You won't need Rajnikanth any longer to make a 'rajni film'


Before setting out to see Sivaji The Boss, I kept asking myself a

question which many others have asked me since: Why see a film that,

from a cinematic point of view, is likely to be pristine rubbish? But I knew

the answer even as I posed the question: I would not have felt compelled to

watch it had it not been for one man in the cast — Rajnikanth. This, then,

is the power of a star.

Perhaps it is a peculiarity of the Dravidian psyche, but Tamil film stars

have this ability to generate extreme forms of idolatry, which have been

known to culminate in the star being elected chief minister. But in Sivaji, for

the first time in the history of celluloid astronomy, you have a star so

powerful that it dissolves the barrier between the producer of the cinematic

universe and its consumer, the fan. As a result, the star, instead of merely

being a source of gravitational pull that keeps fans orbiting around the film,

becomes a black hole that sucks in all cinematic logic, leaving in its wake

an assortment of disjointed images and motifs that have been neatly

stitched together into a three-hour tribute to the star by an awestruck fan.
Indeed, Sivaji is only incidentally a film about one man's war against black

money. It is essentially a film made by a Rajni fan, with Rajni the actor

playing the role of Rajni the superstar. Once the cinematic logic disappears,

what is left is star logic — transmuted into the logic of the superbrand

known as Rajnikanth.

With most stars, the film achieves a balance between star logic and

cinematic logic. And yes, there have been South Indian superstars before

Rajni — MGR, Raj Kumar and NT Rama Rao come to mind. But they

were star personalities rather than brand personalities, and as such, cannot

compare with the global economic scale and marketing sophistication of

Brand Rajni.

In the case of Rajni, over a period of time, through a series of

personality-centric films such as Annamalai, Muthu, Basha and others, the

star logic gradually evolved into brand logic, which then began to

increasingly overrule cinematic logic. Thus Sivaji, which marks the

culmination of this process, is not a movie but a three-hour commercial for

Brand Rajni. It is pointless, then, to speak of a Rajni film as either 'good' or

'bad'. To assess a film, you should be able to classify it — is it a thriller? A

romantic comedy? Or just a mindless masala film? A Rajni film can

simultaneously be all of these and none of these. The genre it belongs to,

quite simply, is the genre of a Rajni film. It is possible to go and watch a

thriller starring Shah Rukh. But any film starring Rajni can only be a 'Rajni

film' — the equity of this cinematic brand is so potent it is genre-defining.
In this sense, Brand Rajni has acquired a momentum all its own,

independent of its flesh-and-blood progenitor. Rajni as an iconic Tamil

hero is now in the same league as the iconic though fictional Brit hero,

James Bond. In other words, you don't even need Rajni any longer to play

the role of 'Rajni'.

That is why the next Rajni movie, Sultan, is an animation one. In this

'Rajni film', the main character, a mythological superhero, will be played by

a cartoon in Rajni's attire, with all his mannerisms. Rajni the actor, now 57,

might retire from films in a few years. But Brand Rajni will continue to

flourish, flicking cigarettes and pummelling villains for a long time to come.
And what is the essence of Brand Rajni? In a word, style — the 'Rajni

style'. Its two key elements are artifice and exaggeration. They are best

exemplified in the over-the-top fight scenes, where a snap of his elbow is

enough to send a 300-pound giant of a goon crashing through a wall 30

metres away.

However, even judged by the excesses of his own style, Sivaji marks a

departure. In the process of giving the audience what they want, the aura

takes over the star, and Rajni becomes a self-conscious parody of himself.

Thus, the legendary cigarette flick is replaced by a rather ridiculous stunt:

bouncing a piece of chewing gum off his palm into his mouth. And his

punchy one-liner, usually a pithy Tamil catch-phrase, has dwindled into a

single, insipid, English word — "Cool!" That he could get away with it is

what makes Brand Rajni the King of Cool

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DNA-Daily News & Analysis. Author: G Sampath