Rajini Style

Posted on October 21, 2005


Picture courtesy: rediff.com


Baradwaj Rangan tosses a mental cigarette into the air while thinking about the Super Star and his super style.

OCT, 2005 – SOMETIMES AN ETERNITY ISN’T ENOUGH to capture the essence of a person; sometimes thirty seconds are all that’s needed. In the case of Rajinikanth, those thirty seconds came in the form of a television commercial for a brand of biscuit, wherein a couple of guys are watching a movie. On screen, a girl is chased by a couple of goons. Screaming – what else? – “bachao,â€? she runs behind a hero, who’s made to look like our hero. (The sunglasses, the costume, the hair, the accent – it’s perfect.) He pulls out his gun, discovers there’s only one – sorry, “vunâ€? – bullet in it. So he tosses a razor blade into the air and fires the gun in the direction of the blade, which naturally splits the bullet in two – one half for each baddie. When we cut back to the guys watching this movie, one exclaims to the other, “Yeh cinema hai ya circus!â€?

The answer to that question – in a good number of Rajinikanth movies – would be both. The medium may have been cinema but the matter was right out of the circus – in the comic sequences, he was a barrelful of monkeys; in the action sequences, he was a lion who’d whip up a storm if the enemy so much as looked in his direction. (That, by the way, isn’t just a figure of speech. While fighting the bad guys in his latest blockbuster, Chandramukhi, he twirls his leg round-and-round so fast, it generates a gust of wind that… whips up a storm.) And if the circus begins with a parade of all the acts, a piece of cinema with Rajinikanth begins with a parade of all the alphabets that make up his title – the letters S, U, P, E, R, followed by S, T, A, R. (There’s a trumpet burst and a musical “heyâ€? as each alphabet appears, and by the time the word SUPER STAR is formed on screen, the audience is in such a frenzy, a jet plane could take off overhead and you’d never hear it.)

Why is Rajinikanth so popular? Ask his fans, and they’ll tell you it’s because of his charisma, his presence, his style. Rajinikanth is synonymous with style. A film of his, Baasha, even had a song that went, “Style style dhaan, Super style dhaan,â€? and the phrase “Rajini styleâ€? is as much a part of Tamil vocabulary as “ammaâ€? or “appaâ€? or “water lorryâ€? – and the first time we got a glimpse of this style was probably in Ninaithaale Inikkum. A millionaire, seeing Rajinikanth throw a cigarette into the air and catch it in his mouth, challenges him to repeat the trick ten times in a row. If he lost, he’d lose his pinkie; if he won, he’d win a Toyota car. (This was still the India of the seventies, and amidst the Fiats and the Ambassadors, a Toyota would have seemed today’s equivalent of a limo with Bipasha Basu as personal bartender.) In the movie, Rajini neither won nor lost that bet – he stopped with nine tries, not wanting to give the millionaire the, uh, finger – but in real life, his cigarette-flipping became a career-defining, and much-emulated, trademark. (It’s tempting to wonder what course Rajini’s career would have taken had Anbumani Ramdoss been Union Health Minister then.)

A little before and after Ninaithaale Inikkum, Rajinikanth, in movies like Engeyo Kaetta Kural and Mullum Malarum, still made the occasional attempt at being an actor. In fact, in movies like Moondru Mudichu and Avargal, we almost saw the birth not just of an actor but an archetype: the casually chilling antihero, who had no qualms toying with the lives of the good people around him. But after that cigarette flip, Rajini gradually moved from experimental actor to explosive hero, an outsize star doing outsize stunts in outsize stories with outsize style. Is it any wonder, then, that Sri Raghavendra, for instance, where he played the titular saint, bombed! His fans wanted masala, not meditation.

And masala, after all, is what brings in the masses, who, in turn, are the ones who make a megastar – at least in south India. There have been stylish mass-heroes before Rajini. (MGR, for instance, used to do this thing with his arm that made it look like he was flinging an invisible frisbee.) And there will no doubt be stylish mass-heroes after Rajini. (Why, Simbu even calls himself “Little Super Starâ€?!) But there hasn’t been – and there likely won’t be – a hero who so defined a style and who was so defined by his styles as Rajinikanth. Take any of the post-Rajini stars of Tamil cinema. Vikram is a mass hero, as is Vijay, as is Vijayakanth, as is Sarath Kumar – but with each of these stars, if someone asked you what made them unique, you’d hum and haw. Some are good actors, some are good dancers, some are good orators, some are good fighters, some are good comics… They are generic stars who, more or less, do what the generic hero is supposed to do – act, dance, orate, fight, do comedy.

With Rajini, though, there’s no humming, no hawing. What makes him unique isn’t just one thing. It’s the airborne cigarettes. It’s the sunglasses being twirled between both hands before making their way to his face. It’s the patterns being traced in the air with a forefinger, accompanied by a soundtrack effect that makes it appear as if theatre’s been filled with whooshing wind. It’s the “punchâ€? dialogues that pass on from the movie into mythology. It’s the hand casually ploughing through his hair from the forehead on. It’s the laugh that goes “aahaahaa…â€? (To non-fans, these are just syllables, but true Rajini devotees, upon seeing this, will also replay in their minds’ ear the singsong intonation of this laughter.) It’s one of a kind, that “Rajini style.â€?

Copyright ©2005 Man’s World

Posted in: Cinema: Tamil