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So, after all the gruelling efforts to get tickets and the huge anticipation over the past several months, it was finally showtime! And here we were, assembled as a group, with 3 infants in tow, ready for the Superstar to enthrall us with yet another scintillating performance. After returning from the US a few years ago, this was the first time I was going to a Thalaivar movie this early after release – and it was very reassuring to see that nothing had changed. The sea of devoted fans, the excitement, the aura that only Rajni can lay claim to – everything was intact. This is possibly the one instance where you are excited to see and be in the midst of a mad rush of people – you actually enjoy the jostling and the haggling to get in and take your seat. What follows is more a commentary of our experience rather than a review, and I am going to make a conscious attempt to not be a spoiler here, for obvious reasons.
The movie had all the right things associated with it – Lord Rajnikanth himself, Director Shankar, Aishwarya Rai, Rahman’s music, Prabhu Deva, Raju Sundaram and Lawrence handling choreo, Danny Denzongpa playing the baddie (or so I thought before the movie). So how could it not be a blockbuster, right? It started off in style – the trademark sequence for Superstar’s credits kicking things off, except the fonts had been fashionably enhanced keeping with the Sci-fi, robotic theme. Yes, clearly we were off to a great start. But alas, as I was soon to find out, that was going to be one of the few high points in the movie for me. The first disappointment was Superstar’s entry – something that every loyal fan waits with bated breath for. Typically, its a bunch of idiot baddies that never seem to learn their lesson – they are robbing some old soul, misbehaving with a helpless lady or abusing some innocent kid – just what they do best, something of no good can possibly come. And just when you think its all over for the poor, defenseless victim, arrives His Highness in his inimitable style. The camera first focuses just on the feet and gradually brings into view the magnificence that is the Superstar. A couple of punch lines later, he quickly and effortlessly goes about meting out justice and restoring order – acrobatic stunts, flying bodies flung around with little or preferably no effort and the baddies are quickly sent packing. Rajni simply smiles and breaks out into a fast-beat number, with absolutely ridiculous dance steps that only he can pull off and come away looking simply awesome. If your body was not swinging into action and almost joining the fight with Thalaivar (not that he ever needs any help), or if your feet weren’t tapping to the music that followed and the rest of gradually breaking out into the dance moves, then you have simply failed the Fan test! This time around though, there was none of that – it was simply Rajni, a scientist, sitting inside a lab and tapping some keys on his keyboard and testing out his robotic creation. How lame was that? Sadly, it was a sign of things to come – it didn’t get much better from there on for me.
The movie had none of the things you expect from a Rajni movie – for starters, absolutely no Rajni-like fight sequences in the movie. The sequence in the train where the robotic Rajni fights was a poor replacement and you can never get it out of your head that it is actually a robot that’s doing the fighting. So its almost natural that you expect the robot to not be able to lose – of course, the same can be said of Rajni in the middle of a fight as well, but the human element does make a difference. At least in my head, it does. The comic thread – its yet another big reason why I am excited to go to watch his movies, the man is incredibly funny! His sense of humor is constantly understated but is most certainly there and shows up at all the right moments. Absolutely none of that either this time, and the only reactions that the two clowns that were specifically included in the cast as comedians, Santhanam and Karunas, evoked were disgust and irritation. They were laughable, and no, I am not taking about their comic abilities. I am really talking about their lame attempts to be funny. Rahman’s music was very ordinary and the songs hardly impressive – of course, the lyrics didn’t help much either. Describing Aish’s eyes as Bermuda Triangles because you could get lost in them? Seriously? Come on! Aishwarya Rai was beautiful as ever however, and it totally helps that the lady is just grace personified. Clearly, she had no role to play in the movie other than look gorgeous and flaunt her elegance and she did that to good effect. And boy, she looks good! Totally justifying the Miss World title yet again! Interesting trivia btw, that this was a Tamil movie where both the lead stars were from Karnataka and so watching it in Bangalore somehow seemed very apt. As for the story, there was really no plot. Danny was the bad guy because, well, lets face it, every Rajni movie needs a bad guy but it was tragic that he was hardly utilized. And the under-utilization seemed the norm really – Kalabhavan Mani, Devadarshini, Santhanam and of course, Superstar himself. The one exception was Rajni as the bad guy (am I allowed to refer to a robot as a guy? Sorry, spoiler alert I guess) which brought back wonderful memories of Alex Pandian in Moondru Mugam. That role was essayed to perfection and Rajni totally does justice – because its Rajni, you are rooting for the bad side and you almost want him to come out on top. The first half was passable and I was hoping for some serious redemption in the second, and that negative role was the only saving grace. The already weak plot seemed to weaken further, and Shankar in his typical style, just doesn’t seem to know how to finish movies – the punishment just kept dragging on and despite Rajni, it took some effort to sit through the whole thing in the end. At the end of it all, I felt cheated and let-down. Thalaivar has undeniable talent and that wasn’t put to nearly as much use as it could have been, and I hold Director Shankar squarely responsible. This was hardly a Rajni movie! There was a lot of raves about the special effects and how awesome they were and I am sure it took a lot of effort to put this thing together, but to the frustrated eye, the whole thing looked pretty ordinary. One thing however deserves special mention. The man hardly looked his age and was decked in outfits that would be deemed ridiculous for someone even 20 years younger, but he totally pulled it off and carried himself incredibly well against a heroine that was 25 years younger, like only he can! Yeah, I am sure the make-up artistes did a fabulous job etc but I am not talking just about the looks – the body language, the comfort and the confidence, the charisma, just the entire package that’s Thalaivar and that was awesome to watch. Watch out people, he’s not done just yet!
