First Day, First Show – The Rajini Phenomenon

Image: The Times of India
There is nothing quite spectacular like the release of a Rajinikanth blockbuster in Tamil Nadu. His superstardom has got cemented with each successive release. This year, with his birthday coinciding with the release of his blockbuster Lingaa, the celebration cannot get bigger. The idea of First Day, First Show cannot be explained in words when it comes to a Rajinikanth film in Tamil Nadu.

Crackers are being burst and the cut outs of Rajnikanth, towering over cinema halls, are being offered ablutions with milk. In the days to come, houseful boards will be the mainstay at many theatres in Chennai. In the last few days, Rohit Menon, a city-based marketing professional, has been trying to get tickets of Lingaa, only to be disappointed.“I wanted to go for a first-day, first show with my family and friends. But I haven’t been able to get any ticket for Friday and I will have to miss this opportunity . It’s a big deal to watch a Rajinikath film on day one,“ says Rohit.
Having shifted to Chennai five years back, he saw the frenzy around Enthiran (2010) and was awed by the hysteria around the film on the day of the release.“I grew up on Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai and to see the aura that surrounds Rajinikanth is totally mind-blowing,“ he says. The journey has been similar for Amrit Raj, whose exposure to Rajinikanth began with movies like Hum, Andha Kanoon and Chaalbaaz in the 1980s. “The whole decade of 1990s, when the Rajini phenomenon took the south by storm, people in the north were quite untouched by it,“ says Amrit, for whom things changed in 2007, when Sivaji: The Boss, was released in theatres in the north, dubbed in Hindi. “Moviegoers in the north were totally taken by surprise when they got a tryst with this frenzy that swept the country and it just grew bigger over the last few years,“ he says.

Pradeep Jain, who trades in dubbed films in the Hindi market, says that Rajini’s popularity in the north started shooting northwards with the dubbed release of Sivaji and went through the roof with Robot, the Hindi version of Enthiran. “Later, Basha and Chandramukhi were also dubbed for satellite release and even today, Sivaji and Robot fetch high TRPs on television every time it is aired,“ he says.

It goes without saying that the release of a Rajini film is a festival in itself. “It’s a collective celebration and people usually do not go for a Rajinikanth film alone. It’s an experience they have with their friends and family members. My father-in-law is 80 and yet, he wants to watch Rajini’s film on the first day . That’s his charisma, which attracts cinegoers from the age of eight to 80,“ says V R Shankar, Manager, Devi Cineplex. Today, with a huge majority of cinema halls having gone the road of online booking, the serpentine queues one witnessed in the 1990s might not be a feat to rival. “In 1995, when Muthu was released, it had a phenomenal run here and Rajinikanth turned into an inimitable icon with back-to-back hits. But the wonderful thing about him is that he still is the undisputed superstar of Indian cinema,“ says Shankar, who remembers Rajini visiting Devi theatre for the shooting of Annai Oru Aalayam, in the late 1970s.
While growing up in Ayanavaram in the 1990s, Justin George never missed a single first day, first show viewing of a Rajinikanth film. He would have posters of Rajini pasted all over the walls of his room, only to be rebuked by his parents later. “The very first memory of cinema I have is watching his Panakkaran (1990) in a theatre, when I was three years old.Every time a new release of Rajini came out, I would run to a nearby shopkeeper, who sold the latest film posters. I saw the first shows of Muthu, Arunachalam, Basha, Padayappa and Sivaji on the first day of their release. There were occasions when I got beaten up when the police tried control the swelling crowd outside the cinema halls. We would fight tooth and nail to lay our hands on a ticket,“ says Justin as he goes on to describe his experience in further detail. “On the first day, you can’t even listen to the dialogues or even follow the story . There will just be a larger-than-life jubilation in the theatre, which is beyond description. That would be the case in many single screens across Chennai and even today, that’s how it is in the single screens,“ he says. 

It was in his school that Rajinikanth began his first tryst with acting. During his school days, Rajinikanth spent a lot of his time acting in plays. On one such occasion, he played the role of the Kaurava prince Duryodhan in the play Kurukshetra.This was, perhaps, just the beginning of many negative shades that he would play in his career and in his early days, he played the anti-hero and villain to the hilt in movies like Apoorva Ragangal, Moondru Mudichu and 16 Vayathinile.

When Nishanth Ramakrishnan is not busy with his MBA classes in a B-School, he acts in short films and also makes some of them. An aspiring actor, he has seen Rajini films like Thillu Mullu, Basha and Thalapathi over and over again. “I have seen Apoorva Ragangal many times over just to see him opening the gate in the scene where he is introduced for the first time. Purely from the standpoint of entertainment, he has enormous style, which is his forte. Whether it is the Rajini of the 1970s or the Rajini of today, there has been a class in his style, which has only endured over time. People keep asking who will be the next superstar. I think he is the only superstar,“ he says. 

There is news pouring in from fans queuing up outside Sathyam cinemas the first day, first show of Lingaa right from 2am. The first show of a Rajini film doesn’t wait for sunrise. The sun rises to a Rajini film.

This appeared in the special feature Naan Rajini, brought out by The Times of India, to mark the birthday of Rajinikanth

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