That superstar Rajinikanth's films get a rousing welcome from his fans across the world is no surprise. But Kaala, his latest release, has a special place in the actor's journey, for it would be Rajinikanth's first release after he announced his political entry.
The film was highly anticipated to become a vehicle that will power his image as an alternative to Dravidian parties and lay bare his brand of politics to the world.
But on June 7, fans across the state were more confused about what his politics stands for, after they watched the film.
The politics witnessed around Kaala's release in Tamil Nadu, has sent out mixed signals to fans about the actor's ideology, on and off screen. And in the aftermath of Rajinikanth's Thoothukudi debacle, his supporters are leaving no stones unturned to protect the star's image. And in the process, politics unfolded in theatres across the state.
'Watch film as just a film'
At Rohini Silver Screens in Chennai, where TNM was present for the 4am show, the first on Thursday, fans carried out an unprecedented act. In what can only be described as a panchayat-like setting, fans gathered in front of the screen to explain to viewers, how exactly we must perceive the movie.
"Suddenly there seems to be a lot of social awareness," mocked a fan, surrounded by cheering men dressed in the Kaala staple of black shirts and T-shirts. A filmmaker by profession, he did not want to reveal his identity to TNM. "Everyone is a porali (crusader) now. Just see the film as a film. Let us enjoy the film. Let our love be larger," he advised.
He further went on to talk about posting negative comments.
"I am not sure how many of you bought tickets, I don't know how many used WhatsApp number and went and got it....," he began, much to people's confusion. "But everyone here should be a Thalaivan rasigar (Rajini fan). We expect true comments from you today. It is enough to be a cinema citizen, don't become a netizen and go write bad comments on social media," he added.
In Thoothukudi, fans of the actor observed silence for the victims of anti-Sterlite protests who were gunned down by policemen. This even as many in the district are disappointed over the actor's comments.
In Coimbatore, the Rajini Makkal Manram raised slogans which said the actor will be the state's next Chief Minister. And its district secretary Kathiresan said, "Kaala is not a film, it is a lesson. Through this, Rajinikanth is trying to teach Tamil Nadu something. This will revolutionise Tamil Nadu."
At Rohini theatre itself, fans arrived with a flag bearing the actor's face and loudly proclaimed, "The future leader of Tamil Nadu is Rajinikanth, Alternative politics is Rajinikanth, Spiritual politics is Rajinikanth...Tamil Nadu's next CM is Rajinikanth."
In neighbouring Karnataka, the film's release was delayed because of Rajinikanth's statements on the Cauvery issue.
Following the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections which were announced last month, Rajinikanth said the government which comes to power must release Cauvery waters to TN.
Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had retorted by asking the actor to visit the state and see the condition of farmers and the water level in the dams before commenting on the matter. Goldie Films, the original distributor of the film in the state, backed out due to pressure from certain pro-Kannada outfits.
In Kaala, the superstar heads the fight against an apathetic administration; he is an individual who responds to violence with more violence and he is the leader who rallies people to protest for a cause that they believe in. Further, the references to a 'saffron' political party as the villain against the 'black' slum dwelling common man, is clear in the current political context. The blue of Dalit resistance is also prominent throughout the film. Revealing more would act as a spoiler.
But in short, most of the film was in contrast to what the actor had preached a week back in grief-torn Thoothukudi.
He earned the ire of agitators and even his admirers in the district when he advised them not to protest for 'everything', to not indulge in violence and to be wary of anti-social elements. Rajini the politician was making his stand loud and clear. But with this act, Rajini the actor has left some of his fans and supporters rather perplexed.
"He has given voice to those who are oppressed. Violence is also a form of protest," says Royal Raju, a fan and member of the Rajini Makkal Manram in Trichy, after watching Kaala. But isn't the star, in real life, against violence? "Yes, yes, violence is not the solution," adds Raju, hastily.
Director Pa Ranjith, meanwhile, pitched in with his view on recent events and the film .
"I wanted to send out a political message. There is also a lot of subtext in the film. This is not a film taken to showcase Rajini's politics but is to show the people's problems," he told the media on Thursday morning.
Reel Vs Real
While the politics of the release itself surrounds Rajini the politician, are viewers expected to perceive the politics 'in' the film as concerning only Rajini the actor? What the supporters and the makers forget, however, is that the superstar's larger than life image is based on the movies he has acted in and the roles he has portrayed. His fans have based their support for him on the persona he has displayed over four decades on celluloid. And yet suddenly, the audience was being told to watch 'a film as a film'.
But even the fans who held the sermon before the film were clearly not up to the task because minutes after they demanded we watch the 'film as a film', they yelled, "Netru rasikar mandram, indru makkal mandram, nalai satta mandram (Fan association yesterday, people's association today, state assembly tomorrow)."
The audience, for its part, hooted half-heartedly, perplexed over the sudden line they were expected to draw between the real and the reel Rajinikanth.