There are actors, there are stars, there are superstars — and there is Rajinikanth. I breathe the same air he does — we live precisely five km apart in Chennai — and yet I find that an impossibility. I mean, how could I be breathing the same air as the man about whom it can be said: ‘Air breathes Rajinikanth’?
The air is indeed breathing Rajinikanth at the moment. Just look at your Facebook wall, look at Twitter, the papers, the TV channels — even the national channels: everybody is going Kabali , Kabali , Kabali .
As I write this piece, the clock in my laptop tells me that the time is 1.30 a.m. — this is the time when I usually sit down to write this column — but this week, I am not the only one to be up this late. As I write about Rajinikanth, there are thousands of others who are also wide awake, ready to go to watch Rajikinath: first day, first show of Kabali , at 4 a.m. A Facebook friend, who has even replaced his profile picture with a still showing a revolver-wielding Rajinikanth, just updated his status: “KABALI first day first show at 4 a.m. in Kasi theatre. An ecstatic feeling. On my way to watch [it].”
The madness isn’t, of course, confined to Chennai. A few hours ago, I received a message from a Tamil friend who lives in Aachen in Germany. She wrote: “Started back early from work. Will go home, get ready and start with friends for the drive to Eindhoven for Kabali .” Eindhoven, by the way, is a town in The Netherlands. She must be on the road at this hour, waiting to cross over to Dutch territory from Germany — just to watch Kabali .
And earlier in the day, my wife, who has never watched a Tamil film so far, asked me: “Aren’t we going to watch Kabali ?” That kind of shook me. And that was when I was reminded of the night when Rajinikanth, while reading an English novel, looked up the dictionary for the meaning of the word ‘phye’, and the word got so scared the moment the superstar put his finger on it that it instantly rearranged itself into ‘hype’. You know what I mean, don’t you?
I have been living in Chennai for nearly 16 years now, but have never before seen a Rajinikanth movie being hyped so much. Maybe that’s because we now live in the age of hype (and Skype). But why should the hype in Rajinikanth’s case transform into a national — even international — obsession? The answer is simple: Rajinikanth is Rajinikanth.
The answer begs another question: why is Rajinikanth, Rajinikanth? That’s because he is the king of cool. He is perhaps the only actor in the country who takes his work — and not himself — seriously. Actors, usually, are a vain lot, who refuse to grow older than what they were at the peak of their careers. They want to look the same, behave the same, and expect the audiences to continue to fall for them.
The biggest victims of such vanity were Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna, once the heartthrobs of the nation, who simply refused to appear to be old, even long after they were actually old. Amitabh Bachchan, on the other hand, has been sensible: he now plays his age and remains in circulation.
But Rajinikanth is something else. He is now 65 and bald — and he does not hide that while making public appearances. His message to his fans is very clear: “I am what I am.” That is why Rajinikanth rocks.