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A Rajinikanth's column about his super-stardom journey till Kaala

“In my forthcoming movie, I am introducing a young man who has fire in his eyes. Just mark my words. He will go on to become a phenomenon,” wrote the legendary filmmaker K Balachander in the film magazine Pesum Padam, just a week before the release of his 1975 movie, Apoorva Raagangal. And, in a low-angle shot just before the much talked about the climax of the movie, a tousled man pushes open the closed gates and walks into the movie. The frame freeze for a moment and the Tamil text ‘Shruti Bedam’, meaning a variance of pitch appears across the screen.


The shot was destined to become iconic, both metaphorically and literally, in the history of Tamil cinema and Rajinikanth simply walked into the Tamil cinema industry. The eventful years followed and his rise to the throne of the Superstar proved the prescient words written over his first screen appearance true to every letter. With his reign over the Tamil cinema approaching a 50-year roundup, Rajinikanth is undoubtedly the biggest superstar India has ever produced, who touched millions of hearts not only in India but abroad.


No other big stars in Indian cinema have reinvented themselves like Rajinikanth did. He has the most exciting career trajectory that started with a director’s actor in movies like 16 Vayathinile, Apoorva Raagangal, Mullum Malarum, and Avargal, where he played according to the rules of the filmmaker. But, after that initial phase of ups and downs, scripts were being written, according to his rules from the early 90s, as it became a mandate for them to embody the aspirations and dreams of his ever-growing fan base.


When we have a sneak peek into the factors that made Rajinikanth the Superstar, stylistic repetition, both in terms of character templates and narrative techniques, can be cited as the key. And, a kind of pattern emerges in the viewing too. People who adore him never go to the theatres to watch a never-seen-before story, but to experience some exquisite Rajinikanth moments of one-liners and mannerisms. Quintessentially, the storyline will be good versus evil duel with the good succeeding against all odds.


Radiating humility and an aversion to wearing wigs in public appearances are some of the out-of-box characteristics that made Rajinikanth singular among other stars. Moreover, the story of his humble origins and step-by-step climb to conquer heights evolved as a myth around his stardom. All these elements jointly moulded a superstar-actor-real man combo, which can represent the common man, a Dravidian hero contrasting the Brahmanical ethos and a superhero, who can shoulder the larger-than-life cinematic fantasies of the moviegoers from all classes.


But, after the 2000s, there was a dynamic shift in the patterns of viewing. A new generation of viewers emerged who were highly informed and opinionated and didn' share the sensibilities and the sentiments of the 80s and 90s. They look for more layered narratives and varied experiences of life. This led to the relatively lukewarm responses his movies gathered in the last decade. As the Superstar, he had to reinvent, apparently for the third time in his career, to connect with the new breed of viewers, who are not necessarily his hardcore fans but adore him for many reasons.


The internet memes that went viral on the social media platforms, clippings of his old movies and his occasional public appearances together restructured the Superstar for internet savvy, visual consumers. The brand new Superstar had the mystic aura of simplicity that surrounds him in the real life and the manifold power to save the good and destruct the evil like a true superhero. The ubiquitous internet memes, both positive and negative, helped a lot in the transformation as they boosted his aura as a phenomenon you should experience on screen at least once in your lifetime.


This transformation also went hand-in-hand with the new trends of identity politics and problematic representation of the lower classes in cinema. As an actor, Rajinikanth could easily step into the contemporary political context by teaming up with youngsters like Pa Ranjith, Santhosh Narayan, Praveen KL, and G Murali. The ageing gangster in Kabali and the negative role in Enthiran were his bold attempts to break the image trap, which was a boon and a curse at the same time all over his career.


By the early 2010s, the old template heroes gave way to protagonists with multiple shades. The good reception of Kabali and Enthiran gave him the confidence to break away from stereotypes. Rajinikanth merged the onscreen and offscreen personas to give rise to the cult of the Superstar, which keeps reinventing over the time. With the teaser of Kaala directed by Pa Ranjith being just released and becoming a rage already (no surprises there), people who adore him are already waiting for the reinvention, albeit, with fingers crossed, because, the throne always belongs to one, as there will be only one Superstar, leaving all others just big stars.

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Tags : Kaala, Rajinikanth


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