Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Emperor Strikes Back

The Emperor Strikes Back
Friday May 27 2005 14:06 IST

Baradwaj Rangan

A stick of tobacco, a Japanese car, nimble hand-eye coordination,
five-odd minutes of screen time � that's all it took for Rajinikanth
to make the move from supporting mate to star material. Kamalahasan �
okay, Kamal Haasan � may have been the lead of K Balachander's
Ninaithaale Inikkum, but it was Rajini who was its livewire. Whether
swaying to Sambo Siva Sambo or comically pursuing a mysterious female
admirer or, yes, trying to win a Toyota by flipping a cigarette
repeatedly into his mouth, it was Rajini who shone � or should that be
twinkled, considering that, with this performance, he set himself well
on course to becoming a star?

And then Murattu Kaalai-Paayum Puli happened, and his fame hit the
stratosphere. And then Annamalai-Baasha-Padayappa came out, and his
(super) star ascended to the heavens. And then Baba happened, and he
fell dizzyingly to earth.

People began to question the relevance of Rajinikanth in the era of
younger stars who, if not after his mantle, were certainly after his
masses � the crowds that threw coins, confetti, themselves on screen
upon the first glimpse of their hero. With Vijay labelling himself
Ilaya Thalapathy (after one of Rajini's movies), with Simbu calling
himself Little Super Star, with Sarath Kumar becoming Supreme Star,
with Ajith being hailed as Ultimate Star, was there any space in the
Kollywood skies for the original Super Star? Or had he become Rajini

No one's asking such questions today � for after the phenomenal
success of Chandramukhi, the Rajinikanth household is handing out not
only sweets, but also generous slices of humble pie to all the
doubting Thangavelus.

After 40 days of release, tickets are still being sold in black. Says
producer AVM Saravanan: ``In four weeks, it's grossed more than what
Padayappa made in its entire run. And this despite the fact that
Chandramukhi has no punch dialogues, no political references, no
typical Rajini-style moments. Yet the repeat audiences are pouring
in.'' Sathyajothi Thyagarajan, President of the Tamil Film Producers
Council, confirms that. ``I've talked to all trade associations in the
state, and the collections are enormous. Families have taken to
Chandramukhi in a big way. And I guess everyone is happy because we
all want Rajini to do well.''

Doing well he certainly is. His earnings from the movie � salary plus
profit percentage � are reportedly in the Rs 15 crore range, and
that's just so far. The rights for each area in Tamil Nadu were
reportedly sold for Rs 2.5 crore, and revenues to date (per area) have
crossed Rs 3 crore, which means Chandramukhi has already made
something like Rs 60 crore across the state. In the words of Swaroop
Reddy, Director of Chennai's upscale Sathyam Cinemas, ``This is the
best movie as far as the box office is concerned in the Tamil industry
till date, and it cannot be compared to any other film. So far, it is
amongst the top 10 highest grossing movies in the history of Sathyam
Cinemas, and its position can only strengthen from here on. We expect
Chandramukhi to play for more than 100 days.''

That's in Chennai � but it's doing well in its Telugu dubbed version
(better than original Telugu releases), it's doing well in Karnataka,
it's doing well in Malaysia, and if it isn't doing well in Japan, it's
only because it wasn't released there. (A few faithfuls, however, made
it all the way to Chennai to catch their sensei in action.) It's a
bigger grosser than even Baasha, and it's become something of a tonic
to an ailing industry. In an interview, K Muralidharan, former
President of the Tamil Film Producers Council, has said: ``I've often
been asked why we keep producing movies, when the success rate is so
low. That's because we all want to experience a Chandramukhi in our

And to think the movie almost wasn't made. After Baba's no-show, if
all had gone well, we'd have seen something named Jaggubhai. Director
K S Ravikumar worked on Rajinikanth's idea, but nothing came of it
finally. (Industry gossip is that the story had political leanings,
which became irrelevant after recent electoral turnarounds.) So when
the star was on the lookout for new material, he chanced upon
Aapthamithra, a Kannada blockbuster headlined by Vishnuvardhan, which
was based on the Malayalam superhit Manichitrathazhu. He liked the
subject enough to remake it, and he's now remaking box-office history.

Still, there's a section that feels too much is being made of
Chandramukhi's success. After all, it didn't have much competition.
(The films that released alongside - Vijay's Sachein and Kamal
Haasan's Mumbai Xpress - have both performed below expectations.)
Also, it wasn't as hyped as Baba was. Besides, aren't hits and flops
part of a performer's profession? Is this really a comeback for
Rajinikanth or is it just a case of yet another mass movie finding its
mass audience? As film historian Theodore Baskaran puts it: ``In the
career trajectory of a star, ups and downs are not unusual. These
cannot be termed as exits or returns. It is the content and the
quality of his / her movies and the principles the actor stands for
which would determine his / her place in the cultural history of a
society. Look at the way N S Krishnan is remembered in the
Tamil-speaking world today.''

Forget about remembering N S Krishnan. Some fans are wondering if this
is how Rajinikanth, their hero, wants to be remembered � for comedy
that reduces women to sex objects, for playing someone who isn't a
superhero as much as a supporting character in the larger scheme of
the film. (Jyothika has the titular role, and comedian Vadivelu has
almost as many scenes as Rajini.)

But these fans needn't lose heart. After this success, their idol has
apparently decided to appear on screen more frequently � there were
three-year gaps between Padayappa and Baba, and between Baba and
Chandramukhi � and news is already making rounds that he's looking at
a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan-Akshay Kumar tearjerker Waqt. Now
there's a role people should be happy to see the Super Star in, and
there's a movie that could well consolidate his winning streak � for,
as the showbiz saying goes, make the audience cry, and you'll laugh
all the way to the bank.

With inputs from Malini Mannath


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1 comment:

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