Magizhchi in Mumbai: How Rajinikanth helped a fan find a brief sense of community while adrift in a new city
It’s weird watching a Rajinikanth film that isn’t houseful. But here we were. The lights dimmed and the Superstar credit appeared. And I was lost, sucked into a time-space continuum where geography and linear time were meaningless. I was home. Finally.
Mumbai never worked for me. When I voiced my discomfort with the city, I would be met with weird looks.
It was around this time that the trailer of Kabali released ... My days were now a countdown to the movie. Some days would seem to go by faster, some days slower.
The problem was I did not have anyone to share this moment with, in office. There were no Tamilians there.
I landed on the shores of Mumbai at the end of 2015. I was a wide-eyed Tamilian boy from Bengaluru; this was my first foray from home. I had hoped to become the next Vardabhai in my chosen field (well, a legally above board version of Vardabhai), but fate had other plans.
Mumbai never worked for me. When I voiced my discomfort with the city, I’d be met with weird looks. “If you can’t make it in Bombay, you can’t make it anywhere,” I was told. I was made to feel as though something was wrong with me; that I was a weak, mamma’s body; guilty. I tried to make it click, to imbibe the famed Mumbai spirit or whatever it was. But as I put more effort into trying to love the city, my work suffered.
It was a time of existential ennui; I was living in a constant flux of belonging and un-belonging. The crests and troughs of my happiness coordinated peculiarly with the high and low tides of the Mumbai sea. It wasn’t the language, the people or the weather even. Somehow I didn’t fit into the cogs of the city’s machinery. I felt as though I were in the movie Lost in Translation, except I wasn’t funny, Suntory was Shankari’s Signature whisky and Scarlett clearly wasn’t to be found in Amboli.
It was around this time that the trailer of Kabali released. As Rajinikanth himself had said in a previous movie: “Naan eppo varuven, epdi varuvennu yarukkum theriyathu. Aana vara vendiya nerathula correcta vandhuduven (No one can tell when or how I'll arrive, but when the time is right, I will be there).” He was here. And my soul felt lighter. My days were now a countdown to the movie. Some days would seem to go by faster, some days slower. But the teasers, songs kept me going. The problem was I didn’t have anyone to share this moment with, in office. There were no Tamilians there.
And then one day, I spotted a boy from Ambernath watching the trailer again and again on his cellphone. Like a coy lover, I approached him silently and smiled. He looked back at me and smiled. There was a spark and slowly we started talking about Rajini, our Thalaivar. (Or as he fondly called him, ‘Thalaiva’.) Soon, a boy from Matunga joined the conversations. In all my self-pitying, I had forgotten that even if you don’t find a Tamilian, you will still find a Rajinikath fan somehow.
Soon our morning greetings were replaced by “Neruppu Da”. We’d hail each other in passing with “Magizchi!”. When one of us did something as trivial as nailing a paper toss in the bin, “Kabali da” went the chorus. We had the sense of a tiny new community taking shape, with a new language, new words to express old ideas, a new way to find a connection amidst the loneliness. I knew it was a temporary commune of course, an emotional gypsy clan that would last until the first day, first show. But it was worth it.
The fever spread at the office. Sporadically at first, with mild symptoms of a full blown outbreak. A few outliers still remained. And then it became endemic. Meetings were pushed, calls were made, favours were asked, strings were pulled, and soon the entire office had tickets for the “4.30 am show”. Most were surprised at the time and even enquired twice to check if the timings were right. People were assured that it was accurate. Their confused expressions turning to absolute glee made all the “Appadi Podu” and lungi dance jokes worth it. It was the happiest I had been in ages. They could take the boy out of Tamil Nadu, but here Tamil Nadu was coming to him, in true Rajini style.
It was a dreary rainy morning in Mumbai, but people had lined up outside the theatre at 4 am. It felt funereal, and I was reminded of the time when another Rajinikanth movie had released in Bengaluru amid some tensions over the Cauvery water issue: About a hundred cops were on hand to prevent any scuffles; a man was arrested for trying to light camphor on his hands as a tribute to Thalaivar. He was released right before the opening titles played. And the police were amongst us, riot gear forgotten and heaped on the side. Maybe this was my problem I thought, looking for home while I was supposed to be making a new place my home.
We were ushered in and soon took our places. The theatre felt empty, even though there were about a hundred of us. It’s weird watching a Rajini film that isn’t houseful. But here we were. A popular Hindi movie reviewer who calls himself a critic was amongst us. The lights dimmed and the “Superstar” credit appeared. And I was lost, sucked into a time-space continuum where geography and linear time were meaningless. I was home. Finally.
The film was about Tamilians and their struggle to establish their sense of identity in a foreign land. Coincidence, or me looking for patterns when none existed? All I realised was that the struggles are constant, only the context keeps changing.
The lights came back on. The feeling ended as quickly as it had come. Status quo was restored. Time marched on again, geography was extremely relevant now. There were no post-film analysis, no recaps, no reminiscing over the moments we had just enjoyed. It was over. And suddenly the community had dispersed. The tents were gone, the fireplaces filled with smoking charcoal, footprints moving towards the exit, It was over. The Magnetic Rajini Fields were over.
All that was left of the community was the review written by the reviewer. Like fondly holding on to a used boarding pass after a vacation, I waited for a while before I read the piece. The review carried two stars and no thumbs up. The interpretation of the film was completely off. There wasn’t even a mention of its Ambedkarite philosophies or even a whisper of the word Dalit in it. In spite of the subtitles, clearly the reviewer had missed the relevant points. I didn’t blame him though, because it was all lost in translation. And I knew how that felt, because I lived it.
Somehow, Rajini has been a beacon of light in dark tunnels, not just for me but to all his fans. Every fan has a story about when a Rajini movie or a song or even a photo has made their dreary existences better. And that is the power of Superstar. The power to bring happiness. And the fact that you’ll find a fellow Rajini fan no matter which part of the world you’re in.
Thank you my Thalaivar, and happy birthday to you. I shall meet you on Pongal 2020. Until then, chumma kizhi.