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Happy Birthday Rajinikanth: What revisiting ‘Baashha’ tells about ‘Thalaivar’

Rajinikanth in a scene from ‘Baashha’

Rajinikanth in a scene from ‘Baashha’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A digitally-remastered version of the 1995 superhit has been re-released across the city, as part of Rajinikanth’s birthday celebrations

In today’s Tamil cinema scenario, you are not considered a star unless you are awarded with an early morning, special show on the day of your movie’s release. This practice, or rather trend, was set by a movie that released 24 years back, which had an exclusive fans’ show as early as 1 am. Thousands of fans thronged the theatre that day. One among them was Narayanan Moorthy (51), whom we caught at Sathyam Cinemas. He has come to relive those memories again, with today’s audiences.

And the movie... no prizes for guessing: Baashha, whose digitally-remastered version has been re-released across the city, as part of Rajinikanth’s birthday celebrations. “The reception Baashha gets among the millennials pales in comparison to what it was back then. I watched the Rasigargal Show at Anna Theatre and I still remember how the fans reacted to each and every scene,” says Moorthy, who was in his late twenties when Baashha released. A civil engineer by profession, Moorthy says that the movie was a significant achievement in Rajinikanth’s career, that propelled him to superstardom. “What is still captivating is the interval block. In fact, many of us watched it multiple times just for that scene,” he gushes, adding that he watched Baashha a staggering 25 times in theatres.

Brains vs brawn

If there’s something The Dark Knight universe has taught us, it is this: a hero is only as good as his villain. If Manickam is Bruce Wayne, his arch rival Joker is... who better than Mark Antony (Raghuvaran)? Can you imagine any other Tamil cinema villain commanding the celebrations often reserved for the hero? Let us rephrase that sentence: Can you imagine a Tamil cinema villain going against Rajinikanth getting celebrated with as much fervour as the scene where Manickam says, “Naan orudhava sonna...nooru thadava sonna maari (If I say something once, I’ve said it a hundred times)”? That, perhaps, speaks volumes of what is lacking in recent Rajinikanth’s movies: Raghuvaran, or rather, a solid villain who has the charisma to match a demi-god that is Rajini. Which is why it was heartening to see the crowd going bonkers when Raghuvaran speaks not more than three words in his introduction scene: “Antony... Mark Antony.”

“I’ve seen it on television, but this is the first time I am watching Baashha on the big screen,” says Nagappan P (21), another self-declared Rajinikanth fan. He believes that the movie is a timeless classic and a textbook definition of ‘mass’ entertainer. “These are movies that need to be watched with fans. I hope they re-release Thalaivar’s Annamalai, Thalapathi and Padayappa as well.”

Witnessing a cult

Even after all these years, what is fascinating about Baashha is the way director Suresh Krissna constructs the mystery around the identity of Manik Baashha. He takes his own sweet time to establish the set-up, letting the audience play the guessing game. The first 40 minutes comes across like a melodramatic family-drama directed by Visu, but you wait patiently for Manickam’s swashbuckling transformation stretch — a 1,000-seater cinema hall chanting “Baashsha... Baashsha”, in-sync with composer Deva’s pulsating background score is visceral to say the least.

Even better is the scene that comes halfway through the movie, where Manickam confronts a medical college owner for abusing his power of authority. The college owner, unlike the audience, doesn’t know who he is. Poor guy gives him a warning instead. But Manickam doesn’t react; he’s angry inside. He doesn’t show his frustration on face. He lets out a chuckle before mouthing the golden words. By now, the decibel level of the crowd has escaped the soundproof hall.

It is time. Manickam gives him a condescending look and says, “Ennaku innoru peru irukku (I am known by another name).” The name is Rajinikanth.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 6:46:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/welcome-back-manickam/article30284619.ece

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