This has never happened in the past 20 years for a Rajinikanth movie. He was always the best box office bet. Though his past movies, Baba, Kuselan and Linga tanked in the box office, Rajini was still considered as a winning horse. However the release of Kaala and the people’s response to it suggests otherwise!
A mere announcement of a Rajinikanth starrer will set the media agog with speculations about storyline, cast, crew, etc. Vernacular weeklies and dailies will vie with each other to get an exclusive image of the new Rajini movie. Rajinikanth’s previous movie, Kabali too created such a buzz across the country. The producer of Kabali, Kalaipuli Thanu is an old fox in the movie industry and he knows the right buttons to press, when it comes to marketing his product. The hype was unprecedented so much so that Innovative promos were planned and their marketing strategy reached the skies. Quite literally, an Air Asia flights were painted with Kabali image and made headlines across the globe.
Kaala is an important movie for Rajinikanth. Kaala is the first movie after Rajinikanth announced his foray into politics on 31 December 2017. Rajinikanth had always used politics as a tool to improve his movies’ box office collections ever since the early nineties. The formula is very simple, before every movie Rajinikanth would make controversial political statements hinting at his political entry, this helped his fans to go crazy and ensure box office collection.
After the controversy in the movie Baasha’s celebrations where Rajini courted controversy which invited the wrath of Jayalalitha, Rajini’s image was carefully crafted with a keen eye to generate speculation about his political entry.Dialogues, lyrics and scenes were planned to create curiosity. Rajinikanth was not averse to creating such a buzz and in fact he encouraged it because it was his ATM.
Rajinikanth, who usually is a private person, was very reluctant to take the big step. But, the political entry of his perennial rival Kamalhassan and the absence of a tall political leader Jayalalitha and an inactive Karunanidhi, emboldened Rajini to make the major announcement.
After creating adequate speculation, Rajinikanth finally announced his entry into politics. Though he did not reveal his exact plans, he made it clear that his party which would be formed in the future would definitely contest the elections in 2021. This cleared the air about his CM ambitions.
After this announcement, Rajinikanth’s every move was closely watched and scrutinised. His arch rival Kamalhassan, started commenting on every important issue that pertains to the state. This forced the reluctant politician in Rajinikanth to come out with a social media post or a sound byte. While it is indeed an art to handle the media, Rajinikanth was not at all comfortable with answering the scribes’ querries. The journalists who are desparate to create headlines with Rajinikanth, competed with each other and bombarded Rajinikanth on various issues. Clearly an uncomfortable and unprepared Rajinikanth, was not able to make an impression.
The 22nd May violence in the anti-sterlite protest in Thoothukudi and the 13 deaths almost brought the state to a boiling point. Except the ruling ADMK and its unofficial ally BJP, all political parties were vociferous in their condemnation of the government and the police machinery. Opposition party leaders, cutting across party lines, made a bee line to Thoothukudi and visited the victims’ families and injured in the hospital. His arch rival Kamal Hassan defied Section 144 order that was imposed in Tuticorin and was even booked for violating prohibitary orders.
Rajinikanth was pushed to a corner. He had to visit Thoothukudi. But, Rajinikanth’s visit turned out to be a super disaster. His usual fan crowd vying with each other to take selfies thronged him But Rajini failed to elicit any warmth among the victims. The video of an injured youth in Thoothukudi government hospital asking Rajinikanth “Who Are You” went viral in social media.
Rajini was trolled in twitter and facebook and the hashtag #NaanthampaRajinikanth, became an all India trend in twitter. Rajinikanth’s press meet when he returned from Thoothukudi turned out to be suicidal. Rajinikanth was very disturbed when repeated questions were posed to him on police high handedness. Rajinikanth echoed the words of CM Edappadi Palanisamy and the BJP. “Anti-Social elements who infiltrated the protest in Thoothukudi are responsible for the violence.” He also said frequent protests would turn Tamil Naud into a graveyard. This drew sharp criticism from all opposition parties. VCK Chief Thol Thirumavalavan promptly retorted Rajini. He said, “Tamil Nadu will become a graveyard if there weren’t any protests. When air, water and land get polluted, that is graveyard,” he said.”
