Jilla and Veeram, assembly-line Rajinikanth films, shows that the Superstar is now officially a cinematic genre by himself, writes Sudhish Kamath
He was just an actor. Fans made him Superstar. Not a superstar. Just Superstar. Like there was no other superstar around.And going by the releases this Pongal, it’s safe to say that Rajinikanth is not just a Superstar anymore. He used to be a player, now he’s the whole game. Yes, Rajinikanth’s now officially a genre by himself.
Like James Bond. The only difference between Bond and Rajini was that the actors playing Bond kept changing every few years. But now, now even that’s gone. There are actors playing Rajini!
If you went out to watch one of the two Rajinikanth films that released this Pongal, chances are you missed Rajinikant in them, unless you are one of those who have never seen a single Rajinikant film all your life.
Even the titles of the films were, give or take an alphabet, similar to hit Rajini films (Billa and Veera). If Jilla teased us with Thalapathy with a twist — What if Surya (Rajini) took on Deva (Mammootty) at halfway point and gave us a Mr. Bharath sort of father-son-turn-enemies family conflict dynamic? In Jilla, if Sakti (Vijay) takes on Sivan (Mohanlal) as homage to Thalapathy, Veeram recycles Rajni hit Murattu Kalai with scenes inspired from Annamalai and Baasha with more than one punchline giving you a sense of deja vu.
Both Ajith and Vijay have ensured that they are not really stepping on each other’s toes ever since Ajith started playing his older, greying self while Vijay continued projecting himself as the youthful ‘Ilaya Thalapathy’. If Jilla wore jeans, Veeram sports veshtis.
But otherwise, Vijay’s sense of dialogue delivery in Jilla is just as playful as Rajini’s and Ajith’s look, especially in the second half of Veeram, is just the same as Superstar’s in Annamalai, Veera, Muthu or Padaiyappa — white shirt, white dhothi, clean shaven but for a moustache and sacred ash on his forehead.
Jilla and Veeram are such assembly-line Rajini films that they even have the same scene — where the hero is driving only to be chased by goons trying to kill their sworn enemy and the hero thwarts their attempts by beating them all up single-handedly. (You can almost see Sarath Babu instead of Nasser and Mohanlal and Superstar instead of Ajith and Vijay there).
The battle between these two actors, or rather the fans of these two actors, is so intense only because they are fighting for the same crown, despite their slightly different positioning. Rajinikanth’s.
While an older generation had MGR-Sivaji and we had Rajini-Kamal, this younger generation of movie buffs are fighting over two stars trying to inherit Rajinikanth’s legacy. While Sivaji and Kamal had hardcore fans who loved them for the variety and the diverse range of roles they portrayed, the current generation of movie buffs don’t seem to show actors the kind of love they show for stars. Which is why even the serious actors of this generation, Suriya and Vikram, have over the years preferred the mass masala action films to the many artistic experiments they started their careers with.
Cinema only reflects what the fans want. And going by what we see on screen, all we see is a thirst for Rajinikanth cinema.
There is no doubt at all that both Vijay and Ajith have the required charisma and manage to channel their inner Rajinikanth to a crowd-pleasing extent. In fact, they have perfected playing the mass hero over the last decade, and have done better than the others eyeing Superstar’s throne.
Luckily for them, paradigms and mindsets are changing too. People who used to say “There may be many who played Bond but only one Sean Connery” have also warmed up to Daniel Craig.
But then, that’s also because Craig reinvented the Bond type to cater to the times.
Ajith and Vijay could do with a little reinvention themselves. After all, Rajinikanth himself was a reinvention of the MGR type, who borrowed dialogue delivery from Sivaji and style from Shatrughan Sinha. But if MGR was the white knight who could do no wrong, with his spotless clean onscreen image as a non-smoking teetotaller, Rajini was the dark knight not afraid to play the villain. He smoked like he deserved the cigarette, he made drinking look cool and it was only after he was targeted by local politicians because of his increasing popularity, that he reinvented himself all over again — with biscuits substituting cigarettes.
We need Vijay and Ajith to emulate Rajini, the actor, who kept reinventing himself. And maybe then, we will get cinema that’s not just derivative and rehashed from Rajinikanth films but something more original. Something that reflects our changing times. Something more unpredictable.