Rajinikanth has made an illustrious career out of gangster flicks; will Kaala prove to be lucky too?

Raja Sekar

Jun,09 2018 13:14:09 IST

Debuted as an antagonist in the Tamil film industry, donning the grey-shaded characters comes quite natural to superstar Rajinikanth. In his recently released film Kaala, the 67-year-old actor plays a gangster in Mumbai who safeguards the lands of innocent Tamil people from a powerful politician (Nana Patekar). For any hero, playing cops and gangsters would double the heroism because masses have an instant liking for these two roles. If we look at the filmography of Rajinikanth, it is the gangster flicks which helped him to climb up the success ladder.

Rajinikanth in a still from Kaala. YouTube

Rajinikanth in a still from Kaala. YouTube

When Rajinikanth forayed into the film industry, Kamal Haasan was a big star. From 1975 to 1980, most of the films of Rajinikanth were romantic dramas. Billa (1980), the remake of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Don, was the biggest turning point in Rajinikanth’s career. In the film, Rajinikanth played a dual role — the most wanted gangster Billa, and a street dancer Rajappa who infiltrates into the smuggling gang to help the cops. Youngsters of '80s enjoyed the stylish gangster Billa while kids were attracted by the comical act of Rajappa, the film was a huge hit in Rajinikanth’s career.

In '80s, Rajinikanth remade a lot of Hindi films starring Amitabh Bachchan and positioned himself as the Angry Young Man of Tamil cinema. Following the massive success of Billa, Rajinikanth remade Amitabh-starrer Deewar as Thee. Balaji’s Suresh Productions was instrumental in buying the Tamil remake rights of hit Amitabh films and roped in Rajinikanth to play Big B’s role.

In Thee (1981), Rajinikanth played Raja, the king of the underworld who had to fight a battle with his own upright cop brother Ravi (Suman). Critics saw Thee as an extension of Billa, the film was a huge hit. If films like Thee and Billa, helped Rajinikanth to become a leading mass hero in Tamil cinema, Mani Ratnam brought back ‘actor’ Rajinikanth in Thalapathi (1991).

Thalapathi (1992) was loosely based on the friendship between Karna (Rajinikanth as Surya) and Duryodhana(Mammootty as Deva) and their battle with the former’s brother Arjuna (Arvind Swamy as Arjun) in Mahabharat.

Thalapathi was also the second gangster film of Mani Ratnam after his cult classic Nayakan, starring Haasan, so there were huge expectations from the Rajinikanth-starrer. Despite comparisons, Thalapathi earned a special place in the hearts of Tamil film audiences that even now, the film gains a high TRP in TV channels. Unlike Billa and Thee, Rajinikanth delivered a subtle performance in Thalapathi which is considered as one of his best in his career.

If BillaThee, and Thalapathi helped Rajinikanth to elevate his stardom in Tamil cinema, Baashah (1995) widened the competition between Rajinikanth and Haasan. After the gargantuan success of Baashah, he was crowned as the undisputed king of the box office. An interesting fact is Baashah was also loosely based on Amitabh Bachchan’s blockbuster Hum (1991) in which Rajinikanth played Big B’s brother.

In Baashah, Rajinikanth played an innocent auto driver Manikam who hates any form of violence. Manikam, who used to be the most wanted underworld kingpin of Mumbai, hides his identity to fulfill his dad's dream in Baashah. The transformation episode of Manikam to Baashah was later rehashed in a lot of Tamil films including Ajith-starrer Vedalam and Vijay-starrer Theri. Baashah is actually considered as the textbook for mass action films in Tamil cinema.

After Baashah, Rajinikanth stopped accepting gangster films. He recently recalled at the audio launch of Kaala, “I stopped accepting gangster films because there can be only one Baashah”. But call it a coincidence or a calculated move, when the actor faced back to back failures like Kochadaiiyaan and LingaaKabali (the actor played an ageing don in Malaysia) helped him to retain his stardom in the industry.

Though Kabali was not a big hit like Endhiran (2010), the film managed to collect more than Rs 280 crore at the worldwide box office. In Kabali, Rajinikanth played an aged gangster who gets released from prison to find out his lost family which includes his wife Kumudhavali (played by Radhika Apte) and daughter (Dhanshikaa). Fans of Rajinikanth were slightly disappointed with Kabali as the film did not have enough mass moments and the villains were so fragile they could not withstand the majestic screen presence of Rajinikanth.

But in Kaala, director Pa Ranjith has smartly roped in Nana Patekar as Rajinikanth’s villain in the film. The confrontation scenes between Rajinikanth and Patekar have been getting a raving response from critics and general audience alike. Though Rajini plays the Dharavi head, he was not shown as someone who smuggles illegal stuff. He has been portrayed as the brave warrior who saves the lives of thousands of people in Dharavi. Though the film has recorded only an average start at the box office, critics, fans and general audiences are in love with this ‘actor’ Rajini once again brought to the fore, after Kabali and Thalapathi.

(Also read — Kaala editor Sreekar Prasad on Rajinikanth-starrer: Pa Ranjith film is both a star vehicle and director's statement)

Updated Date: Jun 09, 2018 16:13 PM