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OTHERS :

Chennai/Bengaluru: It’s 5am, and the sun is yet to rise over Chennai. For the last eight hours or so, S. Srinivas and K. Manoj have been roaming the city, hunting for the incredibly hard-to-find and pricey first-day, first-show tickets to watch Kabali, the Rajinikanth starrer that released on Friday.

The hunt has been futile so far. They are now at Chennai’s Vettri theatre, where the crowd has already started celebrating the first release of a Rajinikanth movie in two years.

Larger-than-life cutouts of the star, some of them as high as the theatre itself, have been adorned with garlands and decorative lights. The crowd screams and whistles as it streams into the theatre for the first show.

Around the same time, some 350km away in Bengaluru, 180 passengers are waiting with AirAsia tickets that cost them 7,860 each to board a special flight bearing the image of Rajinikanth; they are flying to Chennai to watch Kabali.

Also read | Film review: Kabali

Also Read: All is well in the Rajini world

The movie is showing in Bengaluru too—in fact, some multiplexes have a screening almost every half hour, all of which are house-full—but these passengers want to watch it in Chennai for the experience of viewing a Rajinikanth movie with his fans on his home turf.

The release of the Pa. Ranjith-directed Tamil movie—also dubbed in Hindi, Telugu and Malay—has been nothing short of spectacular. It is reported to have opened on 3,000-4,000 screens across India, besides 400-500 screens overseas.

Kabali tells the story of an ageing gangster’s comeback after 25 years of imprisonment in a Malaysian jail and his subsequent search for his family, and ultimately revenge against his enemies. In the film’s back story, he is shown to be fighting for the rights of an oppressed ethnic Tamil community, providing a subtle political undertone. It also has the stylish stunts and punch lines that are the staple of every Rajinikanth starrer.

At Vettri, the audience breaks into a frenzy as the screen credits start rolling and the signature blue letters S-U-P-E-R S-T-A-R R-A-J-I-N-I appear. For the next two hours, 30 minutes, there is little chance of you following even a single dialogue from the movie, so noisy is the audience.

The ticket prices have been upped, yet almost all theatres screening the movie are running house-full. M. Sudharshan, a member of the audience at Vettri, has an answer to why.

“Since 1992, I have always watched first-day, first-show for Thalaivar," he says with his fist in the air. Thalaivar, which means leader in Tamil, is what his fans fondly call Rajinikanth.

To be sure, such hype has surrounded every Rajinikanth movie in recent years, the last being Lingaa two years ago.

“But Kabali is at another level," says Srinivas. His friend Manoj is still desperately trying to peep through the closed ticket counters.

“I don’t usually wake up this early. And last night I couldn’t sleep in excitement, then where is the question of waking up?" says 19-year-old engineering student S. Sachin, who is sporting a new Kabali T-shirt.

Also read: Ten things to know about ‘Kabali’

What could possibly explain the mania surrounding the release of a movie starring a man who in real life is a balding 65-year-old?

Of course, Rajinikanth has an engaging screen presence. He can flip chewing gum high into the air and catch it in his mouth (Sivaji The Boss), whip up a storm of dust with a shake of his leg (Chandramukhi) and send the bad guys running for cover. And his fans love it. His screen persona is an epitome of film theories that movies, to be enjoyed, need a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience.

“… after four decades of chubby, fair-skinned heroes, this lean, mean, anti-hero emerges as a version of updated masculinity, which seems, in its exaggerations, to be a concession to a sense of ‘male lack’. He is the first of the dark stars of Tamil cinema," wrote Sadanand Menon, an art critic, in India Today (January 2013) while reviewing Naman Ramachandran’s Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography.

Film critic Baradwaj Rangan put it succinctly (in a 2012 piece he called Rajinikanth the last superstar), saying that films such as Baasha and Padayappa combine “a strong sense of the star’s style with a stronger narrative that gripped you regardless of whether you were seated in the balcony or the front row".

To be sure, other Tamil stars, too, have been the subjects of extreme adulation. The late M.G. Ramachandran, the mentor of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa (herself a former actor), parlayed his stardom to political power in Tamil Nadu.

There could be another reason for the mania surrounding Kabali: successful brand management.

Rajinikanth is smartly positioning his films as events these days; he does one movie in a year or two, along with which comes the waiting and the hype, Rangan said in a Facebook chat with his readers.

Also Read: Rajinikanth magic at Aurora Talkies

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