up. Those who see Rajini only as a style-icon have most probably seen his 90s and 2000s movies. But this image was created by Thalaivar himself by choices like Annamalai, Baasha, Padayappa, Arunachalam etc. and only he can undo it. (In passing, I would like to remind that these movies had strong supporting actors. Baasha was possible because of Antony being played by Raghuvaran. Padayappa was such a sensation because of Ramya Krisha playing Neelambari. Muthu's romance scenes are not cringe-worthy because of his chemistry with Meena.) But those of us who have seen some of the other films know that he is capable of portraying dramatic and comedy roles too. We love him for all of these aspects. I don't deny that when the blue neon light title card comes up on the screen, we forget our selves and go into a frenzy. But that's all. Rest of what we expect depends on what the movie is about. We know what Pa.Ranjith movies are like and we knew he would not have any cringe-y romance or mindless dance-songs. We also know K.S.Ravikumar and that he will do exactly that. Based on this we change our expectation. Tomorrow, if Kamal or Bala or Karthik Subbaraj decide to direct Rajini we will change our expectation accordingly. But one thing we know is that Rajini will give his own version of the character and it will be unique. The movie may be a flop but we will not blame Rajini for it; ask him why did he have to do this, why he couldn't stick to his usual fights and style. Using a Madras-Tamil expression, I say that actors like Rajini have a getthu which requires the script to also have a getthu. If that is there, we will enjoy the movie no matter what.

Finally, taking up the question in the title, the answer simply is that we will milk him forever. When he acts in a good movie we will milk him on general principle. When his films flop we will milk his hits. When he takes a sabbatical we will milk his memories. When he passes away we will milk his movies on K T.V. Until the day all memory of him fades away, Superstar Rajinikanth will be milked as Superstar Rajinikanth: the dark-horse, the style-icon, the game changer.

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