Enjoy the carnival folks

“Endhiran” is successful because the Rajini phenomenon has been given a makeover and taken to a larger tech-savvy audience beyond the traditional fan base...

Updated - November 13, 2021 09:49 am IST

Published - October 23, 2010 05:23 pm IST

There are no such things as naïve viewing or mindless watching. Bad films are bad and they will be treated so. None has made this clearer than Rajnikanth fans. If “Endhiran” is a blockbuster, “Kuselan”, another Rajni starrer released earlier, was a disaster. It is not that one film was produced for pleasure and the other for enlightenment and hence faced two different fates.

This leaves only three reasons to explain the success of “Endhiran” — a new genre, the return of the spectacle and, to borrow a phrase from film studies, a movie that successfully caters to the habituated audience — Rajni fans. But on close scrutiny, none appear adequate and they seem to miss the point.

“Endhiran”, unlike a typical sci-fi film, does not speculate on any new premise or the future. The battle between man and machine is a battered idea and anachronistic. If magic, mythology and 24 frames created spectacles of action and dance before, less science and even less fiction does it for “Endhiran”.

More of the same

Since 1948, when “Chandralekha” grabbed the attention by its production values, galactic cost, claims to undiluted entertainment, Tamil audiences are used to one form of spectacle or the other. “Endhiran” may be bigger and metallic, but it is essentially more of the same.

What remains to be clarified is whether “Endhiran” became a phenomenon because it is for the fans and by the fans.

S.V. Srinivas, a film scholar who has worked on the superstardom of Chiaranjeevi, describes fans as “insiders to the culture of commercial cinema who have developed a relationship with the films based on long acquaintance with them.” The filmmakers who understand this produce films that allow the fans to inhabit the film in the manner they are comfortable with. This produces a unique cinematic experience, which the mainstream media and elite have hitherto deridingly called “front-bench response”.

At the centre of the relationship between the fans and the film is not the seduction of action, but the empowering idea that “ordinary people have been robbed of their due” and they would get back what is theirs. Be it a comedy, revenge saga or a sentimental tear-jerker, Rajni, like M.G. Ramachandran, promises and delivers this. This, studies show, is not much different when it comes to real politics in Tamil Nadu.

But how does “Endhiran” fare? Rajni has been portrayed as a pampered rich man in earlier films such as “Sivaji”, another block-bluster, but he always gives it up or loses it to know the difficulties of the poor first hand. “Endhiran” probably is the only film where Rajni never steps out of his Benz car or his swanky bungalow to share space with the city's poor. Not only does he appear self-obsessed fighting his own creation, he also permits the film to have a dig at women living in slums. They are porttrayed as dumb-witted who cannot distinguish their gods from the robot with sickles and knife stuck to its magnetic body. Shot in a grey gothic ambience, the slums, women in yellow saris, their religious music and practices appear fearfully grotesque — a disturbing political position to take for a Rajni film.

Out of character

The turning point in the film is not when the robot starts to feel and falls in love, but when it fails to recognise the dire need to cover the naked young girl before it rescues her from engulfing fire. This failure pushes the girl to commit suicide. Though the fans may blame it on the Robot, they would certainly be disappointed to see the ‘real' Rajni not rushing to her rescue by covering her with his shirt, something he unfailingly does in other films, both to the damsels in distress and his lady love shivering in cold. Neither does he castigate the media for their insensitivity. When he finally responds, it is too late — Rajni as a protector fails.

There is a surfeit of special effects in the second half of the film which is hailed as the highlight. But it works more like a Tom and Jerry chase than help produce any drama in the fight between the oppressed good and the powerful evil. Rajni does not vanquish the bad either with wit or with raw guts. A selfish, less intelligent and coward Rajni is not what the fans came to see.

How then to understand Endhiran's success?

The film and its promos are not about the loyal fans. The fans would unfailingly turn up as they always do — first day, first show. In order to recover the huge costs and make profit, the filmmakers knew well that they needed new converts. Traditional fans alone would not do. The Rajni phenomenon had to be evangelised. For this, a Rajni embedded in the politics of protest and populism will not help. The phenomenon had to be reduced to a carnival where the catharsis is to be presented as fun and rubbing shoulders with an assorted crowd would not threaten the social order or disturb the corporate converts. What was hitherto an organic fan celebration in the front row had to be converted into a large party, to revel and amuse, and reach the back rows. The ploy has worked.

Fans may revel in and partake the joy of “Endhiran's” commercial success, but would certainly yearn for the return of the subaltern Rajni.

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