The Rajini phenomenon goes way deeper than the sensational slo-mo walk, the staccato laugh, the mandatory punchlines and the dramatic punches. The Thalaivar – the undisputed leader, the ultimate boss – cuts across all reasoning (including umbrellas being weapons of destruction like we saw in Kaala) to touch hearts, fuel frenzy and inspire fandom like few could ever dream of! Here’s why we think there can never be another like him…
Of the zillion Rajinikanth memes that do the rounds, one has Salman Khan declaring, “I release the movie on Eid because it is a holiday.” Rajinikanth replies, “I release the movie and that day becomes a holiday.” That isn’t an exaggeration, really. The festival spirit fills the air a week before a Rajini starrer can hit theatres.
Thousands of tickets fly off in advance. Caring companies book tickets for their employees to generate goodwill. TV channels fan the frenzy. Theatres are decorated with huge cut-outs and flags. And the auditorium explodes when the Thalaivar makes his first appearance on screen. All this and the man is nearing 70, does a film only once every two years and does not even promote his films.
Not for the Thalaivar money-spinning ads or TV appearances. The only endorsement he has done is for an eye donation campaign in Chennai. In real life, where he is and what he does, remains largely a mystery. In times of in-your-face star presence, Rajinikanth has mastered the art of preserving his mystique, like the mighty screen legends of yore.
Have you ever heard of a paid trailer screening? Well, it only happens in a Rajinikanth film. The trailer of Endhiran was screened in Chennai theatres for a ticket price of Rs.70. What’s more, all shows were sold out!
There are no less than 50,000 fan clubs dedicated to the Thalaivar. In fact, he reportedly had to put a stop to new fan clubs. He doesn’t make any money from fan associations.
The phenomenon is nearing 68. His age is there to see. Yet fans don’t bat an eye to see him paired opposite heroines who are a fraction of his age. Shankar’s sequel to Endhiran/ Robot sees him paired opposite the 24-year-old Amy Jackson, while the 31-year-old Huma Qureshi, his love interest in Kaala, had to add a few strands of grey to justify her pairing with the legend!
As of 2015, his net worth was $50 million, and his average annual income $7.4 million. His salaries could comprise the GDP of a small country. Rs.40 crore for Kaala, Rs.50 crore for Kabali, Rs.60 crore for Lingaa, Rs.27 crore for Shivaji, Rs.45 crore for Endhiran. He was the highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan, at the time. And to think that, according to Naman Ramachandran, who wrote the official biography of Rajinikanth, he gives half his income to charity!
His contribution to his films is not limited to his onscreen presence. The man is known to select the director as well as the producer. Exerting control over the pre-production including scripting, sets, costumes, casting, it is only during the making of the film that the director holds the reins.
His financial troubles are no secret. He and his family have come under pressure from banks as well as individual lenders and distributors to pay off debts. When Kochadaiiyaan, directed by his daughter Soundarya, failed, he put his wife’s 1.5-acre property up for auction to pay back the Rs.22.21 crore bank loan. He also had to sell a property in Banjara Hills to pay back Rs.8 crore to a financier. He also paid a hefty Rs.10 crore to distributors who lost money on his colossal flop, Lingaa. Any wonder then that he is seen as the boss, the protector, both on and off the screen!