Brand Rajinikanth

Written by S Saroj Kumar | Updated: Jan 4 2012, 06:39am hrs
Shooting will begin shortly for southern superstar Rajinikanths first big Tamil 3D film, Kochadaiyaan. There was a lot of excitement when the project was first announced, understandably as it is going to be the first film after Rajinis illness last year, but also because its going to employ cutting-edge technology for special effects, as seen in James Camerons Avatar, involving performance capturing technology, combined with live action. This is the first time that such technology would be used in the country, and its hardly a surprise that Rajini, the risk taker, is at the centre of it. Kochadaiyaan, directed by KS Ravikumar, will have daughter Soundarya handling the performance capturing technology part.

Eros International, which backed out of Endhiran in the 2008-meltdown scenario, will co-produce both Kochadaiyaan and Rana, the other awaited project of the megastar. It is marketing Kochadaiyaan, set for a late 2012 or early 2013 release, as a prequel to Rana.

Mohan Raman, an actor management consultant, says Rajini is the man with the golden touch. He also adds that the superstar is the true marketing man, who has kept in tune with the changing times to please fans across three generations, and thus his films always make money at the box office. Eros CFO Kamal Jain points out that most of Rajinis films are blockbusters, which means his films earn double or more than the investment.

Kochadaiyaan is an efficiently-budgeted film and we are expecting it to be a good profitable venture, says Jain. Talks are also on, according to industry insiders, for the under R100 crore project to have a Bollywood A-lister as Rajinis leading lady.

Rajini made history with his much hyped film Endhiran (Robot). It was the most expensive film ever made with a budget of R130 crore, and it made the producers jubilant when it earned over R250 crore at the box office. Some estimates put the return on investment as high as R400 crore. A trilingual (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi) sci fi fantasy where Rajini plays the double-role of a scientist and a robot, lived up to the hysterical pre-publicity release. He could be formally anointed as an all India superstar. Most Tamil producers and distributors were reluctant to open their films in the two weeks leading up to Endhirans premiere on September 24, 2010. They feared that their films would sink without a trace. The film was screened at over 30 theatres in Chennai alone, and in a majority of the 1,400 theatres all over Tamil Nadu. It was released with 2,250 prints in 3,000 screens worldwide. Shah Rukh Khan films perform well with the Indian diaspora in the US and he has now earned fans in Germany and the UAE as well, and Aamir Khans 3 Idiots has done well in new markets like China. However, Rajinis films have been a performer at Asian markets like Malaysia and Japan for ages. Endhiran earned over $2 million in two weeks in Malaysia.

With meltdown fears in the air, the Indian film industry will hope Rajinis comeback film after his illness will be a major crowd-puller. In January 2011, Rajinikanth signed-up for Rana, a period action film to be directed by K S Ravikumar. When the shooting began in April, Rajini fell ill and was taken to Singapore for treatment. After several anxious months, Rajini returned to Chennai to rest and recuperate, to the relief of millions of his fans

What is Rajini all about At one level it is all about style. He is not tall, not particularly good looking, and now going bald. But then there are those cigarettes flipped stylishly into the air (before smoking became politically incorrect in films) to reach his waiting lips. His punch dialogues , his sense of humour, is a heady mix. He is self deprecating, has a great flair for comedy but can be the unsurpassed action king as well. Over the years entertainment has taken precedence over acting.

It is difficult to believe that Rajinikanth appeared in his first Tamil film Apoorva Raagangal ( Unusual Tunes) in 1975 as a stubble-sporting world-weary anti-hero. What a transformation it has been. Within a few years he became the hero who was called a super star in 1978 by distributor Kalaipuli Thanu during the release of the film Bhavani. No one in the Tamil film industry has been able to claim this title ever since. He entered the Tamil film industry just as its reigning monarchs MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan were approaching the twilight years of their careers as heroes. Rajini and Kamal Haasan stepped in to fill the vacuum. And till date, they continue to hold sway over the audience. But Rajini is the undisputed superstar.

He continues to appeal to the young, says Vijay TV talk show host Gopinath. Technology has helped him conquer age. Computer graphics and animation in recent movies like Sivaji (2007) and Endhiran (2010) cast him in the contemporary light that the present generation can easily relate to, he adds.

For all that, the man appears in public as he is, with no attempt to hide his age. He is deeply spiritual and is known to heavily contribute to charity but incognito. He is a simple man whose charisma has not faded one bit since he became the super star in 1978

It was during the 90s that Rajini firmly established himself as the top-grossing commercial entertainer in the South. Almost all the films released during this period were highly successful at the box office. His film Badsha in 1995 with director Suresh Krishna set an industry record. Rajini literally became a demi god to his legion of fans. His film Muthu, another huge hit, directed by K S Ravikumar and produced by K Balachander (the Dada Saheb Phalke awardee who took a chance with him in 1975 and has been his mentor ever since), became the first Tamil film to be dubbed into Japanese, as Mutu: Odoru Maharaja. The film grossed a record $1.6 million in Japan in 1998 and was responsible for creating a large Japanese fan base for Rajini. Muthus success in Japan led American news magazine Newsweek to comment in a 1999 article that Rajinikanth had supplanted Leonardo DiCaprio as Japans trendiest heartthrob. Bharatan Kandaswamy executive director of Kavithaalaya Productions says, I personally witnessed how the Japanese audience enjoyed the antics of Rajinikanth on screen.

In 2002 Rajini starred in Baba for which he had also written the screenplay. Released with much fanfare the film revolves around the reformation of a gangster, who is revealed to be the reincarnation of saint Babaji, who ends up fighting political corruption. (Rajini is a whole hearted supporter of Anna Hazare). Baba fell short of market expectations and the distributors faced heavy losses. Rajini himself repaid the losses incurred by the distributors. Two years later, Rajinikanth signed up for P Vasus Chandramukhi, a horror-comedy film featuring an ensemble cast. The film turned out to be the longest-running Tamil film as of 2007. It was also dubbed in Turkish and German as Der Geisterjger and released in those countries. The film Sivaji was released in the summer of 2007, following two years of filming and production. It became the first Tamil film to make it to the top-ten best films of United Kingdom and South Africa box offices. Rajini was paid R26 crore for this film, which made him the second highest paid actor in all of Asia. His next film Kuselan did not do well. But all was forgotten when Endhiran, directed by Shankar, became the highest-grossing film in India.