Rajinikanth: Thalaiva undergoes image makeover in pursuit of box-office
Superstar Rajinikanth is going for a brand makeover. His last two releases Kochadaiyan and Lingaa, have failed at the box-office, and for the first time in many years his box-office ratings plummeted. Now the ageing superstar is attempting to make a box-office hit with a young team of filmmakers.
Rajinikanth has announced that he is making a film with director Pa.Ranjith, who is merely two films old. The young director made his directorial debut with romantic campus story Attakathi (2012), which starred newcomers, and also directed the cult classic, Madras (2014).
The upcoming untitled film will be produced by veteran Kalaipuli S Thanu of V Creations. It was Thanu, now the president of the powerful Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC), who gave the sobriquet ‘Superstar’ to Rajinikanth when he distributed his Bhairavi in late 70’s.
Meanwhile, joining the bandwagon is Pa.Ranjith’s team of new technicians who are making waves in Kollywood. For starters, there’s music director Santosh Narayan, cinematographer Murali.G and national award winning editor Praveen K.L. The first schedule of the film will begin in August in Malaysia, followed by shoots in Thailand and Chennai. Though the story line is kept under wraps, rumours have revealed that for once, Rajinikanth will play his age in the film, via the character of a senior don. The rest of the cast is yet to be announced and Rajinikanth may not even have the regular conventional heroine in the film.
The announcement of Rajinikanth’s upcoming film has created quite a stir in Tamil cinema. In the last 15 years, Rajinikanth had refused to move away from his regular set of directors and technicians. He had done seven films in 15 years with his favourite directors, such as veteran Shankar, KS Ravikumar, P Vasu and Suresh Krishna. All of them were commercial films, which exploited Rajinikanth’s larger than life image to the hilt. Six out of the seven films had music by AR Rahman, and some of the best technicians in India were involved in these project.
A veteran producer, who had produced Rajinikanth films, explains his tendency to stick with the same team, “ Rajini sir always first looks at his comfort level with the director, whether they would be able to deliver his larger than life image packaged to suit the mass taste. He is one actor who would not rush back to his caravan after every shot; instead he would sit with the director and technicians discussing the next shot. Some of his most famous dialogues were written on the sets, by his team of dialogue writers. His bonding with the technical crew, some of them who worked with him for years, helped him to sustain his powerful screen image.”
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However as commercial cinema changes with new restless audiences, Rajinikanth has failed to gauge their mood, and it has resulted in the failure of his last release Lingaa. The five songs, five fights, double role routine left the young audiences cold, all the while younger popular actors like Vijay, Ajith and Suriya started registering huge numbers at the box-office.
Rajinikanth understands how commercial cinema works, and proof of that is his films consistently making money at the box office. He has always made sure that the entire film pipeline from the parking lot contractor, canteen operators, theatres, distributors and producers made money. When his Baba (2002) failed, he compensated the trade and nobody complained. But he ran into trouble with Lingaa’s failure, as the film was sold at an unreasonable price by its producers to a new set of first time distributors. They declared the film a flop on its third day and posted interviews on You Tube, asking Rajinikanth for compensation.
His upcoming film, however, is a big gamble, as he’s due to working with a new team. It does seem to be the best option for the superstar to reinvent his image. Ranjith and his team are in the 25 -35 age group and they understand the pulse of today’s youth audiences. Ranjith’s engaging screenplay, deft narration, well fleshed out characters and actors made the film gutsy and yet within the new commercial cinema format. Ranjith and his team caught the eye of Rajinikanth’s daughter and filmmaker Soundarya Rajinikanth. But when Soundarya came to know that Ranjith had “the perfect script” for a new Rajinikanth film, she facilitated a meeting between the young director and her dad. Apparently, the star was blown away by the script.
Meanwhile, Ranjith and his team are walking the extra mile to give an all new image to Rajinikanth. The film has to work at the box-office to give a new lease of life to the 64-year old superstar’s career.