Much like his evergreen characters in movies, the Rajinikanth money machine also shows no signs of aging. Kochadaiiyaan has been bankrolled to the tune of Rs 100 crore and when advance bookings opened for the movie recently, over a lakh tickets were pre-booked. The movie was scheduled for a May 9 release, but was postponed due to an increased demand for prints in various languages. Kochadaiiyaan has Rajinikanth in a triple role and was released in 2D and 3D versions in six languagesHindi, Telugu, Bhojpuri, English, Marathi and Hindion Friday.
The brand Rajinikanth just gets bigger, akin to his larger-than-life image. During the recent election campaign, BJPs prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi met Rajinikanth at his residence in Chennai and appeared by his side draped in a veshti and terming the Tamil superstar a good friend. Earlier this month, when Rajini joined microblogging website Twitter, some two lakh users started following him within 24 hours, making him the biggest Indian celeb and one of the worlds top 10 celebs to attract those numbers within that time frame. And in keeping in line with the Chuck Norris kind of facts, many tweeted: Twitter has joined Rajinikanth.
The cultural icon has never won anything like a Mr World crown to merit international press, and the world has long forgotten his appearance in Bloodstone, an Ashok Amritraj film for the western audience. While Amitabh Bachchan endorses jewellery, Tamil actor Suriya a biscuit brand and Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif a range of beauty products and beverages, Rajinikanth has never been bothered about product endorsements, never mind the millions. He doesnt have to, because he is Rajinikanth. His name is the currency that does business. Or, to quote a punchline from one of his films: Pera kettale adhurudhu illa (Doesnt the mere name generate tremors).
Its all in the name
In the crowded world of popular culture, Rajinikanth has always bucked the trend of marketing himselfa phenomenon so unique that it would be a challenge for any B-school to unravel his selling point. How then does the business of Rajinikanth work He is one of the few actors who appeals to everyone, from a two-year-old to an 80-year-old, and he is to films what Tendulkar and Dravid were jointly to cricket, possibly even bigger. He could have endorsed any number of products, but he chose not to, says an advertising professional.
From the few thousands his films made in his early days to the commercial blockbusters of the 1990s and the superstardom of later years, which saw him rake in millions, Rajinis films have a habit of marketing themselves. Rajini may claim he never banked on such a growth trajectory, but in one of the many chats with this writer, director K Balachander highlighted three aspects of Rajini: his utter commitment to a script, his tireless energy in front of a camera and his dedication to popular culture since the market demanded that of him, although Rajini could have been a great method actor.
Rajinis films may have had similar themesa rags-to-riches story closely resembling his own personal life (Rajini, as everyone knows, was born Sivaji Rao Gaekwad, a bus conductor, rechristened as Rajinikanth after being talent-spotted by director Balachander)yet the formulaic films have never failed at the box office. Distributors say his films made everyone rich, from the producer to technicians. A closer look at the 150-plus films he has done (half-a-dozen of them in other languages) will bring the numbers closer home when one realises that his dud films can be counted on one hand.
How then did his films sell The phrase by popular demand was never a cliche with Rajini, says a film exhibitor. People simply loved his films and producers were happy to oblige. The consumption levels were so high that Rajinis fan clubs (there are lakhs of them) were permitted to pre-book only a certain number of tickets, so that the general public, too, could have a shot at seeing his films in the first week itself. This had not happened with any other actor, he adds.
The brand Rajini simply kept growing without any catalyst other than an entertaining film/ performance. Rajinikanth had a natural charisma and his mere appearance on the screen is enough to lift the spirits of the audience and send them into a tizzy, says a veteran director. No other actor has this ability; scriptwriters began to add punch lines, and the building blocks of Rajinikanth just grew larger and larger, he says. With every film, the business grew, and although he ventured into Bollywood (films like Andha Kanoon did very well), he had the business sense to see that Tamil films were his forte, he adds. Figures bear out such premises. Amitabh Bachchans Don was remade in Tamil as Billa with Rajini and it collected more than the original at the box office.
Movies, magic and moolah
Next year will mark the 40th year of Rajinis entry into films and, yet, even a 20-year-old urbanite will tell you that his debut was a 15-minute cameo in K Balachander-directed Aboorva Ragangal (1975). His latest film, Kochadaiiyaan, incorporating motion-capture technologyand being co-produced by Media One Global Entertainment and Eros International at an original outlay of R100 croreis not the first with that kind of a budget. His earlier sci-fi film, Enthiran (Robot), was an equally expensive film. So lovable was the robot that Shah Rukh Khan requested Rajini to do an Enthiran cameo in his own Ra.One. Beyond box-office figures and the opaque world of profit in films, Rajinis Sivaji the Boss, a 2007 film that was re-released in 3D in 2012, and Enthiran (2010) showed that his film releases made news headlines, and any marketing blitz was merely an item number.
When Rajinis stylishly youthful persona in Sivaji the Boss was released to the media, it made news everywhere. Both Sivaji and Enthiran came packaged in technological slickness that seamlessly spoke the language of the youth. Sensing the pulse of his audience, the producers of Kochadaiiyaan have come to speed as well. They have tied up with Karbonn Mobiles and the deal is that the handsets are loaded with Kochadaiiyaan wallpapers and, hold your breath, Rajinis signature. A 3D holographic interactive session with the superstar is also on the cards, says a fan. Industry sources say
R2 crore is the ad spend of a medium-budget film in Kollywood, but the sky is the limit when it comes to a marquee like a Rajinikanth film.
Now, since the film has released on schedule, get set for yet another Rajini tidal wave. He rarely gives press interviews, but if he were to consent to give a one-on-one to all the entertainment reporters, channels, portals, websites and FM stations, says a fan, it would take him around six months to complete the task. That may be stretching things a bit, but the spirit behind the claim is truethe Rajini market never seems to tank.
Can anyone tell me the business around a Rajini film in rupee terms No one can answer that. We are still plumbing the depths, says an industry insider.
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai-based freelancer