Of course, I think we have all now learned that with movies, the satisfaction really comes down to expectations. And with all the hype surrounding this movie prior to its release, maybe the expectations were on the high side – after all, a Rajnikanth movie is not any other, you know. This was the first time however that I saw a fairly broad spectrum of ratings for the movie, especially from folks whose opinions and judgment I consider reasonable. Some of them absolutely loved it and called it a must-watch. I am not going to question that call or wonder why it was different, except concluding that they were looking for things different from what I was (i.e. they did not come to watch a Thalaivar padam) and they were happy to find what they did, and that their expectations were possibly much lower than my own. Personally, this is one I wouldn’t have minded skipping if I go strictly on the merit of the movie and forget the Superstar factor. In any case, its all over and done with now and I can only wish that it had turned out differently.
141 and counting – one more year goes by, and the memories continue to fade a little more. The shy, peace-loving barrister that was the architect of India’s independence, now hardly finds mention except in history books, and except on this day, his birthday. Officially, he is still the Father of the nation, a nation that is now a billion-plus people – a fact that even Gandhiji, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t probably anticipate. For if he had, I doubt he’d have invested as much energy as he did on winning our Independence from the British. Surely he’d have known that they’d have left on their own accord by now?
But I digress…the fact remains that Gandhiji was probably the single-biggest influence in shaping our nation’s independent future, back when we were an oppressed colony, an integral part of the Empire on whom the Sun never sets. And he did that in a totally unconventional, radical yet peaceful fashion that he has become the epitome of non-violence the world over. And how do we pay our tributes to this great soul? Well, for one, we give ourselves a holiday..and the kids even get candy. Back in the day, it used to be the sour, orange-colored ball-shaped ones – it was the same every year, and what correlation it had to Gandhi and why that candy was picked, I will never understand. But, truth be told, its not all about just fun and candy. We do make some big sacrifices to celebrate this day, however. Its a dry day for one, so you will absolutely not be able to drink to the Mahatma, no Sir! (Unless of course you are the kind that plans ahead and stocks up the bar for the special occasion). And no meat either! That should count for something?
And oh yeah, the Gandhi statue that stands innocently by the street corner, serving more as a landmark for driving directions than anything else, gets its customary annual ritual. A sculpture that was erected to honor the man spends most of the year as the favorite resting and relieving point for the birds passing through the neighborhood. This one day, the structure bears a true resemblance to what it was meant to be. Washed, decorated and even garlanded by the local politician, its appearance today could almost lull one into thinking we actually care! Then there is the tradition that our friends in the Television world have so religiously adopted. At least a couple of channels will show Gandhi, the movie…and I am glad they do, for I will shamelessly admit that this movie was my biggest source of information on the man’s life. Yes, there was ample coverage in the history books, but all of those lessons largely centered around the Independence struggle and his role in shaping it. There was the odd anecdote or two that I remember reading here and there, but otherwise, what I learned about his life was largely thanks to Ben Kingsley and Richard Attenborough. Lately however, even that seems to be a thing of the past – the real Gandhi has been replaced by a more current practitioner of his philosophy, who goes by the name of Munnabhai and is supposedly better at demonstrating the principles of Gandhigiri even better than the inventor himself. Back in school, there was at least a semblance of homage – there were activities and competitions of various kinds – debates, quizzes, essay-writing, fancy-dress, maybe some social causes that the students participated in etc. that weren’t always the most fun, but certainly helped create awareness on the Mahatma. Sadly, one of that seems to happen these days – schools seem to simply declare a holiday and close, plain and simple. So yeah, quite the celebration for a man who lived such an inspiring life and made such a big impact during his time on Planet Earth! And that begs the question – why do we even deserve a holiday on this occasion? Its not like we did something to earn it, and we definitely aren’t honoring the man like he deserves to be?
What are the odds that the next generation India will even remember the man? I want to say it couldn’t get any worse, but I am pretty sure it will. Wanna place any bets on what Gandhi Jayanthi will look like a few years from now?