For the first time perhaps in the history of regional cinema Sivaji -The Boss starring superstar Rajinikanth has managed to go beyond the Tamil-speaking audience and make its presence felt pan-India and beyond.
Though Sivaji is being screened without Hindi or English subtitles in north India, it has still managed 98 per cent occupancy in the first week for the 39 shows that it ran in PVR cinemas, grossing more than Rs 10 lakh in two weeks.
So has Rajinikanth broken the North-South divide? CNN-IBN discussed the issue on Face the Nation with a comprising Mumbai film distributor Nambi Rajan, film critic with The Hindu Sudhish Kamath, Head of Cinemedia, PVR Ltd Delhi, Gautam Dutta and film critic with The Indian Express Shubhra Gupta.
Though reports indicate that Sivaji was more of an urban phenomenon, Nambi Rajan said that the movie was doing extremely well in rural Tamil Nadu as well.
Sudhish Kamath agreed. “The movie has a pan-India approach. In many ways it is Swades told in a comic-book format. Rajinikanth’s appeal goes beyond rural and urban sectors and has transcended international boundaries,” he said.
Shubhra Gupta, on the other hand, felt that we might be jumping the gun in saying that Rajini’s movies were truly cross urban and rural divide as well.
“Sivaji in itself is a brilliant entertainer but it’s not representative of all of Rajinikanth’s movies. But Rajinikanth does the entertaining in such a convincing manner that it does not matter if it is in Tamil. He just takes you over. He dances, he sings, he does everything,” said Shubhra Gupta.
To that, Vidya Shankar Aiyar pointed out that in her review on Sivaji in The Indian Express, she had written that the movie was ‘sublime nonsense’. “Yes, don’t try to find logic in the film,” she said.
Language no bar
Turning to Gautam Dutta, Vidya Shankar Aiyar asked what gave him the confidence to take on a Tamil film with no subtitles?
“People love Rajinikanth and he is a true superhero. Sivaji has a great visual appeal. You don’t really have to know the language. You can just sit back and let Rajini take you on a flight of fantasy. We were in fact surprised to see that kind of passion to watch the movie in Delhi,” he said.
But is it a surprise that the film has done so well in North India? “Yes, it is a surprise but with Rajinikanth, we can expect all the things. I had faith in him and Shankar (director),” said Nambi Rajan.
Breaking North-South divide
A viewer had written in saying that an occasional Rajinikanth film could not break the North-South divide. “There is some truth in that statement,” agreed Sudhish Kamath, adding, however, that Rajinikanth was a unique phenomenon and that his film Muthu went to Japan as well.
Gautam Dutta, on the other hand, said this was just the beginning. “When another Tamil film Kandukonden Kandukonden released here, it actually had a storyline so people had a problem understanding it but Sivaji has a lot of visual appeal so language is not that big a problem.”
But how would a person who did not understand Tamil, be able to enjoy the movie? “I do understand a bit of Tamil. But one of Rajinikanth’s lines from the film that has been quoted in our house in the last few days was ‘If you cross Chittoor, there’s Katpadi. If you cross Sivaji, there’s a dead body’,” said Shubhra Gupta.
Such a line could be understood by a non-Tamil speaker in Tamil as well. “But this is just a wedge, like Monsoon Wedding and Lagaan. It is a beginning but we still don’t have a Kamala Hassan doing Alai Payude, it has to be a Saathiya. It’s a frame by frame copy. So only when we can get regular distribution deals we can talk about how they wedge barriers,” she added.
Media creating Rajini mania
Is the media responsible for hyping Rajinikanth’s film at all? “Yes, of course. Though it is not responsible for the success of the film, it is instrumental in increasing the number of people going to watch it in the first week. After that, the momentum that starts is only when people really like the film,” said Shubhra Gupta.
Sudhish Kamath added that in the North, the media hype was responsible partly for the success of the film. “There have been similar Rajinikanth films that have not got such a response,” he said.
But can media hype really turn around the fate of a film? Though films like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Dhoom 2 were hyped by the media, they did not do well. “The film has universal appeal and the concept of the film is not new. It is also the triumph of marketing in this specific case. The producers were able to go all the way,” Kamath added.
Was the film distributed the way it was keeping in mind only Rajinikanth or also the big budget? “The film has got all the ingredients for the masses. The producers may be dubbing the film in Hindi,” said Nambi Rajan.
Shubhra Gupta, though, felt that dubbing the film would not be a good idea. Gautam Dutta, however, all for dubbing. “If we have got 20 per cent of our share of people coming in in the North, you can imagine how many more would come and watch if it were to be dubbed in Hindi,” he said.
Yes: 76 per cent
No: 24 per cent