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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.
Its Oct 1, 2010…and if you have any strands in your DNA that remotely connect you to the Chennai area, you’d immediately recognize that today is the worldwide launch of Endhiran, Superstar Rajnikanth’s latest and possibly grandest attempt to date at making history. And the expression “First Day First Show” has been synonymous, for most of us growing up over the years watching Thalaivar perform his magic like only he can, with a release of his latest movie. Today, several years later, was no different – there it was, like clockwork at 7am, a dear friend text-ed me to say she was headed to the First Day, First show and how excited she was about it. Of course I was jealous…but that also brought back some awesome memories.
Going and watching a Rajni movie on the first day, and especially the first show, is an experience in itself. And funnily enough, it is hardly about the movie itself. Instead, it is about the adulation, the hero-worship, the devotion and the love that is showered on the phenom that’s Rajnikanth. Getting in as a fan is obviously a privilege, a sacred honor, and an opportunity that is not going to come easy. In fact, for a lot of us growing up, it was a lofty goal in life, an aspiration, to someday make it in life to be able to command a First Day First Show invitation to such an event. So, when that day did come, I finally felt like I had arrived. I lost count of the number of times we tried to fight our way into one of those gala events back in those days – taking the money route was just out of the question. Not only was it simply unaffordable back in the student days, there was no guarantee that money would actually get you in. We tried going the influential way, only to quickly realize anyone that we had considered an important personality was a nobody in Thalaivar’s universe. Muthu and Jeba, the friendly custodians at the cycle stand in the theatre complex, who we could always count on to get us in on any other day, would plead complete helplessness on this special day. We put ourself through wretched insults, just abject humiliation, all in the hope of getting that all-powerful ticket, but to no avail…until the glorious Padayappa came to life, this was a mission where I had nothing but complete failure to show for. And somehow, when the title song for Padayappa started playing, it all seemed so apt. I felt like I had finally arrived. One minor detail – I went to the launch at a local theater in Wisconsin, far far away from Albert theater, which is where you really want to be. Even if it was on foreign soil, it felt like an accomplishment worth recognizing. And the desi fans of the Superstar in Wisconsin didn’t disappoint – they put on one terrific show to make it a true celebration. The arathi/puja to kick things off, the deafening whistles when the screen credits for the Superstar in his typical style come on, the shower of dollar bills for the first fight sequence, joining Thalaivar with some nifty dance steps of their own, on stage right in front of the screen, and of course, one can’t forget the thundering applause for the classic “punch” lines – just a complete celebration of the occasion in all its glory. Simply unforgettable!
So what am I doing about Endhiran? Well, I guess I’ve fallen back in the rat race, so I couldn’t qualify for a First Day First Show pass this time around – and had to therefore be content with a Second Day Second Show ticket, so will have to make do with that. I hope His Highness does at least one more movie before he rides off into the sunset, just so I can climb back into that First Day First Show status if not anything else. Call me an optimist, but something tells me I have good reason to hope for another shot at redemption 🙂