Superstar Rajinikanth’s daughter Aishwarya addressing the media persons outside the hospital where the actor is undergoing treatment in Chennai. (PTI Photo)
It has been said that India breeds more movie yarns off the screen than on it. From captive, loyal fan cliques to the rare unaffected minuscule, very few Indians can truly say they couldn’t care less about cinema, or about actors. Some are iconic. Among them, Rajnikanth is singularly so.
No surprises therefore that when he took ill recently, his fans did more than just wish him well. Detailed rituals performed in accordance with scripture and the actor’s religious mooring made the headlines. This promises to be just the beginning, unless he is seen and heard about soon.
Rajnikanth is both, a deviant exponent of the reel-real life interplay, and a popular cultural manifestation. In the former instance, many claim that he is known most (and how!) for his highly stylized, inimitable portrayals, especially his punch-lines. His overreaching, fantastical histrionics are a true parallel to “suspension of disbelief”. Be itMuthu, Sivaji or the more recent Enthiran, he paints for his audience, a canvass that surpasses expectation and confounds logic. Satirically, his jokes are most readily available, popularly distributed and relentlessly aped. Even the atypical audience is aware of them; and through them, of him!
Yet, when it comes to a persistent, pervasive and diverse audience base, few can make claim to the kind of popularity that this actor has seen. From the south Indian sub-continent to Japan to Germany, he has been deified by his fans. Notably, he is known for his humility (not just humble beginning) as ubiquitously as he is known for his dialogue delivery. Maybe, that’s where his fans reward merit.
We are quick in crowning, quirky in owning, capricious in disowning. So, if someone stays steadily on top recall for as long as he has, it speaks, only of him. When he does get better, there’ll probably be another story to tell…when he gets better, not if. To those who are in a temple right now, eating rice off the floor, ‘if’ is not an option. Especially, when it’s about Rajnikanth.
Like all larger than life Indian actors, Rajnikanth doesn’t act with other actors at all. He pretty much acts all by himself in a movie. This – along with the fact that the legend has slowed down his movie projects with age – makes a Rajni movie an event.
In the deliriously entertaining, all crazyiness on deck filmEndhiran: The Robot, director Shankar acknowledges this fact by making Rajni face off against two of his own selves. He throws in Aishwarya Rai for good measure but more on that later.
A word on the magic of Rajni. I used to be a big fan of the Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan before said filmmaker became a bit mired in his own lasciviousness. Egoyan used to often show his scenes out of time sequence in his movies. Thus when you saw a scene, you didn’t know what was going on until you got to a later scene. Subsequently the brilliant American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh miniaturized this technique in one of my favorite movies – Limey – by showing parts of the same scene out of time sequence.
I saw Robot in Tamil (and I recommend everyone do the same) and the English subtitles would show up a good 30 seconds to a minute after the words were spoken. Thus often I couldn’t tell what was going on in a scene until the scene that came after. Robot ended up achieving the same effect effortlessly that awesome filmmakers struggled all their lives to perfect.Such is the brilliance of Rajni that everything – even unintentionally – becomes brilliant around him.
Rajni is introduced in this movie with individually punched out characters that spell “S-U-P-E-R-S-T-A-R-R-A-J-N-I” in the opening credits. This is a great time to get into the movie because its usually accompanied by some of the best hooting. Rajni I plays a geeky professor who has no qualms keeping his super hot girlfriend Aishwarya on hold while he hangs out with two dweebs and a waiter robot called R2. Rajni I wears a wig full of plumes and often unleashes the charming Rajni megawatt smile.Rajni II is the robot Rajni I creates – a stoic, strait-laced machine that charms Rajni I’s girlfriend Aishwarya. But, in a rather beaten storyline, Rajni II is unable to decipher human sabhyataa. To address this limitation Rajni I pumps Rajni II full of hormones. Inexplicably, lightning strikes
Rajni II. Rajni II falls in love with Aishwarya. He flunks Rajni I’s effort to pimp him out to the military. Rajni I chops Rajni II up.If you aren’t still with me, you aren’t a Rajni fan. You should leave now.
Later Rajni II is rescued by Danny Denzongpa and enhanced with a destructor chip. This gives rise to Rajni III – a smirking, badass robot with a runaway swish of white through his hair and lightning bolt sideburns. Rajnikanth clearly enjoys this third reincarnation the most, giving his character a delicious misguided sleaziness.Rajni III then goes berserk and in homage to his superstar self, creates Rajni III through Rajni CX. These other Rajni’s are clearly children of a lesser Rajni because they aren’t as smart as Rajni III. But they have tremendous magnetic bodies that form all kinds of awesome shapes in tandem. They all then buckle down to the business of harassing the living daylights out of Aishwarya.
