‘Watching Rajini movie on first day is a religious experience’

The 52-year-old Krishnamoorthy Sivagnanam says that he has been a Rajinikanth fan even before he became a movie fan.

The first film he remembers seeing of Rajini was ‘Aadu Puli Aatam’. This 1977 film would not make Rajini’s hall of fame. But it had one element that would become Thalaivar’s calling card all through his storied career: style.

Rajini’s character name in the movie is Rajini (for the record, Kamal Haasan, who plays the hero, is named Kamal in the film), and Rajini’s punchline in the film is: “Rajini style.” (So the first person to coin and say ‘Rajini style’ was Rajini himself. As you can see, Rajini trivia write themselves in Rajini style itself.)

‘Rajini style’ caught the fancy of an impressionable Sivagnanam and he was hooked for life. And in his school days Sivagnanam had pestered his father to take him to Rajini movie whenever it released. By the time, he was in college, Rajini movie on the first day became an inviolable tradition for him.

Now into his 50s, and with two sons who are not fans of Rajini (“they don’t have any taste,” Sivagnanam says dismissively), Sivagnanam finds his Rajini fandom undiminished and unrelenting. He was there today morning at 4.30 a.m., braving the early Chennai chill (yeah, Chennai does experience something called winter), at Kasi Theatre  for the special fans’ screening of ‘Petta’, Rajnikanth’s big-bang release for the Pongal holidays.

Surrounded by fans who were mostly in his sons’ age, Sivagnanam does not feel odd or out of place. “I am happy that at least these youngsters share my enthusiasm for Thalaivar. He is the best ever,” Sivagnanam says as he jostles his way past the crowd into the auditorium. Outside the theatre compound, fans are bursting crackers and pouring milk on the larger-than-life cutout of Rajinikanth. In some places, festivals, in comparison to this, would seem sober as a funeral.

And inside, just as they dimmed the lights to start the film, the fifty-plus Sivagnanam shouts, “Thalaivaa…” at the top of his still strong voice, and the gathered fans pick up the cue and add to the chorus in decibels that can wake up the dead in the nearby cemetery.

And this was going to be the feature all through the movie whenever Thalaivar is on screen. Whenever he said something massy, which was often, the fans couldn’t hold themselves as they stood up and bellowed even more passionately, “Thalaivaa…”

Nobody seemed to mind. Nobody shushed the crowds. On the contrary, they were demanding more. Festoons were thrown in the air. Some stood on their seats to dance when there was a song. Thalaivar’s ‘intro scene’ had the entire auditorium clapping and whistling in a state of extreme delight that is generally impossible reach without some kind of intoxicant coursing through the veins. “Yes, Rajini is the intoxicant for us,” Sivagnanam tells later.

“It is for this religious experience that fans like me keep flocking the theatres for decades now,” he says and adds that he will watch the movie later in the evening with his wife. “I will have watched the film at least 5 times before next week. ‘Petta’ has all the elements that we fans want.”

This is an important point. Rajini fans see both Kabali and Kala as Ranjith (the director) movies. “We liked them. But they were not Thalaivar movies. 2.0, while being fun, was a funky experiment in technology and 3D. They did not satiate our expectations in that sense. Here I am speaking for almost all of his diehard fans,” Sivagnanam says.

But ‘Petta’ turns to be a parade of typical Rajini moments, as it encompasses Rajini tropes in happy gusto. Punch dialogues, fights, comic interludes, a suspenseful past…  all the stuff that make the Rajini smorgasbord are all there. Director Karthik Subburaj, himself an unabashed fan of Rajini, presents what fans like Sivagnanam come to a Rajini movie for.

‘Petta’ has picked morsels from many of Rajini’s past hits and smartly stitched them together into an agreeable pastiche for his fans. There is some Bashaa in it. There is some Padaiyappa in it. There is some Mullum Malarum (the name Kaali) in it. There is some Dharmadurai in it. Novelty. What novelty! Who wants it. At least not the crowd that had turned up at the Kasi theatre this morning.

“We are not here for high art. We are here for fun. We are here for some unadulterated masala movie. We are here for Thalaivar,” Sivagnanam lays out his philosophy.

With ‘Petta’ clashing with ‘Viswasam’ starring Ajith (another high-voltage star with an equally passionate following), it was billed as box office battle royale.

The early word from the market is ‘Petta’ has satisfied its set of followers. ‘Viswasam’ too seems to have given what its followers wanted.

Sivagnanam says he will catch ‘Viswasam’ only when they play it on TV. “Am not against any actor as such. But my loyalty is only for Thalaivar.”

That is the power of Rajini. Rajini style works wonders even after nearly 50 years now.

It will work 50 years hence, too, Sivagnanam deadpans as he exits the theatre.