Kabali is probably my favourite movie of Rajinikanth in a longwhile. Yes, his age shows. His dialogue delivery falters. But the earnestness in his eyes have remained the same. The film has been quite divisive. Yes, the movie doesn’t appear to be convincing but I am glad that it was made. To label it as a political statement by Pa. Ranjith would be misleading. Here we have a film maker who gets an opportunity at a young age to direct Rajinikanth and he makes a film that focuses on the Tamils in Malaysia (the immigrants who have been made to feel like minorities). But, there is no doubting the movie’s relevance. The Afro-American community have been facing the same issues in USA. But this write-up is not going to be about that. It is about Rajinikanth, the Superstar.
I could not help thinking about Birdman. The movie by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s had won the Director an Oscar apart from winning the Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards last year. The movie is about an ageing movie star, Riggan Thomson played by Michael Keaton who tries to reinvent himself as an actor by returning to Broadway with a play. Understanding Birdman is essential in appreciating Rajinikanth and Kabali. There is so much of hatred flowing from certain quarters, especially from the pseudo-intellectuals or rather, intellectual clowns who are quite cynical about Rajinikanth and condemn everything about him — his acting, fame and reach.
The Creativity Conundrum
I loved Rajinikanth in Kabali because it was a detour from his usual. There were no stereotypical Rajinisms. It made me think fondly of the Rajini before Basha happened. Just like how as Kabali, he tells a man from his rival gang that he has come back strong after twenty-five years Rajini too had returned to his Thalapathy form.
Coming to Birdman, the movie educates on the finer aspects of creativity — the significance of value, the critics assigning value to the work and the finer differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In case if you haven’t seen Birdman yet, I am summarizing it here for you: Riggan Thomson is struggling, both personally and professionally. He has separated from his wife, Sylvia because he confused ‘love with admiration’. He is certainly past his superhero days of Birdman. He had acted in 3 movies and declined to do a fourth film. He doesn’t want to do another Birdman film because that is what fans and even his alter-ego wants. Thomson wants to challenge his creative self and hence, decides to enter a domain where he is literally a nobody: Theatre. A domain which has a critical audience and hence, success is not guaranteed.
Creative minds constantly face this creativity conundrum phase just before they begin another project: should I stay in my comfort zone and deliver what my fans/followers want? or should I make myself happy? This separates Rajinikanth from Kamal Hassan. Rajinikanth’s Thalapathi and Kamal Hassan’s Guna clashed on Diwali in 1991. Since then, Rajinikanth has largely stayed in his comfort zone while Kamal has experimented.
Therefore you see, it is not easy as it seems. Let me explain why:-
Creative minds are always thinking about creating something ‘new’ and ‘valuable’. Creating something ‘new’ is the easy part. You just have to do something that has not been done before. Pa Ranjith’s earlier film Madras had metaphorically touched upon a lot of issues, the most important being how caste is being toyed with by political parties for serving their own needs. Madras was refreshing. The audience connected with it. This is the tough part. The ‘valuable’. Because, value to a work of creation is assigned by the audience. No creative mind can dictate their terms there. Once you have created something and let it out, the product belongs to the audience.
But the ‘new’ and ‘value’ do not match all the times. When you have been consistently doing a kind of work and then, deviate from what you have been doing, your audience is not going to accept because they hate change. In Riggan Thomson’s case, the audience wants him to do Birdman 4. In Rajinikanth’s case, they want him to do a Rajini film filled with Rajini-isms (Annamalai, Basha, Padayappa). Rajini was a Star earlier too but the films that followed Thalapathy have seen him doing familiar roles and has further accentuated his stay at the peak added with his continued relevance despite crossing the Indian retirement age of sixty-five. The audience has been able to accept Amitabh Bachchan or Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino playing character roles but in the case of Rajini, the audience has simply been unable to picture their star playing character roles.
Forget character roles, the audience seems divided upon Kabali because it doesn’t have Rajini-isms.
(to be continued…)