They were stars in the age of bell bottoms, made a mark in the Tamil film industry in the seventies and eighties, dominated the field in the nineties and still continue to rock. What makes this possible for ‘Superstar' Rajinikanth and ‘Ulaganayagan' Kamal Haasan? It is a host of factors, say industry experts.
With Kamal's Manmadhan Ambu releasing soon, social networking sites have groups of young fans discussing and speculating. Similarly, on the day Enthiran hit the cinemas, schoolchildren could be seen eagerly waiting at the theatres. Many in their early twenties had missed college or work to catch the film. Teenaged twins Ajay and Vijay, waiting at one of the theatres, were seen listing out their favourite Rajini films, most of them being the actor's recent films. This is what noted Tamil author and film dialogue writer S. Ramakrishnan calls the “post-Badshah phenomenon”. He believes that the younger crowd finds his films that came in the nineties and later most appealing.
“My son and I love Rajini, but for very different reasons. I admire his style, they like him playing the villain. When Rajini says “cool”, it is something,” he says. It is not just about charm or luck. The actors have been evolving their styles according to fans' tastes, Mr. Ramakrishnan emphasises. “Young actors are always looking for lessons in the way Kamal Haasan dresses, speaks or performs. Similarly, some young stars use Rajini's name in their dialogue just to evoke applause. It works!” Those in the industry also observe that Rajinikanth and Kamal symbolise two very interesting identities in our culture. “Kamal sir is an all-rounder who is constantly reinventing himself. His films are, in some ways, expected to fulfil some intellectual requirements of fans,” says director-writer Suka, who has been an associate of director Balu Mahendra.
Rajini, on the other hand has the image of being ‘one among us'. “Fans tend to associate his looks and complexion with a Dravidian identity. His hairstyle, walk, physique and attire have never been those conventionally valued,” Mr. Suka notes.
Veteran director S.P.Muthuraman says the degree of involvement of the two actors is something younger actors should strive for.
“They did not believe in superficiality. Kamal, for instance, is forever thirsty for more knowledge on cinema. Rajinikanth puts in tremendous amounts of hard work even today,” he adds.
The actors put in a lot of effort to make their films relevant to today's audience. “They are not doing a Murattu Kalai or Sagalakalavallavan today, you see,” says Mr. Ramakrishnan. Another major aspect to be considered in this regard is quality assurance of the actors' films, says K. Hariharan, director, LV Prasad Film & TV Academy. “The actors ensure that a certain kind of money is spent to make their films look and sound nice. They are technically very superior. Manmadhan Ambu for instance, is one of the first Tamil films to come out with live sound recording. It is meticulous work,” he adds. Mr. Hariharan says the roles are carefully chosen. The two actors, along with their directors, are putting in extra effort to include a lot of contemporary elements in their films. “We have a very discerning audience here who expect value for money. And they know it.”