It was a very bad timing to make such a statement just days after the trailer of Kaala which advocated protests for a cause is a birth right. The immediate comparison of reel Rajini and real Rajini increased his woes. In a way Rajinikanth’s statement on screen and off screen dented his image. This could have been the last thing an aspiring politician would ever want – negative publicity.
His political rivals were quick to brand Rajini as a hypocrite. Rajini’s attempted foray into politics is only to advance his movie career said many. There were serious criticisms all over the social media about Rajinikanth’s diametrically opposite stand in reel and real. Rajinikanth’s flip flop became the talking point on Television and social media.
When bookings for Kaala opened on Sunday, the effect of Rajini’s opinion on the Thoothukudi protest was palpable. Even two days after advance bookings were commenced, seats remained vacant in almost all theaters across the state for weekends.
A senior journalist, who doesn’t want to be quoted said, “In my Journalist career I have never seen such lukewarm response for a Rajinikanth movie. Even if it’s Kochadaiyaan there was fanfare and enthusiasm among fans about Rajinikanth movie release. Lets not forget Rajinikanth fans are from different politicial parties and when it’s a Rajini movie release they will all shed their political colour, ideology and wait outside theaters to celebrate.
After Rajinikanth made his political intent clear things seems to have changed for the superstar. Kaala is being projected as a movie which will convey Rajinikanth’s political agenda and that’s why I feel there is lukewarm response, the fans are excited but the general public is not. Rajinikanth has always used politics as a tool to promote his movies and in a way that formula worked wonders for him. However, this time he decided to use film to advance his political agenda and it appears that there are not many takers.
This clearly shows one thing, people are ready to accept Rajini as an actor but not as a politician so soon. People have their own reservations about Rajini’s policies and his roadmap for politics. Gone are they days where people blindly trust cinema stars, in internet era every move is watched and the response is swift.
At a time when there is palpable anger against Central and State Governments over various issues, Rajinikanth’s reluctance to take on the Centre and State governments has also left the people confused. It has become easy for his critics to term him as a potential ally of the BJP.
His recent visit to Tuticorin and his comments regarding the protests have exposed his mindset. As an actor he may be a superstar but in politics he was always considered as someone who is unreliable. It took 20 years for Rajinikanth to make up his mind to enter politics or not. But in a span of 6 days the people of Tamil Nadu have seen his real and reel face and they will certainly keep this in mind when they decide if they are ready to accept Rajinikanth as a politician.
No one can deny that people’s perception of Rajinikanth turned upside down in a week. Before Rajini’s Thoothukudi visit,though people were not willing to endorse him whole heartedly, they were not rejecting him altogether.
Senior Journalist RK.Radhakrishnan, said lackadaisical promotions for the movie also played a part for the dull opening. “Probably, Rajini’s son-in-law Dhanush, who is the producer of Kaala, banked too much on Rajini’s political entry and the hype it is generating for Kaala. The producers were not even prepared to promote the movie in radio, and television. Only after seeing the dull response, they panicked and came out with ads.
As some Rajini fans argue, Tamil Nadu people do not differentiate between reel life and real life. The arguments that cinema should be viewed as cinema doesn’t work in Tamil Nadu. After all, Rajinikanth, enters politics only based on his cinema popularity.
One of the reasons attributed to the lukewarm response for Kaala is because Rajinikanth is a politician now. The people of Tamil Nadu are clever enough to understand what product Rajini and Ranjith combo is trying to deliver at this juncture.
It’s time for the superstar to do some serious introspection before taking the political plunge. After all politics is not box office and Tamil Nadu is not Albert Theatre.