The Cinemark movie theatre in Fairfax, Virginia, held a special screening of Kabali this week, the Tamil gangster movie that has swept India and the world alike. Those in attendance got a gift before the movie began, as superstar Rajinikanth dressed in a brown formal shirt strode into the theatre with his daughter Aishwaryaa R Dhanush. At one point, a young girl shared her popcorn with the megastar.
This is the latest example of a new trend of celebrity sneak-ins. Tom Cruise stunned Chicago moviegoers by showing-up at an advanced screening of Edge of Tomorrow. Brad Pitt is also known to surprise his fans during opening weekend showings.
According to film distribution company, CineGalaxy Inc., Rajinikanth’s daughter Aishwaryaa orchestrated the surprise for movie goers in Fairfax by bringing her father to the special screening. Inside the Cinemark theatre, one of the city's oldest, fans rose to their feet on Wednesday afternoon as they spotted Rajinikanth.
"The film goers were first quite stunned and then rose to their feet at the sight of their hero, giving him a prolonged standing ovation," Sanjay Dusari, of CineGalaxy Inc, told Firstpost.
"My business partner Madhu and I flew from Dallas to Virginia to watch the special screening with Mr Superstar. He was warm, down-to-earth and delighted by the American enthusiasm for his new movie."
Kabali released in more than 12,000 screens across India, as well as in the United Kingdom and Malaysia, which has a sizeable Tamil-speaking population. It also premiered in 450 screens in the US and Canada on Thursday. The Hindi version of Kabali will released in the US in a week.
“Kabali has created an opening day record at the box office for an Indian movie by collecting $2.7 million. As the North America distributor for the film we recovered our costs on the first day. We are looking at a decent weekend take as the film enjoys positive word-of-mouth publicity from Rajinikanth enthusiasts,” said Sanjay.
There’s no simple logic to explain how and why Rajinikanth, 65, has become the superstar of superstars. But his impoverished background certainly resonates with movie goers and fuels his indomitable image as the man of the masses. Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, he began acting in plays while working in the Bangalore Transport Service as a bus conductor.
"People feel an empathetic connection with Rajinikanth and the fact that he has made it so big. There's an aspirational connect that people make with him," said Indian student Anjali Viswanathan who is studying in Fairfax city.
“I got goose bumps when I saw Rajinikanth walk into the theatre. It was mind blowing,” she added.
According to leading film critic Sbhash K Jha, Rajinikanth's presence in long-awaited Kabali is like the Second Coming. "He is no less than God for his fans. And since his last two films under-performed the Rajni-devotees are determined to see this one swish past all sceptical readings of a career that scoffs at all attempts a rational understanding," wrote Jha.
“There is no monster manoeuvre to grab attention here. Kabali is Rajnikanth's most thoughtful and sensible work in a long time. For those who came away from his last two films feeling cheated and betrayed, Kabali is ample compensation, and then some more,” added Jha.
Generally positive reviews and good word-of-mouth have ensured US ticket sales of Kabali and Rajinikanth merchandise. T-shirts and jackets sporting the superhero's face and his trademark dark glasses are big fan favourites.