There are good Rajini films. There are great Rajini films. And then, there’s Baasha .
The story of an ordinary autorickshawallah with a past — one in which he was a dreaded don — hit screens on Pongal day, two decades ago. And it still finds viewers whenever it is screened on TV. Ask any Rajini fan, and he/she would tell you that Baasha is unforgettable.
“It was shown on television a couple of weeks ago and I got congratulatory messages,” says Suresh, who has also penned his thoughts on the film in a book titled My Days with Baasha . “The movie was like a magic spell; things just fell in place. If I knew how it happened, I’d be doing a Baasha every day.”
It was during the shooting of the Hindi film Hum in Ooty that the seed of ‘Baasha bhai’ was born. It was the early 90s, and the three actors — Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda and Rajinikanth — were discussing a sequence. They thought of a scene in which Govinda is trying to become a policeman and is denied a chance; only to subsequently get the job when Amitabh walks into the interview room and convinces the authorities. The three explained this to director Mukul, who liked this scene but felt that it didn’t gel with his screenplay.
“During a casual conversation, Rajini mentioned that scene to me… I thought it would suit the superstar,” says Suresh.
But due to other commitments, it didn’t reach the scripting stage. They even did another movie after that (“ Veera , a film I wasn’t in favour of doing, but Rajini felt a comedy would work after the commercial Annamalai that we did”) but that ‘room sequence’ kept popping up now and then in Suresh’s head.
Then, when the release of Veera was announced, the world became privy to the word ‘Baasha’. “Rajini had already thought of this title and I loved it,” he adds. “Of course, we had no clue about the storyline. We just said we’d do a film titled Baasha .”
And that was it. The ‘room sequence’ came into their discussions yet again and after a series of meetings in Hyderabad, a storyline emerged. “We decided to release it for Pongal 1995. That meant that we had just five months to finish work.”
Thus the shoot of the film began. “One of my favourite sequences is the underground scene in which the don shows his anger for the first time. I vividly remember that just before canning that scene, I whispered into his ear, ‘Sir, this is the most vital scene. It should win the audience. Please give your everything.’ He just looked at me and once we went for the take, he did just that…. gave his everything. The anger, the fierce look in his eyes… I just couldn’t say ‘cut’ to that particular shot because he kept looking at the camera with so much power. I sent him a bouquet later that day, saying, ‘My Baasha is born’.”
It’s well known that superstar Rajinikanth has a knack with titles; in fact, even his latest release Lingaa was a title he had suggested. It was no different with this 1995 super-hit. “I read somewhere that he had a friend called Baasha and that’s why he suggested it,” says Suresh, “ Later on, we realised how well it worked; it had a Hindu-Muslim unity angle as well.”
He says that the screenplay, the actor’s screen presence and music worked in its favour. Raghuvaran’s villainy added a lot of weight to it, he feels. “He (Raghuvaran) was not an action man; he could not fight 10 men. But the way he looks and his dialogue delivery… were excellent. For any hero to bring out his heroism, you need a strong villain. And Raghuvaran fit that role perfectly.”
The punch lines in the film — Na oru thadava sonna nooru thadava sonna maari (If I say something once, it’s as if I’ve said it a hundred times) would certainly be among the most favourite among audiences. This dialogue — again suggested by Rajinikanth himself — was initially coined with the word ‘vaati’ instead of ‘thadava’. “We wanted a powerful dialogue, obviously, and came up with ‘Naa oru vaati sonna nooru vatti sonna maari’. We rehearsed with it. But just before the actual shot, we felt that there was something missing and decided to use ‘thadava’ instead of ‘vaati’. The minute he delivered it to the camera, there were claps all around.” Soon, everyone in the set was mouthing the dialogue — from the light men to the assistant directors. “And we knew we had a winner in our hands.”
Whenever the dreaded don utters this dialogue, he’s surrounded by members of his ‘gang’ — his faithful companions include actor Janagaraj and a couple of others including a Singh. “We wanted to communicate the anonymity of the protagonist,” he says. “We wanted to say that his loyalists will always be there with him… it was all done to add to the mystery.”
Today, 20 years later, Suresh’s only regret is that the team did not preserve everything that was shot. “We had to edit out many scenes as it was lengthy. There were many good scenes that we didn’t use in the final version you watch on screen. I wish we had preserved them; it would have given audiences so much joy today.”
He wishes to bring back the ‘Baasha’ legacy with a sequel now, but with Rajini not in favour of sequels, Suresh isn’t sure if that’ll ever happen. “He is not very keen. My thought is, ‘Why not?’ It’s been 20 years, yes, but Baasha can still be born again in a different avatar.” We’re sure fans are waiting.