Chennai: Rajinikanth's latest movie Kabali drew tens of thousands to theatres across India on Friday, with diehard fans doing the 'Lungi Dance' to the beats of dhol in Tamil Nadu, where some offices declared a holiday. Most reviewers, however, trashed the Tamil film dubbed in multiple languages.
Amid the first day frenzy most visible in Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu and even in Bengaluru, fans jostled to enter cinema halls in T-shirts and masks featuring their beloved 'Thalaivar'. Theatre owners seemed to be laughing their way to the banks.
Trade expert Taran Adarsh said the film had managed an "earth-shattering start" at the box office due to the "unprecedented craze" for a Rajinikanth starrer.
Kabali, directed by Pa Ranjith, stars the 65-year-old cinematic icon, a former bus conductor, as a don who fights for Tamils in Malaysia. The Tamil film, heavily promoted via brand tie-ups, has released across the globe and has been dubbed in Hindi, Telugu, Malay and other languages.
Such has been the craze for the 'first day first show' that Chennai-based company Fyndus India declared a holiday on Friday and gave free tickets to its employees to watch the film.
One fan landed in Mumbai from London. When IANS caught up with him, he was headed to Aurora Talkies, the owner of which described the atmosphere inside the cinema hall as "electrifying".
Nambi Rajan, owner of Aurora Talkies, one of the last surviving single screen theatres in the city, told IANS: "It's like a Rajinikanth festival here. He doesn't need a festival to get the window for release. His film comes and that (day) becomes a festival."
"All our shows are housefull till the weekend," added Rajan, who was also loving every bit of drama and dance outside his theatre. He even wanted to screen the movie at 3 a.m. but didn't get the permission.
Even the film fraternity was soaking in the Kabali fever.
Bollywood filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar watched the movie and experienced "unprecedented euphoria". And Rajinikanth's proud son-in-law and actor Dhanush tweeted: "Make way. The king arrives. Time to celebrate. First day first show. Superstar 'Neruppu Da'."
Largely, the reviews are not very positive. But it is Rajinikanth's magic that is drawing audiences. This is his first movie after two years.
The movie gripped Bengaluru as no other movie ahead of its mega release in about 80 theatres and multiplexes. It has not been dubbed in Kannada, but still tickets were sold out for all shows till Sunday within 48 hours after advance booking opened on Monday.
In Kerala, the action drama opened on 306 screens. If a trade analyst is to be believed, it's the biggest release for a Tamil film in the state -- and the opening weekend tickets are already sold out.
While the movie is doing well among the south Indian population, the response in the northern belt has also been good, pointed out Delhi-based distributor Joginder Mahajan.
"The response has been good in the north. On an average, the film has received 50 per cent occupancy," Mahajan told IANS. Kabali has got 135 screens in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and 70 screens in Punjab.
The film was released in Tamil and Hindi versions in multiplexes in Chandigarh and in Hindi in Punjab. The cinema halls were showing one or two shows of the film. One multiplex in Chandigarh had nearly 75 percent seats booked by 5 p.m. on Friday for the late evening show.
The Rajinikanth magic was even felt in Kolkata. The Calcutta South India Club booked an entire screen at the Cinepolis Acropolis Mall for a 5 p.m. show for Saturday.
“There is a craze about the film. Not only is it because it’s a Rajinikanth starrer but also because the south Indian community wants to watch it together,” Unni Krishnan Nayar, general secretary of the Club, told IANS.