APJ Abdul Kalam had just taken over as President of India. Nokia 3510 was the phone people showed off. And, music composer Anirudh was still in school.
That year - 2002 - was also the time when Superstar Rajinikanth’s Baba hit screens. The hype for this Tamil film was real, because this was the actor and director Suresh Krissna getting together after hits like Annamalai and Baasha.
With music by AR Rahman and featuring actors like Manisha Koirala and Goundamani, among others, the film told the story of a carefree non-believer of God who subsequently takes to spirituality.
Baba released with much fanfare, but failed to create an impact at the box office. It did, however, generate a lot of discussion and controversy, especially due to its scenes involving Rajinikanth smoking and referring to the Chief Minister.
Twenty years later, Baba is back in the limelight. It will be re-released - in a new avatar, replete with colour and music upgradation - this December (likely on December 12, Rajinikanth’s birthday).
So, why is it being re-released? “I had the same question myself when Rajini sir sent me its hard disk a few weeks ago,” reveals Suresh Krissna, seated comfortably at his Nandanam office that proudly displays posters from his Baasha and Satya, “He told me, ‘Watch the film now.’ I hadn’t revisited Baba for many years, and when I did, it felt nice. Rajini felt that a re-release of Baba might work, especially with today’s audience who are big on fantasy-oriented content, as proved by the success of Kantara and Karthikeya. Back then, I think the film did not get the place it deserved. It will, now.”
A new avatar
For many younger fans of Rajinikanth who might have not experienced the Baba hysteria back in 2002, this will be a fresh film, assures Suresh Krissna. “Rajinikanth has not changed much, after all,” smiles Suresh, “Content-wise, it will be as fresh as it was when it first released.”
But that doesn’t mean that it will be the exact same film - the makers have worked to update it to suit modern-day requirements.
While the sequences have been colour-graded, the sound has also been mixed and mastered in Dolby Atmos. “The sequences featuring the Himalayas have been colour graded in a way that it suits the modern palette of audiences who are used to watching today’s films.” The original film was three-hours long, and going by current trends to have a shorter runtime for films, Baba will also be re-edited...to less than two and a half hours. “We want it to be a pacey film, and believe it will work today.”
How it all came together
Suresh Krissna remembers the day he was called, rather summoned, for a meeting with Rajinikanth in 2002. The director was in Bombay that day, to meet producer Pahlaj Nihalani for a Hindi film discussion. “It was 11 in the morning when I got a call from Rajinikanth, who wanted to meet me at the earliest. Pahlaj had such high regard for Rajini that he made arrangements for me to immediately catch a flight back to Chennai.”
Baba, being a very ‘different’ project from the Rajinikanth films of those times, had the actor bouncing off the idea to several people, including writer Sujatha and political analyst Cho Ramaswamy. They would meet at Rajini’s Kelambakkam farmhouse, where the actor would, rather excitedly, narrated the entire storyline he had written and his intention behind the project. “This story idea came to him when he was in a deeply meditative state, and he wanted to share that with the world in the form of a film. Rajinikanth has always had an uncanny sense of storytelling, and he realised that he was the best person to write and produce this film. For him, it was a passion project.”
Suresh Krissna might be well known for his blockbuster films with Rajinikanth like Annamalai, Veera and Baasha, but has still done lighter films such as Aaha and Sangamam that have fans even today. Where does he rate Baba in his filmography? “It has a special place in my heart,” he admits, “It cannot be slotted in any category. I still mull about this film not getting its right due among audiences. I remember this particular shot in the film where an elephant suddenly stops on its tracks, turns back and blesses Rajinikanth. You might not believe it, but the elephant really did it that day. There was something very special about Baba.”