It’s hard to imagine a time when the title ‘Superstar’ wasn’t associated with Rajinikanth. In fact, he wasn’t even Rajinikanth when he flung open the doors to enter Tamil cinema with K Balachander’s classic Aboorva Raagangal. In the film, he was credited as arimugam ‘Rajanikanth’. You read that right, it wasn’t even Ra-ji-nikanth then.
Moondru Mudichu was his second Tamil film. The actor had already been promoted to a solo credit, with the now ‘corrected’ spelling– Rajinikanth. However, the correction didn’t last too long…his name went back to Rajanikanth in Avargal (top) before it was fixed again in Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri (bottom left).
In 16 Vayathinile, Bharathiraja introduced the much-in-demand villain in the opening credits, not with his name but as his iconic village ruffian Parattai. Bharathiraja probably went “Idhu Eppudi Irukku?”.
M Bhaskar’s 1978 movie –Bairavi, was the film that christened the actor as the ‘Superstar’ during its intensive marketing campaign. Kalaipuli S Thanu, its distributor, put up a giant cut-out of ‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth in front of the now-defunct Plaza Theatre. But the ‘Superstar’ stuck only to the posters, for in Bairavi, Rajinikanth got only a shared credit while he had solo credits in the films which preceded and succeeded it – Mangudi Minor (top left) and Ilamai Oonjaladugiradhu (bottom left).
The title ‘Superstar’ didn’t transition from the posters to his films’ opening credits in the two years that followed, during which many of his most memorable films released – J. Mahendran’s Mullum Malarum, C Rudhraiya’s Aval Appadithan (though it was even devoid of text),
SP Muthuraman’s adaption of Sujatha’s novel Priya,
K. Balachander’s Ninaithale Inikkum (again no text),
and of course, Billa by R. Krishnamurthy.
In 1980, Puratchidasan’s Naan Potta Savaal became the first film to ‘revolutionise’ the revered label of ‘Superstar’, followed by an ellipsis, perhaps to indicate a continuance of the tradition. The title flashes in different colours as the Superstar walks towards the camera (i.e. audience) as flowers shower down upon him.
The actor also had his share of interesting opening credits with the likes of J. Mahendran’s 1980 drama Johnny where he plays a dual role and hence, is credited as “Rajinikanth and Rajinikanth”.
This continued with K. Natraj’s Anbulla Rajinikanth in which he plays himself and thus the film’s title doubled as his opening credit.
Rajinikanth, on the cusp of superstardom, delivered back-to-back hits in this period with Murattu Kaalai (right) by SP Muthuraman, K Balachander’s Thillu Mullu (top left) and Polladhavan by Muktha Srinivasan.
Before we knew it, it was his 100th film – Sri Raghavendra.
This was also the time when he acted in his first and only English film, Bloostone, where he was credited as Rajni Kanth (Kanth as a last name, really?).
But the ‘Superstar’ was back and for good this time with films like Mappillai by Rajashekhar and P Vasu’s Panakkaran.
The only exceptions to this rule were Thalapathi by Mani Ratnam and Rajini’s debut as a playback singer – Mannan by P Vasu.
And that’s when the iconic animated credits began to roll, transforming into what has now become the signal for fans to break out into a frenzy, which for some is a spiritual experience. Blue dots forming the name “Super Star”, followed by R-A-J-N-I in gold, to the sound of laser beams from Star Wars has been a staple since Suresh Krissna’s 1992 film Annamalai. The 20-second animation, tuned to the movie’s theme song composed by Deva, with people cheering the now-classic “Hey! Hey!”, playing in the background, has become as legendary as the man himself.
This reappeared, again in Veera (1994) and Baashha (1995), both directed by Suresh Krissna. Muthu, though directed by KS Ravikumar with music composed by AR Rahman, chose to retain the same opening animation from Annamalai, including the theme.
This continued through films like Arunachalam, Padayappa and Baba, establishing itself as the constant to any Rajini film until Chandramukhi (2005) directed by P Vasu. The film gave a new refined look to the blue dots and golden letters, but cautiously retained the music from Annamalai.
But it all changed with Sivaji directed by S Shankar. The film released in 2007 with a new next-gen stylised opening card with a glorious new theme by AR Rahman. This theme too, cleverly retained the cheering in the background.
In an attempt to top Sivaji, new titles were introduced in each of the films that followed. Like how P. Vasu’s Kuselan, retained the theme from his own film Chandramukhi.
Shankar, however, stepped up the game and brought back AR Rahman who used the film’s core theme for Enthiran‘s opening credit.
2.0 wasn’t the first film to have a 3D credit for Rajni. His daughter Soundarya’s Kochadaiiyaan was, which opened to AR Rahman’s ‘Engae Pogudho Vaanam’.
It was AR Rahman’s theme again in Lingaa but suspiciously the composer went back to the tune from Sivaji, indicating a lack of newness in the following movie perhaps?
Ranjith, however, hit the home run by going old school when he used the original Annamalai animation even though he chose to replace the track with that of Kabali‘s. He continued the same for his next film Kaala as well though it was Kabali‘s siren bit that was used.
Of course, the bar has now been raised with Shankar’s 2.0 with the joy of seeing the name in spectacular 3D. With a month to go for Petta, all eyes are on Karthik Subbaraj and Anirudh to see where they take this tradition which has come to define Tamil cinema and the love people have for its stars.