In the final half hour of the movie, director Shankar pulls out some nascent fascination for Godzilla flicks (not to mention a fondness for the Mummy franchise) and shapes his army of Rajni’s into all kinds of funky shapes: a ball, a drill, snakes, a massive giant. This part of the movie made my jaw drop – with its sheer ambition and total dedication to taking nuttiness one step further.
Rajni does a great job dilineating his three characters. Operating with an outrageous wardrobe, Aishwarya looks wonderful and brings her trademark sincerity to the role, making everything around her appear even more crazy. In this regard, her casting works.For all its swirling madcapness, Robot is rather cleverly structured. Much like the gold standard for simple storytelling – Baywatch, in which a simple story was an excuse to take you from one set of boobs to another – Robot takes you from one massive Rajni moment to the next. Its the ultimate assertion of storytelling by showcasing your star (a style which Bollywood milked so well in Dabangg).The scenes themselves serve wide swaths of the audience demo. There are dhaasu fight scenes – the best of which is a fight scene in a moving train.
Then there are beheno maate moments. These are mapped out as sequences in which Rajni II goes about pleasing women. He pays attention to a woman when she’s talking. He makes her problems his own. He cooks a feast for them. He cleans house. He delivers a baby and saves a mother’s life. He does everything Rajni I doesn’t.Rajni II – in his newly minted “young adult” phase also spends some time showing smirking adults around him just how smart he really is.Endhiran’s greatest trick is that it has a version of Rajni to appeal to all of us: men, women, children, geeks and badasses.Ok, first things first. Rajnikanth in Endhiran has dared to deviate from the formula and storyline his films revolve around. Director Shankar has made Rajnikanth do something he has never done before. Having grown up in Chennai fed on a regular diet of the superstar’s movies, I just couldn’t digest the fact that Rajni had one of the most unassuming entrances in a film.His film’s Annamalai (1992), Yejaman (1993), Badsha and Muthu (both 1995), Arunachalam (1997), Padayappa (1999), Chandramukhi (2005) and Sivaji (2007) have some of the best entrance scenes of the star. Muthu and Badsha being my personal favourites.Another thing that struck me was the total absence of punch lines and talaivar’s (as he is called by crazed fans like me) tricks. If he made coins spin horizontally, and take a chewing gum on rebound in Shivaji, Endhiran has no such things.Endhiran is all about style, packaging, slick editing and mind boggling special effects… and of course Rajni. As my friend put it, it’s a Hollywood film in Tamil. The fight sequence in a local train, is something which is unmatched even by Hollywood standards. It will surely take a few more years till the technical wizardry is replicated in India. The car chase where the deviant humanoid (Chitti also Rajni) makes cops drive around most of Chennai is easily on a par or even better than some of the best made even in Hollywood. And of course the climax where Rajni becomes almost all the super hero’s to ever appear.In a film where Rajni’s enemy is another Rajni, it’s only natural that fans get to see more of him. If Chitti has shades of white, grey and black, as Dr Vaseegaran (his creator), Rajni is shown as a man on a mission and an upright citizen. If one Rajni wasn’t enough the fade the stars who share screen space, Endhiran gives his fans a double whammy. With a screen presence comparable only to MGR, Rajni pales into insignificance, stars like Aishwarya and Danny Denzongpa.No film of the superstar is complete without him showing shades of black. Beginning his career as a villain, he is also probably one of the best actor in negative role. As Chitti, he gives his fan the shade of an obsessed lover, criminal and a killing machine. In Badsha and Mani Rathnam’s Talapathi (1991) he is Robbinhoodisque in his acts but he also played as a full fledged villain as the inimitable Alex Pandian in Moondru Mugam (1982) and Apoorva Raagangal (1975).For talaivar fans like me, it’s mandatory to watch the film once more followed by many more times till the next film releases. With an unblemished record for nearly 10 years of watching first day first show, it was surely an experience to watch the star in action.Endhiran is a must watch and it’s for family consumption. The arms distance romance scenes with Aishwarya and bloodless action scenes won’t make mummy, papas cringe. I personally think Endhiran is all set to be Rajni’s biggest grosser ever. The best place to go this weekend is the hall in the neighbourhood to catch up on Endhiran.