There's a been a peculiar trend doing the rounds ever since superstar Rajinikanth's much awaited Kabali released on 22 July. Most vocal Rajinikanth fans (the ones who pre-book tickets months in advance and catch the 4 am first day first show) have not liked the film, whereas those who are new to his particular brand of acting, have found the film to be fun and entertaining.
This could be a generalisation, but even well-informed critics have agreed on one thing. Kabali is not the typically formulaic Rajinikanth film. It may work for some, but staunch fans may find his restrained demeanor and aged look in the film to be alienating.
And so, to hit two birds with one stone, we present to you a list of some of the most famous, most revered Rajinikanth films that made him Thalaivar, as we know him to be. For those who are new to the Thailaivar phenomenon, here's a crash course; and for those who missed out on it in Kabali, here's a trip down memory lane:
The setting for this 90s Rajinikanth film was tailor made to attract wider appreciation. Set in a village, Padayappa is a typical idyllic, yet entertaining film, with its moral compass in place, Rajinikanth in full form and a swag-punched soundtrack as a bonus. A family drama, Padayappa routinely sees Rajinikanth's character being the bigger man (quite literally), and sacrifice many sacrifices because it certainly is all about loving your family.
Padayappa's songs, such as the supremely popular Minsara Kana and Vetri Kodi Kattu (both of which also went on to become future film titles), is largely credited as being the biggest reason for the film's success. However, we personally think it's the iconic swing scene:
Punchline: En vazhi, thani vazhi (My way is my own)
If you've been following the frenzy around Kabali of late, the news of him being a cult figure in Japan would not come as a surprise to you. A Japanese fan of Thalaivar even visited Chennai this time to catch Kabali's premiere. The reason for Rajinkanth's craze reaching Japan is a 1995 film called Muthu.
Set against a feudal backdrop, Muthu follows Rajinikanth's character (called Muthu, obviously) as he steers through the pitfalls of the zamindar-worker relationship, and (again obviously) his love for the master's daughter. Much like Kabali, this film touches upon crucial social issues of class and caste, with the ending of the film making a strong statement. But Muthu also has all the ingredients of a hit entertainer.
The film was one of the highest grossing Tamil films ever, with a 175-days theatrical run. It was then released in Japan in 1998, where it made over 200 million at the domestic box office.
Punchline: Naan eppo varuven, epdi varuvennu yarkum theriyathu. Aana vara vendiya nerathile vandidven (Nobody knows when or how I will come, but I will come when the time is right)
A superstar's longlasting stardom is very dependent on what he/she does once he/she has become a superstar.
By the time Sivaji had released in 2007, people were already pouring milk over 10-floors tall posters of Rajinikanth. With a plot that shows how a rich NRI businessman comes to India to give back to his country, Sivaji catapulted Rajinikanth's raging success among subsequent generations.
The story of Sivaji is that of a typical do-gooder who fights to corrupt system. Rajinkanth films follow familiar tropes, mostly characterised into black and white, but his charm, swag, demeanour (what have you) is what trumps it all. Take this sequence for example:
Punchline: Pera kettaale chumma adhirudhulla (Doesn’t everything quake at the mere mention of my name?)
Everything kitschy and cult-like that we associate with Rajinikanth films finds its place in his highly successful 1995 film Baashha. The hand flexing, the cigarette smoking, the heavy bass dialogues: it's all there. If there was a film that we could point to that made Rajinikanth a mass success, it would be Baashha.
In it, Rajinikanth plays an auto driver who is forced to explore his gangster past when his sister is attacked by ruffians. Not too many people know that a scene that didn't make the final script of Amitabh Bachchan starrer Hum (1991), in which Rajinikanth also has a role, became the foundation of Baashha.
This scene, known to be one of the most intense pre-interval scenes in the history of Tamil cinema, defines Rajinikanth's entry:
Punchline: Naan oru thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna maadiri (If I say something even once, it’s as though I’ve said it a hundred times)
Directed by Mani Ratnam, Thalapathi boasts of a star cast including Mammooty, Shobana and Amrish Puri; music by Ilaiyaraaja, and strong Hindu mythological themes. Needless to say, with all of these elements, Thalapathi was a raging success, but it was also appreciated by critics.
The core of the film revolves around life-defining friendship between Rajinikanth and Mammooty's characters. The film was considered to be quite ahead of its time, also marking a more realistic portrayal of Rajinikanth's character, something that was seen more frequently in films like 16 Vayadhinile before his stylistic elements became popular.
Punchline: Natpu na enna theriyuma, Nanban na enna theriyuma? (Do you know the real meaning of friendship?)