If Kalaipuli Thanu had been a character in an Asterix comic he’d have been called Magnum Opus. He neither thinks nor plans anything small. When four sheet posters were in vogue, massive 24 sheet posters adorned the walls of his first production ‘Yaar’ (1985) in which Rajinikanth appeared fleetingly. He started the trend of announcing the ‘muhurtham’ of a film with hoardings. The invitation for the ‘muhurtham’ of ‘Kandasamy’ was a video screen, featuring the trailer of the film. Thanu has always nursed the ambition of producing a Rajini starrer. I remember in the late eighties he told me that he would drop pamphlets from a helicopter if Rajini agreed to do a film for him. “I’m surprised you still remember,” he says with a wistful smile. He has waited patiently from the time he gave Rajini the moniker ‘Superstar’ and feels it’s been worth it. Today, AirAsia aircrafts with his name boldly emblazoned alongside the superstar’s advertising the much awaited ‘Kabali’ are soaring in the skies.
“I’d have loved to say it was my brainchild,” says Amar Abrol, when I quiz him about the genesis of this very visible association. Amar recently moved to Bangalore from Malaysia as CEO to oversee the domestic operations of Air Asia. “The sequence of events started with the script of the film demanding an airline to be part of the film. The idea was tossed around amongst our offices and landed in mine. We thought it was a brilliant idea, being associated with the superstar himself. The idea was developed further and has reached thus far. Personally it’s a coup d’etat.” Usually airlines get a mention in the credits for ferrying the cast and crew to distant destinations at a hefty discount but this is an advertising masterstroke. It’s the first of its kind for the Indian film industry.
“Absolutely,” agrees Amar. “It was done in New Zealand featuring ‘Lord Of The Rings’ by another airline. We as a team have done it for QPR our football team and ‘The Apprentice’ show which our CEO Tony hosted. This is the first time in India and there’s no better way to start.” Amar feels it’s a win-win situation for the film and the airline. It’s also the best way to be endorsed by Rajini indirectly, since he personally doesn’t plug any product. “There’s no other Indian star who has fans not only in India but across Asia. In Malaysia it’s huge. The plane is already travelling the domestic circuit like Delhi Goa and Vizag. There’re photos and videos being posted on social media. The idea is to fly in a Rajini powered aircraft. It’s paying massive dividends. This is huge for AirAsia.”
One or two day package tours are usually planned for places of pilgrimage. Well if cinema is a religion then Rajini is one of the most sought after Gods in a pantheon. People prostrate, perform ‘aarti’, break coconuts and bathe his hoardings with milk! AirAsia has planned one such package from Bangalore to Chennai to watch the first day, first show of ‘Kabali’. “The package was sold out just two hours after it was announced to agents,” says a beaming Amar. “160 tickets were sold. We’ve retained a few for our staff and team. Passengers who’ve paid a little less than eight thousand rupees will be served a special ‘Kabali’ meal. There’ll be mementos, T shirts and a CD signed by the superstar himself. “It’ll be a once in a lifetime chance to experience the euphoria,” avers Amar.
AirAsia was tempted to have more such packages from other destinations on the first day but unscheduled trips need certain special permissions. The airline has already been approached by a few Bollywood biggies for similar deals. “We as a company have been quirky in advertising and marketing. We are open to ideas but they have to fit into our brand values,” claims Amar.
Amar has watched a Rajini film in the theatre only once and in Hong Kong of all the places. “I’ll be on the plane and will watch the film with the fans,” says Amar with the infectious enthusiasm of a diehard ‘Thalaivar’ fan.