Rajinikanth's 2.0 finally has a release date. On Tuesday, it was announced that the film will release on November 29. In over two decades, the superstar has not had more than one release in a year. In fact, since 2000, Rajini has been doing a film only once in 2-3 years mostly. In 2014, Lingaa and Kochadaiiyan
2018, therefore, is a massive year for both the star and his fans. After a long time, the superstar will have two releases in the same year - Kaala and 2.0. And both of them coming out after he announced his plunge into politics.
What then is riding on 2.0 besides the usual frenzy around a Rajinikanth film?
Rajinikanth is well-known all over India. However, outside of the south, the current generation treats him rather unfairly as a joke. For people who've never watched his films, he's a mere caricature who makes a few stylish gestures to get some whistles. They've never experienced his swag in the context of the films in which he has starred in.
2.0, however, is a pan-Indian film. It has to be, considering it's made on a massive budget which is reportedly between Rs 400-500 crore. That's nearly double of SS Rajamouli's Baahubali 2 which was made on a budget of around Rs 250 crore.
Shankar's Enthiran, the first film, was made on a budget of around Rs 130 crore. In 2010, it was the most expensive Indian film to be made at that point. The dubbed version in Hindi, Robot, also did well, but this time around, the makers have shot the film simultaneously in Tamil and Hindi to make sure the Hindi audiences come to the theatres. Besides, the cast includes Akshay Kumar, one of the top billed actors in Bollywood today, in an important role. Dubbed versions are expected to release in several other languages.
The phenomenal success of the Baahubali franchise has shown that linguistic and cultural barriers can be broken if a film manages to capture the imagination of the audience. Baahubali 2 was the first Indian film to breach the Rs 1000 crore mark at the box-office and it managed to do this despite having actors who are from southern industries and don't have much of a reach in the north. 2.0, with names like Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar, will want to repeat this success story and do even better.
For Rajinikanth, who is positioning himself as a political leader in Tamil Nadu, 2.0 may well be the vehicle which will increase his appeal across the country - if all goes well.
Rajinikanth's last two films have been with Pa Ranjith. Both Kabali and Kaala were politically loaded films that brought Ambedkarite politics to mainstream cinema on a lavish scale. While this was celebrated by many, several have pointed out that Ranjith's politics and Rajinikanth's real life politics appear to be poles apart.
Rajinikanth's debacle at Thoothukudi right before the release of Kaala, in which the actor ironically asks, "Kumaru, yaaru ivaru?" to a politician, proved to be a thorn in the flesh for the makers. Besides, many fans were also upset about Kabali and Kaala not following the Rajinikanth film template and the question of ownership - were these Ranjith films or Rajinikanth's?
It's not that Shankar's films are devoid of political messaging. But he's stuck to the "one-man army taking on the system" kind of formula, mostly dealing with corruption as a theme so far. Enthiran, which is a science fiction film, was about a robot gone rogue and its sequel, too, is expected to stay within the sci-fic genre.
At the very least, it's unlikely that the audience will see a chasm between what the character played by Rajinikanth says on screen and his political beliefs in real life.
Interestingly, both Akshay Kumar and Rajinikanth are perceived to be close to the BJP although it remains to be seen if 2.0 will take a pro-central government stance in any respect.
Rajinikanth's hold over the box-office
If Rajinikanth has taken the plunge into politics today, it is because he has a wide fanbase that was created through his cinema. But is Rajini's power over the box-office on the wane?
Several reports said that the bookings for Kaala were much lower than expected. The film released to mostly positive reviews but there were always murmurs that it was a flop. After media reports claimed that the film didn't make enough money, Wunderbar Films issued a clarification which said that Kaala was a profitable venture. However, they did not release any numbers.
The Tamil film industry is cagey when it comes to box-office figures. Success parties are thrown days after a film's release, with stars, directors and producers claiming that the film was a "hit". They get extremely touchy when reports emerge that a big star's film didn't do as much business as expected.
While it's possible that the "flop" reports about Kaala may have been spurred by people with vested interests - those who have a problem with Ranjith or Rajinikanth - the superstar needs an emphatic victory to prove that he's still the king of the box office. If his popularity goes down here, it does not bode well for his political career.
The success of 2.0, therefore, is more than just about whether the film makes back the money spent. For Rajinikanth, the actor and politician, the pressure is definitely on.