Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rajni's rage - Deccan Chronicle

It?s almost 10 days now since its release in record number of theatres in Tamil Nadu and several other states across the country, and Rajnikanth?s Sivaji: The Boss still continues to hold the people in awe at the sheer grandeur of its production enriched by unprecedented play of the computer graphics. Not just the usual lower and middle class crowds from the thousands of fan clubs of the superstar but even the upper crust of society, including several high-paid professionals, queued up for tickets hours before the plans opened on June 10 for the much-awaited movie, widely rumoured to have cost the producers, AVM Studios, Rs 75 crores and more.
"It?s the biggest production ever released in the entire Indian movie industry," gushed A.V.M. Saravanan, the producer. "Everything about this film is grand." Industry experts were quick to point out that Sivaji carried the most potent mix ever attempted in Kollywood ? Superstar Rajnikanth, Midas-touch director Shankar and the most-respected production house, AVM.
Add to that the biggest selling name in the Indian cine music, A.R. Rahman, the highly talented cinematographer K.V. Anand and the "magic-man" Thota Tharani as art director. "Sivaji will collect over Rs 100 crore and that is a very modest figure," said a Kollywood senior. "Already, the movie has led to a debate that Rajni is bigger than Big B, since this film is a hit in Telugu also, besides collecting huge sums in Karnataka and Kerala, not to forget Mumbai and the north. "We are getting requests for more prints from these states but have decided to go slow, considering options for dubbing into those languages," said an AVM official.
"Not just that, the box office statistics in the UK included Sivaji in the top 10 among recent releases and during the first 12 shows, the movie collected an average of ?14,050 per show," he said. The studio is planning to dub Sivaji into Japanese ? since there are many fans in Japan after his blockbuster Muthu was made some years ago ? while there were enquiries for Chinese and Malay versions as well.
"I saw the late-night show of a stupid movie at the Satyam multiplex on June 9, so that I could get into the queue for Sivaji around midnight and be among the first few to get the tickets. And I found there were already 11 people ahead of me when I got to the line at 1 am," recalled Jayapal Gokul, a second-year student of engineering in Chennai.
"When I went to college that day, I was as big a hero as Rajni when I showed the tickets to friends at the canteen," he said. There were several such scenes of jubilant fans flaunting the Sivaji tickets to friends at schools and colleges, offices and IT parks. Managing a ticket became a "prestige issue", to quote a software pro, even as the theatres were flooded with special requests for block-bookings from corporate groups, IT companies and even the welfare associations of the residential colonies.
"We have not witnessed such enthusiasm for any other film. We are unable to process all the special requests for bulk tickets because the demand has been so high," said Supriya of Satyam multiplex.
"I have been in the business for over 30 years and I have not seen such crowds for any other movie. Sivaji is undoubtedly the biggest grosser ever," said Sv. Rm. Ramanathan, proprietor of the Abhirami theatres in Chennai.
Reports from the districts are no different ? seats are booked days ahead. The police were flooded with complaints that blackmarketeers were making a killing, with some theatre managements too joining in.
"During the opening week, we got complaints that Rs 90 tickets were being sold at Rs 1,000 each. We have made some arrests," said a senior police official. The media was full of stories of fans performing special prayers, breaking coconuts and lighting camphor inside the theatres, bathing the Rajni banners with milk and even beer in a few cases. In short, the fan frenzy was unprecedented and refused to wane. "Smokers step out five to six times for a quick drag during any movie show, but I was shocked to find nobody in the lobbies while Sivaji was running. They did not want to miss the next scene, the film is so gripping," said Abhirami Ramanathan.
"Romba Brahmandama Irukku (It?s very grand, magnificent), commented chief minister M. Karunanidhi after seeing a special screening arranged by AVM Saravanan at his studio. Interestingly, Sivaji brought the two wives of the octogenarian Dravidian stalwart together as both Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal arrived with him, though separately, and sat in different rows to enjoy the Rajni flick.
Saravanan arranged for a special show for the AIADMK supremo Ms Jayalalithaa on the same day of the movie?s release. The heroine of yesteryears came out stunned. Rajnikanth was present during both the VIP screenings at the AVM Studios. Much later, a popular Tamil magazine gave a twist to his "hospitality" by accusing the hero of using the two top political leaders for publicity for his film.
However, Kollywood experts say Rajnikanth need not have depended on the testimonials of Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa to promote his Sivaji. The movie has had an awesome build-up in the media from day-one after the shooting began in December 2005, thanks to strategic marketing by M.S. Guhan, son of Saravanan. "In fact, I was reluctant to produce this film when director Shankar discussed the project because it was too huge even for a production house like AVM, which has made 167 films till then over the last 61 years. But Guhan said he would be able to handle it and he has come out triumphant. Rajni himself told me that I must be proud of my son," said Saravanan. Among the "grand" spectacles that must have overawed even the seasoned AVM producer is a song shot in the now-defunct Binny Cloth Mills, done up to look like an Italian pavilion by Thota Tharani. Besides, the fight sequences ? particularly the climax having the superstar bash up the villain amid thousands of flying 1000-rupee notes, not genuine though ? must have cost the heavens.
In spite of all those big bills and inevitable production hiccups, if the mega project went through its schedule and hit the screen with such a bang, most of the credit must go to the hero, insisted Saravanan. "He would be on the sets before the others. He would sit and watch even when the shot did not require him. Such was his involvement and he had absolutely no airs about him despite being the superstar," he said. Did he expect Sivaji to create such hype and emerge a commercial hit? Saravanan said he had no doubt of that and the production schedule and the box office reports amply justified his confidence. Insisting that his film was blessed even before the shooting began, the producer recalled an interesting anecdote. When he got the sudden call from director Shankar saying that he was with Rajni and they would like him to come over to discuss the project, he asked his son Guhan to accompany him.
Halfway to the venue of the meeting, he thought it appropriate to pay Shankar and Rajni a token advance for accepting the film. He had two new one-rupee notes and Guhan had two fresh 1000-rupee notes, so they decided to give the director and the superstar an advance of Rs1,001 each. "Both of them did not mind the small amount considering our close association. But when we returned to office, Rajni phoned Guhan and asked how we managed to get those currency notes. The numbers in the two notes given to him added up to his lucky number nine and those given to Shankar made his favourite eight. That was providence and I knew only then that Sivaji would be a hit," recalled Saravanan.
What makes the dark-skinned 54-year-old still click with the audiences, young and old, across language and culture barriers? "Undoubtedly his hard work and commitment, besides the Rajni style of course. The stunt director had made him do what even the 25-year-olds could find tough but Rajni did well though there was some help from the computer graphics team," explained a production executive.
"More than anything else, Rajni is very religious. He has been blessed and that?s why he is the superstar," said Saravanan, recalling that the hero had chosen for his little quarters during the shooting a room with window overlooking a temple.
The superstar?s famous punchlines:
q?Sivaji pera ketale chumma adhurudhulla
(As soon as you hear my name you will feel the tremors).
Kanna panninga dhaan kootama varum, singam single-a dhaan varum
(Only pigs come in a gang, lion comes alone).
Sivaji: The Boss, 2007
q Khatham, gatham. (The past is past).
BABA, 2002
q En vazhi ? thani vazhi. (My way is a unique way).
Padayappa, 1999
q Andavan solran. Arunachalam seiran.
(God commands, Arunachalam? executes). Arunachalam, 1997
q Naan eppa varuven, eppadi varuvennu yarukkum theriyadhu, aana varavendiya neratthil correct-aga varuven. (When I will arrive, or how I will arrive, nobody will know, but I will arrive when I ought to). Muthu, 1995

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