A hit, yes, but why does Rajni have such a hold?

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: Sets doused in garishness, music that is cacophonous, a meandering script, grating humour…

“Chittor thaandnaa Katpaadi – Sivaji Adchaa deadbaady.”

How’s that?

Or this:

Sixukku apparam sevenda/Sivajikku appuram evenda.

To put it mildly, Sivaji The Boss is an affront to basic human intelligence. Style King Razini’s (pronounced rah–zee-nee by my cousins in Madras) wardrobe, like the multiple wigs that he sports, is in constant disarray. The blonde one, a personal favorite, could give our friendly neighbourhood Caucasian a complex.

While the first half of the movie careens wildly and slips into an abyss of absurdity, Razini heaves it back on track with his trademark histrionics and screen presence. Unearthing black money, ingeniously routing it back to the country and deploying the money to help the under privilege, Sivaji, the Boss (Bachelor of Social Service), does it all with panache.

As an avid Razini fan one misses his cigarette showmanship. As gauche teenagers, my friends and I—like a million others —would practice these stunts in hideouts across the neighbourhood with varying degrees of success.

In these politically correct times, the cigarette has made way for the chewing gum. With great élan, and to the roar of the multiplex masses, Shivaji unfailingly intercepts his chewing gum’s trajectory, sometimes on the rebound from the villain’s shining pate, sometimes swatted with precision by his left palm.

Despite the overall mediocrity of the film, the media has attracted hysterical and uniformally consistent appreciation. TV channels went bananas, one after the other, relaying excerpts and doling out Razini-minutiae. Newspaper film-critics punched out stars by the dozen rating the film as a “must see”.

Interestingly, the otherwise reclusive superstar proffered some self-effacing sound-bytes to Headlines Today and NDTV, downplaying the national obsession. “It is only media hype,” he pronounced blandly.

A passing pang of envy: Many years ago, I had expended every trick in the reporter’s handbook to get an exclusive interview with the man and here he was merrily speaking into the cameras.

And now the columnists kick in, bringing intellectual vigour and sometimes trite theories:

One columnist, I read, speaks of M.S.S. Pandian, an academic, who:

“has discussed how Dravida Munettra Kazhagam (DMK) appropriated films as a means for political propaganda in Image Trap, a study of MGR’s (cult actor and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu M.G. Ramachandran) political and screen persona. These films, according to Pandian, indulged in direct political propaganda, in a blatant but articulate manner. They promoted the values of the Dravidian movement: atheism, Tamil nationalism that projected a non brahmin Tamil civilisation against an Aryan, read north Indian and Sanskrit, culture.

“The films referred to party symbols and colours in dialogues and songs, and in some cases, even used documentary footage of party functions. They showed the oppression of the poor and how the subaltern hero, played mostly by MGR, fought against it. The myth of MGR was thus created, and the DMK leadership promoted it enthusiastically. It is a different matter that they worked against the DMK when MGR walked away from the party to form his own outfit.

“Rajnikanth has built on this tradition of MGR, of an underclass hero taking on the rich and the powerful. However, to his credit, Rajini departed from the MGR tradition of mixing the personal and screen personas. His interventions in politics have been rare and restricted to announcing support for his preferred political front. The DMK-TMC front was a big beneficiary of his support in the 1996 Assembly elections.

“The Rajini phenomenon is proof that the MGR tradition in Tamil cinema can still work the audiences, particularly the rural and urban underclass. But there is an important difference between their films. MGR’s films, though they revolved around his carefully cultivated image, spoke of a party and an ideology as harbingers of change. He was only the face of a movement.

“On the other hand Rajni is a superman who acts on behalf of the masses. He has no party or ideology. He does not lead, or even represent, a political movement for change. He criticises the system, but does not offer a critique of the institutions that have created and sustained it. He is a reflection of his times.”

Food for thought.

And here is another columnist.

“Both in cruelty and kindness the world is a spoof. Rajnikanth retaliates by spoofing the world. The antics that he perfected over the years, the flipping of the cigarette into the mouth, the complicated reversal of the glares into position over the eyes, the menacing forefinger gesture to the accompaniment of cyclonic music, the Sharon Stone-ing of the legs, the rhyming dialogues ominous as anthems of ultimatum, all fall in place as deliberations in mockery. He knows that you know that he knows. Cinema as an exercise in confidence-sharing. Watching a Rajnikanth movie is an act of empowerment. It’s you and him on one side, and the elusive, ethically complex world on the other.’’

Or, check this one out:

“The racially distinct Tamil audience glimpsed in Rajnikant’s dark, raffish features a liberating defiance. Its qualities of challenge were equal to the opportunities that their grey reality with pockets of brilliant colours furnished.”

I have read and re-read the prose and still don’t understand what this celebrated columnist is trying to say.

Meanwhile, Bangalore Times has boxed the shapely heroine, Shreya Saran, on its front page. I disengage my eye from her shapely waist and take in the headline: “I don’t mind doing a Shivaji 2,”’ she purrs.

This time, it’s a stab of anxiety.