Monday, June 18, 2007

On Sivaji and Rajni

I was planning to write a review on Sivaji - The Boss for some time now. (For those living under a rock all this while, that is Rajnikanth's latest movie to hit the screens). But enough has already been written about it, so I will not make this a pure review per se. I'll pepper my thoughts on the movie with my thoughts on the Rajni phenomenon in general.

So we went to Houston to watch this movie and also paid $16 for a ticket! So what elicits this kind of a response from a person who has, till now, generally been content avoiding both Hindi and Tamil movies, ever since he came stateside? A comic book lover will look forward to the next issue of Spiderman/Batman/Superman and so on, whatever be the case. Star Wars fans of the seventies may have complained about how bad The Phantom Menace was in comparison to the original trilogy, but they watch the movie anyway.

For Tamils, the Rajni factor is a diet we are brought up on. Any departure from this element of Tamil popular culture, would leave the stomach part empty - sorry for the rather poor 'staple diet' analogy - asking for the thing that would satisfy their hunger. Aw crap, that analogy was really bad, wasn't it? Let me put this in a better way. Being a Tamil, it is obligatory for us to have watched movies of the Thalaivar. The lack of logic and reasoning in this argument of mine is precisely the thing that is needed to understand the Rajnikanth lore. Everything else - the style, the fights, the punch lines - follows from that. End of story.
sivaji-movie-poster1All this makes confused's confusion seem a bit understandable and a bit naive, given where he is seeing all this from. He attempted to analyse and question the phenomenon from a logical point of view, which is the wrong premise to take. Oh yes, he is an atheist too, so understanding hero worship (or just worship in general) may seem alien to him. :) But I am not castigating him for his ignorance. He is right from where he sees it (and so are plenty others). So let me bring to light some of the elements of a Rajni movie that are lost in the stereotype that surrounds the more obvious elements like 'style' and 'punchlines'.

Rajni movies usually do have decent plots. Movies like Arunachalam, Basha and Thalapathy were actually backed by good story. Of course one may argue that Thalapathy, (which is loosely based on the Duryodhana-Karna-Arjun relationship) wasn't your typical Rajni movie. But so were some other movies in the 80's and 70's.

Rajni is a much better actor that he is made out to be When he burst on to the scene, his style and punchlines came as a breath of fresh air in Tamil cinema. Of course, at that time in Tamil cinema was also blessed with some really good directors who harnessed his talent to the full. Rajni's style was pioneering in the sense that to this day, Tamil (and Telegu) actors try to imitate him as best as they could in order to succeed. Vijay (although I don't particularly like him) has carved a niche for himself belting out punchlines in his own style, which is very much a variation of that of the Super Star himself.

And finally, Rajni, the personality, is THE focus of the movie. And why so? Because his pull is magnetic to this day. No one can command such a strong opening (no, not Amitabh Bachchan, not SRK, not Mithun and not even Chiranjeevi). Which thus justifies his exclusivity (something maybe Amitabh might have learnt), his high pay, his tailor made dialogues and script. Rajni's movie guarantees you a hit. That is some guarantee in an industry that is otherwise uncertain about movie profits.

Which brings us to Sivaji - The Boss, and why it was so un-Rajni. Let me get this out of the way though: The movie has already broken records and will be a hit anyway. But there are certain things that was not right about the movie. First of all, as Baradwaj Rangan said in his review, "All those crores… and they couldn’t buy themselves a script." And this is especially galling when the director in question is Shankar. One who is known for making well packaged movies with a decent storyline and grand sets. More like a Tamil Yash Chopra, if you will, in terms of the grandeur, with the difference that the running theme in his movies are usually ideals of a utopian society. While some of us may have thought that he was running out of ideas with his last hit Anniyan, this was where we knew for sure that he has in fact run out of steam. This movie was a mish mash of all ideas that he had in his earlier movies, and sadly Shankar has now become that sort of a director.

