‘Petta’ Proves Rajinikanth is Best as an Apolitical Entertainer, Not a Real-Life Politician
Given his confused political stance and the reaction of fans to his last three releases, perhaps, Rajini the superstar’s big strength remains Rajini-isms.
Rajinikanth on Petta’s poster. (Image: Twitter/Sun Pictures)
In Tamil Nadu, there are movie stars and then there is Rajinikanth. The effect he creates in theaters, with what is being called today as “Rajini-ism”, is unparalleled. There are other stars, like a Vijay or Ajith, who have powerful fan followings and theaters erupt to their performances, but with Rajinikanth it’s an entirely different ball game.
‘Rajini-ism’ is beyond explanation or definition and it’s experiential to his fans. Anything he does on screen has a style to it. The way he walks, the way he waves his hands, fights, tosses a cigarette, delivers a dialogue or attempts to dance is all part of it. Usually, actors transform into characters they portray, but with Rajinikanth the character transforms into the superstar!
This has defied age and time. He seems to have the power to recreate the effect that he had in the 90s with the very same, signature style two decades later. His latest release ‘Petta’ stands testimony to the effect that he can create. The film is simply put - a Rajini film. This means that everything, from the script to the execution to the lyrics of the songs in it, revolves around the Rajini persona.
There is nothing else about the film and the same style of making a movie will not work with another star or actor. To those in the north of India, the closest parallel would be a Salman Khan film and the effect it has in rural Uttar Pradesh. The only difference is that Rajinikanth has done this over and over again through the 80s, 90s and continues to do it in 2019.
At the theaters, across most major south Indian centers, the audience come from across the social and age spectrum. The whistles are deafening in a theater in Chennai, but it screeches your ears in a Bengaluru as well.
The last year has been a mixed bag for the Tamil superstar, who, by the end of 2017, announced that he will enter electoral politics in Tamil Nadu. He has had three releases - Kaala and 2.0 - in 2018 and ‘Petta’ this year.
While 2.0, a sequel to a 2010 hit ‘Enthiran’, was critically acclaimed for the technical genius of director Shankar, ‘Kaala’ did not create that impact.
‘Kaala’ was a movie that brought to focus the issue of non-inclusive economic growth and how it alienates those who live in urban slums across India. It portrayed the lead character, Kaala, played by Rajinikanth, taking on a politician, Hari dada, with a persona similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So, there were political overtones to the film.
However, it is estimated to have collected only 160 crores compared to his 2015 release Kabaali, which is estimated to have collected over 300 crores at the least (Different sources offer conflicting figures that range between Rs 300 and 500 crores). One criticism was that ‘Kaala’, which dealt with a serious social issue, did not showcase enough of Rajini the entertainer in it.
Director Shankar’s 2.0 was an apolitical story and was a script of substance that revolved around the pitfalls in the use of cellphones and technology. The film, which starred Bollywood star Akshay Kumar as the antagonist, had a pan-India appeal, and is estimated to have collected close to Rs 750 crore.
Unlike 2.0, ‘Petta’ does not even attempt to be anything but an out and out Rajinikanth film. From the starting sequence till the climax, it’s aimed at only bringing the superstar of the 90s back to the fore.
Every moment in the film is dominated by Rajini and brilliant actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vijay Sethupathi are buried in ‘Rajiniisms’. And, it has worked its magic with the Rajini fans.
Interestingly, both 2.0 and ‘Petta’, have absolutely no politically charged dialogues. In the 1990’s some of Rajini’s major hits like ‘Padayappa’ would often have a scene where the star is asked to enter politics, but would leave the answer ambiguous.
Now that he has decided to enter politics many would have thought that his films would be focused on sending a political message. But 2.0 and ‘Petta’ prove that an apolitical, Rajini-filled blockbuster is what his fans demand.
In fact, he has only courted controversies off the screen with his confused political statements. It is not clear if he is aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party or opposed to it. Further, it looks unlikely that he will even launch a political party ahead of the 2019 elections.
Given this confusion and the reaction of his fans to his last three releases, perhaps, Rajini the superstar’s big strength remains Rajini-isms and his electrifying performances on screen and not real life politics.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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