“Vayasanalum un style'um azhagum unna vittu pogave illa,” Ramya Krishnan (who played Neelambari) says to Rajinikanth in Padaiyappa (1999), in which he played the titular character. This dialogue stands relevant even 24 years later; a pop cultural statement that defines the superstar’s evergreen charisma. As much the dialogue belongs to the actor, do you know what else it best describes? The quality and Kollywood’s craze for his film titles. Like Rajinikanth, his powerful film titles also have a lasting impact on the viewers, that even after decades of their release, directors still choose to reuse the title for their films.
Sivakarthikeyan’s Maaveeran, which is slated to hit the screens on Friday, is a satirical action film which sees a young man accidentally lock horns with powerful politicians. This Madonne Ashwin directorial has reused the title of Rajinikanth’s 1986 action film. But besides the title, the two films have nothing in common. While the Rajinikanth starrer, a remake of the Hindi film Mard (1985), was set in the pre-independence era, Sivakarthikeyan’s entertainer is a modern story about a cartoonist. But this is not the first time a Rajinikanth film title has been repurposed.
The Kollywood Trend
In fact, even titles of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan films have been used twice. For instance, the name of Kamal Haasan’s famous comedy Sathi Leelavathi (1995) was borrowed from MGR’s debut film in 1936. Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam (2013, 2018) film series has the title origin from Sivaji Ganesan’s crime drama that was released in 1980. Like Maaveeran, this film also doesn’t have any connection except the title and the action genre.
While the titles of Ganesan’s many wonders in the 80s including Amara Kaaviiyam, Padikkadavan and Viduthalai (the last two films also feature Rajinikanth) have been repurposed, MGR’s film titles stand only second to his songs and dialogues. For instance, Vijay’s famous Vettaikkaaran is an inspired title from MGR’s action drama in 1964, in which he actually plays a hunter. Selvaraghavan’s Aayirathil Oruvan (2010) also used the title of an MGR film (1964) 46 years later, and featured the remix version of the popular number ‘Atho Antha Paravai Pola’ from that film. The trend of seeking inspiration from most of MGR’s songs is quite prominent in director Gautham Vasudev Menon’s films. This includes Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu (2006), his action drama with Kamal Haasan, Pachaikili Muthucharam (2007), Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (2016) and others.
Another common practice is repurposing MGR film titles with a touch of wordplay. For instance, his dual-role hit film Netru Indru Naalai (1974) paved the way for the time-travel comedy titled Indru Netru Naalai (2015). Similarly, Sivakarthikeyan’s Namma Veetu Pillai (2019) is a spin-off of MGR’s Enga Veetu Pillai (1965). Kamal Haasan, who might’ve kickstarted this trend with his Sathi Leelavathi has his share of titles that have been repurposed — Naan Avan Illai, Pattam Poochi, Manmadha Leelai, Satyam, Tik Tik Tik, etc. Sivakarthikeyan has also reused the title of Haasan’s famous action drama Kaaki Sattai (1985).
The Rajinikanth Phenomenon
From his film Thalapathi (1991) being an inspiration to Vijay’s moniker Ilaiya Thalapathy and Thalapathy to his voice and image being used by several organisations so much that he even had to issue notices against unauthorised uses, the actor and his style statements have always remained the face of Tamil pop culture. Perhaps that is also why over 25 film titles of Rajinikanth (arguably the most reused film titles among Kollywood stars) have been reused in Tamil cinema, a few by notable actors like Dhanush, Sivakarthikeyan, Karthi, Vijay Antony, Vijay Sethupathi and others.
Dhanush, Sivakarthikeyan and Vijay Sethupathi
Sivakarthikeyan has always been vocal about his fondness for Rajinikanth. And Maaveeran is not the first time he is borrowing a Rajinikanth film title. His 2017 action film Velaikkaran shared its title with Rajinikanth’s 1987 action comedy. In both of these films, the central plot revolves around a young man who is in search of a new job and the consequences he faces.
Like Sivakarthikeyan, Dhanush has also frequently made headlines for using Rajinikanth’s film titles. His filmography includes four such films — Polladhavan (2007), Padikathavan (2009), Mappillai (2011) and Thangamagan (2015). Among these, Mappillai is an exception because the Dhanush starrer is a remake of the 1989 film, which was in fact a remake of the Telugu film Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu (1989). Both of these films are about a son-in-law and how he tries to make his greedy mother-in-law understand that affection and family bring more happiness than money could. While the former is said to have run for 200+ days, the latter received mixed reviews and was a decent hit at the box office.
Karthi got the title of Rajinikanth’s 1984 action film Naan Mahaan Alla for his film with Suseenthiran in 2010. The title, which means “I am no saint”, fits both these films where the characters resort to fights and illegal means to seek revenge. Later in 2015, Suseenthiran repurposed another Rajinikanth title for Paayum Puli, featuring Vishal. Like the previous film discussed, if the characters from these parallel worlds of Paayum Puli ever meet, they might become partners in crime who join hands to seek justice. In 2014, Vishal had also used the title of Rajinikanth’s Naan Sigappu Manithan (1985) for his psychological action thriller co-starring Lakshmi Menon.
Dharmadurai, a 1991 film starring Rajinikanth and Vijay Sethupathi's 2016 slice-of-life drama, are about a young man who is betrayed by his greedy brothers. While the earlier version sees Dharmadurai fight and go to jail for his brothers, the 2016 film features the struggles of a doctor. Although they both have a lot in common, the Rajinikanth starrer is a crime drama while the Vijay Sethupathi film focuses on self-discovery.
A slew of other such films in this list includes Jiiva’s Pokkiri Raja (2014), Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Manithan, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Ninaithaale Inikkum (2009), Trisha’s yet-to-be-released Garjanai, Vijay Antony’s Kaali, Sundar C’s Thee (2009) and Krishna’s Kazhugu (2012) among others.
Remakes and Spiritual Sequels
There are a lot of reasons why filmmakers or actors might choose to reuse a film’s title from the past. A major factor is the instant recognition and curiosity it piques among the audience. Specifically, when it is a star’s film like that of Rajinikanth’s, the title becomes itself becomes promotional material.
Sometimes a film’s plot might demand a certain title that has been used in the past. For instance, there was a reason Mari Selvaraj’s outing with Dhanush was titled Karnan (2021), a title of Sivaji Ganesan’s mythological film (1964) which is based on the story of Karna from Mahabharatha. The character in the Dhanush starrer shares spiritual similarities with Karna, and the film also redefines many subplots of the mythology.
Likewise, Ajith’s Billa is titled after the 1980 gangster drama because it is a complete remake of the Rajinikanth starrer. Another film that borrows Rajinikanth’s title is Mirchi Shiva’s Thillu Mullu (2013), which is again a remake. While Rajinikanth lies that he has a moustache-less identical twin in the original, Shiva lies that he has a blue-eyed identical twin.
It is interesting to note that the majority of titles reused over the years were of his 1981 releases, where out of his six films — Thee, Kazhugu, Thillu Mullu, Garjanai, Netrikkan and Ranuva Veran — only the last film remains an exception.