But there was still a lot of things that could have made this movie much better. It started off as a tribute to the Super Star as well as other stars of yesteryears. Plenty of Rajni pop-culture stereotypes were referenced with abandon. But simple things, such as the love arc, were so badly done that we just find it hard to stomach. Suspension of disbelief in these kinds of movies is one thing, but Rajni movies are not about scenes cut and pasted with no correlation whatsoever. There is a method to the madness and unrealism, and that method was what went missing, which was a pity. The 'villain' was horrible. You need an adversary who is threatening, formidable and stylish in his own right. We had Raghuvaran in Basha and Ramya Krishnan in Padayappa. But this one was a chimp.

The only satisfying parts of the movie where Shankar came into his own were the songs (and Shreya in those songs). The fight scenes and Rajnikanth's makeover in the end were good too. But Vivek's comedy, at times, was repetitive, Shreya's lip sync was pathetic and the editing at times was choppy.

With all the money that was spent on bringing the best in the industry into the movie, one might have expected something to be happy about. But as they say, "Too many hands spoil the broth". Only on this occasion, I'd have thought it might have turned out half decent.

Oh well.


  1. So that's where you were on Saturday...had never expected you to be a Rajni fan but as you say it is an essential part of being considered a Tamilian (and of course, the rich irony that Rajni is (was?) Maharashtrian) :)

    But rest of us love the fact that we can easily rile you guys up by innocently asking why do you love Rajni and his cigarette-throwing antics. Ok! now don't hate me.

  2. [Patrix]
    Technically I am a Kamal fan, but Rajni is one of those things. I know the goofy parts of Rajni movies, and love them for precisely that! Although this time round, his "Rich becomes richer, poor becomes poorer" gyaan was a little jarring to hear. :)

    Don't worry, I won't start north Indian/bollywood bashing. Have seen enough of that now, that it's become more of a circus act than anything else. :)

  3. Have always been a Kamal fan too although for his earlier movies (Sadma, Thevar Magan, etc.)

    And go right ahead with the Bollywood bashing. I just might help you with it too.

  4. Wanted to see the movie. But it's only playing in a few screens in Delhi and those are always booked full. Seems like Shankar has had to compromise a lot. Personally, I was never a big fan of Shankar. They seemed too unrealistic.

    But talking of Ranji, we all know who the real Thalaivar is... Mohanlal. No doubt about it.

  5. The very fact that you call Mohanlal Thalaivar (a Tam word) is testimony to the overwhelming nature of Tamizhness that surrounds you.

    Accept it and leave Mohanlal to your 'other good stars' category.

  6. shivaji is typical shankar movie.i went to the theatre with an expectation of how shankar movies like.i like the movie very much because of the bald rajni in the climax.he is really stunning.

  7. [nabeel]
    Nothing wrong if it had been a typical Shankar movie. It was just waay too repetitive, shorn of any imagination.

  8. [...] at least 8-10 other cars with his SUV as if they were merely cardboard models. Ram-go-pee in his review mentioned how the common refrain among reviewers had been “80 crore Rs and they [...]

  9. First of all, WHAT A BLAST!!! :-)
    I mean, the whole of Asia, Europe, Canada and America got the Sivaji Fever :)

    What a movie! It was fun, serious, grand, simply said it was PERFECT.

    Rajini Sir - YOU ROCK! I don’t care what anyone else says, you flippin’ R-O-C-K!

    Shriya Saran - Your beautiful smile just sparkles over the screen. Your dance performance was STUNNING! I was AMAZED! It was EXCELLENT! You just rock as well.

    Simply put: Sivaji = PERFECTION!

    Sivaji did to India what Titanic did!

    Shanker Sir - You are the James Cameron of India!

    A.R. Rahman - No words, just music and a WOW!

    Thotta Dharani Sir - Are you sure you aren’t Leonardo Da Vinci’s reincarnation?

    What a set, what a movie. No words!

    Lots of the people watching it said once more… Well, I’m asking for a Sivaji number 2! We want the craze NEVER to END!