Does it have something to do with the Poes Garden air or its water that two of its most well-known residents have taken their brand power to an altogether different level? Orrey verra level, as Chennaites will tell you. If ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa is the Chennai Super Queen, who between 2011 and 2016, converted Tamil Nadu into Amma Nadu, Rajinikanth has Kabali-fied Air Asia.
Brand Amma and Brand Rajinikanth - It doesn't get bigger than this. `Neruppa da' moment in the city of the Marina.
A month after Jayalalithaa rode on the power of Brand Amma to do what no chief minister of Tamil Nadu has done since 1984 - winning a second consecutive term in office - her neighbour has followed suit. And in typical Rajini style, he announces his arrival with the line that is making his fans go `whistle podu'.
‘Kabali vandutan nu solu. Tirumbi vandutan nu solu.’
On holiday in the US, Rajini might well be chuckling, remembering his punch line in Sivaji, “Enna, chumma adirudu la?”
“Yaaru da andha Kabali, vara sollu da” could well have been said by some irritated Amma bhakt, for who the world begins and ends with the Tamil Nadu chief minister.
“Tamil padangal la inga maru verachikitu meesai murukikitu lungi katikitu Nambiyar Hey Kabali apdi nu sonna odaney kuninju sollunga Yejaman apdi vandhu nippaaney andha madhiri Kabali nu nenachi ah da. Kabali da.”
Two interesting facts emerged in the last 24 hours. The Tamil Nadu government let it be known that Amma canteens, the flagship brand of the Amma empire, has sold 30 crore idlis since 2013. The likes of Dayanidhi Maran who accused the AIADMK of bribing the voters can go, eat an idli, for Jayalalithaa knew the way to a voter's index finger is through his stomach. Idli + Sambar + Chutney. One vote parcel.
Jayalalithaa took political branding to an entirely new level by investing in an advertising strategy that ensured the brand name is on top of the consumer mind. It was all about positioning herself as the leader of the welfare agenda pack which ranged from Amma canteens to Amma water to Amma pharmacy to Amma cement to Amma mobile phones and more. Brand consultant Harish Bijoor believes Amma is the leader in the branding space pack. “As issues of the masses grow, the governments need to do God's work. In that sense, the AIADMK leader has been an innovative marketer,” he says.
Rajinikanth, the bus conductor on route 10 A between Srinagar and Bangalore Bus station in the early 70s, opted for an upgrade. He took over Air Asia. Bearing the image of the Superstar from Kabali, the exterior of the aircraft have been painted and stickered with the livery. Over the next one month, the aircraft will be flying on the Air Asia network in India, besides also flying in 180 diehard Rajini fans who have booked on the July 15 flight from Bengaluru to Chennai to catch the first day first show in that city.
Rajini's ageing don character in Kabali who has footprints in Malaysia, is returning to Chennai to rule once again. All those who did not go to the theatres to watch Kochadaiiyaan and Lingaa, hands up!
“This special plane, powered by Thalaivar quite literally, is dedicated to Rajini fans across the globe. This is AirAsia’s way of paying a tribute to the one and only Superstar in the country,'' says Amar Abrol, CEO of Air Asia.
In fact, Brand Rajinikanth is a bit of an oxymoron considering the actor does not endorse any product. In his book Grand Brand Rajini, author P C Balasubramanian writes, “To many, Brand Rajini may appear a facade but to most, it has the power to create an almost visual connect, instantly communicating to the world the idea of a brand that delivers.”
Which is perhaps why Puducherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi has requested the Superstar to be her Union Territory's brand ambassador. Having experienced the power of the Rajini brand herself, Bedi points out in a tweet, “Collector in #Pondicherry is using gift of tickets of this film as incentive for use of public services! It is working!”
If Rajinikanth is about punch dialogues, Jayalaithaa knows how to pack a punch as well. Her “Seyveergala? Neengal Seyyveergala?” (will you do it?) query to the crowd during election meetings has the same effect as a Rajinikanth's “Ithu eppadi irriku?” (How is it?)
It takes a superstar to know the power of another superstar's draw at the box office. Which is why Malayalam superstar Mohanlal's firm is distributing `Kabali' in Kerala.
Over the past many years, Rajinikanth has built his unique identity, on and off screen. Curated signature moves and mannerisms get him the claps while in real life he projects a picture of humility, that includes not making an attempt to hide his bald pate.
Brand communication specialist Smitha Sarma Ranganathan says being inclusive is what makes a brand exclusive and that is common to both Rajinikanth and Jayalalithaa. “Rajinikanth has always epitomised the commoners’ dream of Grassroots to Glory story. Be it on screen or off screen avatars, Brand Rajini is about ‘inclusiveness’ and that’s what makes him superlatively exclusive to his fans. Brand Amma personifies ‘affordable access’ in an all-inclusive manner,'' says Smitha.
The tug-of-war on who is the bigger brand may be a case of neighbours' envy but as far as all of Tamil Nadu is concerned, it is definitely owners' pride.