The Name Is Rajinikant
Before consuming more printed space talking about the success of Enthiran, or Robot as it has been rechristened in Hindi, let us try to unfold the now 61-year-old phenomenon called Rajinikant, who started his journey into life as a bus conductor; who used to steal his room-mates toothbrushes and shirts; who slept for days on the streets to chase a mirage without a voice or a face; who got enrolled into an acting school in Madras, and eventually caught the eye of the legendary K Balachander; who on the very first day of shooting faced the rising star of Tamil cinema, Kamal Hassan; an aspiring actor who went without food or drink to chase his dream and eventually converted it into reality to such an extent that he even left behind hugely-talented actors like Kamal Hassan in terms of popularity and fan following. A celebrity, who made no secret of his obsession with the maiden from Scotland, and hide ample potential in choli ke peechay and under the petticoat until both?
Today, the registered base of his fans has touched an estimated two crore with 50,000 registered and another equal amount of unregistered fan clubs across the globe. Perhaps the only man in the entertainment industry who does not hide the truth about persona, and defying image factor goes about life in general as he really looks in life: grayed beard, bald scalp, crumpled clothes. And makes no attempt at all to promote his starrers, whether at home or abroad and yet he is more popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Middle East, and even Tamilian pockets elsewhere in the world than any other Indian actor, past or present. And still accepted, and applauded by his audience when defying truth and age he does indulges in those screen gimmicks.
He has often talked about calling it a day while the going is good having acquired all the fame and fortune that anyone can aspire for. But the one motivating force preventing him from doing so is consistent coaxing from arch rival, and more talented Kamal Hassan who on and off the record keeps egging him on for his own selfish reasons. Kamal firmly believes that the competition from Rajini motivates him to do better, and work harder for a coveted place on the Tamil cinema horizon. Yet Rajinikant hasn’t, unlike many others who rose from similar backgrounds, hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. He donates parts of his earnings in charity. There is a hall, for instance, in Chennai that is used for marriages. Every bride receives a pair of gold bangles and a mangalsutra, and every bridegroom a chain and a ring, assorted household gifts and Rs 15,000 in cash to begin life a fresh. This philanthropic alone must be bringing him returns through box office collections. Only one of his starrer in the past decade or more, the ambitious Kuselan has flopped at the box office, bringing back Rs 8 crore for an investment of more than 20.
On the surfeit, Enthiran has a thin story base man versus machine. Minus computer graphics, animation, 3D effects it would have Rajinikant enacting a double role. A Cornell and Stanford trained scientist, Vaseegaran (Rajinikant), in a weird get-up, who invents a robot called Chitti, a robot that could replace soldiers by acting and thinking like human beings and supporting Indian Army in the event of a conflict. Instead, this man-machine flips for a medical student called Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who in turn is in love with the scientist. So far so good but then it is an Indian film. There has to be an evil force. So we have Bohra (Danny Denzongappa), a villainous scientist who schemes to exploit the weakness in Chitti’s silicon heart—a necessary twist to carry forward an Indian love story.
Made at an estimated cost of Rs 200 crore: Rajinikant (45); Aishwarya (6); promotion and publicity (50); make-up, especially hero’s, including Rs 3 crore alone for the last 40 minutes of the film; 7 crore for Aishwarya’s 57 and Rajinikant’s 55 costumes; and the balance for raw stock, effects and shooting from Vienna to Machu Picchu in Peru. According to director S Shankar: “There are 150 CG shots in the film, including 200 complicated ones. 22 scenes of the movie have been shot using animatronics and special make-up.” The estimated returns from the film, according to trade figures, are Rs 300 crore, much of it already covered (which in trade jargons means table profits) from sale of rights and box office proceeds because the producers, Sun Pictures have retain the distribution rights for the Tamilnadu territory.
Booking offices at 3000 screens across the globe with 2250 prints put the ‘Sold Out’ signage two weeks prior to the release. The opening week collections alone were a whopping Rs 90 crore, and if the momentum continues at the same pace, the film might record collections to the tune of Rs 600-700 crore in the first run itself in all the five languages: Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Telegu the distribution rights for which were sold for Rs 23 crore, Malayalam and Kannada for Rs 17 crore each, and Telegu Rs 27 crore, respectively. Apart from this Rs 88 crore was the estimated price for Tamilnadu, while the overseas, satellite, home video raked in Rs 50 crore, Rs 17 crore, and Rs 10 crore, respectively. No figures are available for the audio rights. And unless there is an unlikely descend, because the gripping content of the film and the standard front-bench pleasing Rajinikant stunts is returning the audiences to the theatres, Enthiran will be the biggest ever box-office hit in India. And that too for a regional film.
Such is the craze of this Rajinikant starrer. Not that there have not been Tamil films in the past that have recorded fantastic business in the single territory alone, as compared with the biggest grosser in Hindi. And Rajinikant himself has been leaving behind his own past landmarks. Shivaji: The Boss (2007) raked in Rs 128 crore; Chandramukhi (2005) with an 800-day run in a single theatre made the producer richer by Rs 55 crore—to sight out just two of his recent hits. Hats off to the phenomenon called Rajinikanth, alias Shivaji Rao Gaikwad, the non-Tamilian box-office badshah of Tamil cinema.
By Suresh Kohli