By COOMI KAPOOR
Though the number of people outside south India who follow Tamil
cinema is limited, the Rajni hysteria poured out of newspapers and
OH, WHAT a hysteria! And over a mere movie? Never before in living
memory has any film obsessed so many Indians as has the latest
Rajnikanth starrer Sivaji: The Boss.
Easily the most expensive movie ever made in India at a cost of
about Rs80 crores (RM67.9mil), and starring the country's highest
paid star, who pocketed nearly Rs20 crores (RM16.9mil) as his fees,
Sivaji opened to a great build-up mid-June in over 700 theatres
across the country.
And immediately tens of thousands of Rajni fans, film trade pundits
and ordinary cine goers declared in unison that it would be the
biggest box-office grosser yet for Tamil cinema.
Weeks before the actual release of the movie on June 16, there was
palpable excitement in Tamil Nadu and beyond. The print and
television media noted how Rajni fans performed pujas, broke
coconuts, and poured milk over large-sized wooden cutouts of the
actor outside theatres slated to screen the movie.
And how the actor himself offered prayers at the historic Tirupathi
temple along with the prints of Sivaji, carried on elephant-back in
a procession as tens of thousands cheered the Boss, as the actor is
popularly called by the fans.
Such unparalleled hysteria proved contagious for the mainline
English language press, too. Though the number of people outside
south India who follow Tamil cinema was expectedly limited, the
Rajni mania poured out of newspapers and magazines which minutely
noted the former Bangalore bus conductor's meteoric rise as south
India's greatest actor.
Starring in his 100th Tamil film, Rajni tried his luck in Hindi
cinema too in the 70s and 80s, though without much success. Overall,
he has done about 170 films.
But the star, who was born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad to Marathi parents,
has emerged due to sheer good fortune, and some talent for gimmicky
histrionics, as Tamil cinema's biggest money-spinning one-man
Indeed, nobody in Bollywood, which has a bigger domestic and
international market, commands the kind of fees the 57-year-old
Neither Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood's highest paid actor, nor anyone
in the Khan trio of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman, gets paid over Rs15
crore (RM12.7mil) per film as Rajni does.
Bachchan gets up to Rs6 crores (RM5mil) per film. The fees of the
Khan trio range between Rs3 crores and Rs5 crores (RM2.5mil and
RM4.23mil) per film. But then Bachchan does about half a dozen films
every year while Rajni's average now is about one film every two
Even in technological inputs, Rajni's films are often ahead of their
Hindi counterparts. Sivaji: The Boss, for instance, was made in
Super 35 cinemascope format with the latest processing and scanning
skills, and with a very high-pixel resolution.
Produced by one of the oldest film companies, AVM Productions, no
expense was spared to make the ageing star look much younger than
his 57 years. The director of the movie, S. Shankar, had earlier
directed Rajni in a hit movie.
Both Shankar and the music director of Sivaji, the celebrated A.R.
Rehman, are highest paid in their respective lines in Tamil cinema.
A French hair stylist was tasked to design Rajni's hair. A well-
known Mumbai fashion designer was hired to design costumes.
The dark-skinned hero with a prominent paunch and a bald pate, was
made to look like a western youth in Sivaji, thanks to superior
technology and clever make-up. A substantial sum was spent devising
different wigs for the balding Rajni to don in the movie.
Not unlike his earlier hits, the story line of his latest offering
too is rather thin. Broadly, the plot runs something like this:
Sivaji (Rajni) is a successful IT professional in the United States
who returns to India imbued with the ideal of sharing his immense
wealth with the poor in his native land.
However his attempts to start an IT institute and a hospital with
his own money are obstructed by a corrupt system with bureaucrats
and policemen seeking bribes at every step. Inevitably, there is a
But a determined Robin Hood-like hero vanquishes all that comes in
his way so that he can lavish his own hard-earned money on the
welfare of his compatriots.
Though by law the maximum price of a cinema ticket for a Tamil film
cannot exceed Rs100 (RM8.49), there were reports galore of tickets
selling in the black market at five times the actual price. The fact
that both the Chief Minister M. Karnuanidhi and the Opposition
leader, J. Jayalalithaa saw the film at separate screenings
specially organised for them added to the fanfare around Sivaji.
According to trade pundits, Sivaji could end up making Rs150 crores
(RM127.4mil) in the first three or four weeks alone. Of a total of
760 prints, 303 were released in Tamil, 300 in Telugu, 145 abroad,
including Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and 12 in north India.
Distributors are said to have paid about Rs60 crores (RM50.9mil)
while overseas rights were sold for Rs18 crores (RM15.2mil) and
satellite television rights were sold for Rs4 crores (RM3.39mil).
Sivaji is the most expensive film ever made in India, outstripping
the highest Bollywood grosser Sholay of the mid-70s.
Rajni, his 1.5 million fans organised in over 15,000 fan clubs
notwithstanding, is known not as much for his emoting skills as for
his gimmicky mannerisms.
The front stalls swoon with delight when he spins cigarettes in the
air ï¿½ in deference to the health ministry, chewing gum replaced
cigarettes in Sivaji ï¿½ or performs humanly impossible feats like
saving a damsel in distress by flinging a soda bottle which assumes
a trajectory of its own to bend the curve before flattening the
villain into a wobbly mess.
But most Indian films being far away from the bleak reality of
everyday humdrum life, it is however Rajni's oeuvre on celluloid
which is pure essay in escapism. You watch his films for thrills.
And the star invariably does not let down his fans.
Most cleverly, anyone watching Sivaji is given a 45-second peek into
his next film, Sultan, The Warrior. A 3-D animation film, it
features Rajni playing a mythological hero vanquishing all evil in
typical Rajni style.
It is the first ever animation film featuring an Indian actor and is
set to enhance the filmy persona of Rajni.
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