I’m not an expert on Tamil cinema and everything I know of the Rajinikanth fandom comes from a documentary I watched called For The Love Of A Man. The fandom always amused me. Why would so many people devote their lives to one man? Why would they sell their belongings, neglect their families and basically be ready to lay down their lives for him? It all totally escaped me. But at the opening day of Kabali, I finally found my answer. It’s because to them, he’s not a man at all. To them, he’s God.
It is said that the best place for a Mumbaikar to experience a South Indian film – especially a Rajinikanth one – is at Aurora Theatre in Matunga. Hordes of South Indian fans gather for a festival of sorts every time his new film comes out. Milk is poured down humungous cutouts of him and fans of Thalaivar indulge in fun and frolic, dancing to dhol bands while sporting t-shirts with his face on them.
This time around, the scene was no different. I reached Aurora at 7 am. Little did I know that the festivities had already started three hours earlier at 4 am. The organisers at Aurora Theatre had reportedly planned for a 3 am first show, but on being denied permission they decided to go forward with a 6 am one instead. This meant, as always, that the most loyal fans would gather outside the night before. And so they did. Hundreds of fans belonging to various fan clubs dedicated to ‘Rajini Sir’ flocked to the streets outside Aurora Theatre in anticipation of the film’s release.
Coconuts were broken, bags of milk poured and flowers thrown at posters of Rajinikanth. Two cutouts approximately three-storeys long, all decorated with lights, stood towering over the audience below. Fans joined their hands and bowed venerably. Crackers were lit. Men banged drums with all the force that their arms could muster for their beloved Thalaivar. And these were just the fans that were there for the 9 am show. I couldn’t possibly imagine how the 6 am fans indulged in their revelry. But it didn’t matter. As one fan simply put it – “We are all Rajinikanth fans. We are all one.”
And the media was seen having a field day too. Dozens of reporters requested fans for bytes. To true Rajini fans, the day’s celebrations were part of a ritual – almost routine. Media personnel shoved me around, photographers looking for the money shot, reporters asking fans about their love for him. The replies every single one of them got were more or less of the same template. “The reason he is so great is because he is a very humble person. He doesn’t even need make-up; we love him as he is”, explained one determined fan. “Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, koi bhi Khan nahin; sirf Rajinikanth”, insisted another as he made sure that everybody knew that Rajini fans were a force to be reckoned with.
Saravana, a driver by profession, had been on leave for three days leading up to the release of Kabali. “Humara Diwali, Holi, Christmas, New Year sab aaj hi hain”, he said with a voice that was hoarse from all the cheering. He posed proudly for me, body all covered in glitter, in front of the banner that his fan club had put up.
I was struck by the modesty of most fans there. On the insistence of reporters asking for them to recite their favourite dialogues, fans shouted “Neruppu Da!” One particular reporter requested, “Rajini ka ek bada wala dialogue sunao na.” “Hum mein utna talent nahi hain sir. Hota toh hum bhi star hote”, one fan promptly replied. It was great fun to watch the reporter stand there, not quite sure of what had just happened.
Theatre owner Nambi Rajan was seen walking in and out of the theatre, making sure everything was going on track. Many, like him, had donned a beard and haircut just like that of Rajini in the film.
Dr. S Natarajan, an ophthalmologist who was conferred the Padma Shri for his achievements in the field of medicine and CMD of Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital, was one of the many senior fans present there. Free eye check-ups were being conducted by the hospital and the Aditya Jyot Foundation as part of the ‘Kabali festival’. “Sir aur Rajinikanth close friends hain. Hum check-ups sirf picture ke time hi nahi, Rajinikanth ke birthday pe bhi karte hain”, his driver told me with a sense of honour in his voice.
Almost all shows over the first few days were completely sold out. And one shouldn’t be surprised. Kabali will go on to make loads of money at the box office. And it will go on to break many box office records. But for the fans, a Rajini film is more than just a film. It’s a celebration of their kind and generous leader Thalaivar.
(Photos by Wayne D’Mello)