A Kaala war is on in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring Karnataka, two states with links to Kaala superstar Rajinikanth, a man whose name recognition in distant shores – Japan to Singapore to sister-city Dubai – is like ‘Hail the Queen’ in the United Kingdom, where films walk through cinema halls in silent progression unlike in Tamil Nadu, where movies pass muster in theatres in vociferous glee as if to the cinema-born, which they are, especially a Rajinikanth-flick.
Rajini, who is one of two recent Tamil cinema actors-turned- politicians – the other being Mr. Baritone Kamal Haasan – is Karnataka-born but in his cinema roles Tamil Nadu-bred, learning the world’s oldest language from scratch, mouthing ‘Poda’ and ‘Yaar Vettri Petradhu (Whose victory it is)’ dialect-perfect. Tamil Nadu has thousands and thousands of Rajini fan clubs and the actor is mobbed by fans whenever and wherever he steps into public glare. Superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan lay down fork and knife when Rajini walks in, the mutton-biryani losing spice at sight of the southern superstar.
That is the kind of shock and awe that Rajinikanth movies bring to the table. But turning politician seems to have made cinegoers to halt at the ticket-counter, where once many of them would ‘float’ over the heads of the early birds to catch the worm, a ticket to a Rajini-flick! Now, Karnataka has banned Kaala and the film-fraternity – Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and Mollywood – are not rising to Kaala’s defence. Individual actors are weighing in but with agenda of their own colouring the screen, so to speak. Kamal Haasan and Prakash Raj have spoken dialogue that in a movie will bracket them villain. Seems like they don’t like Rajini, the politician.
Prakash Raj, who is somewhat of an activist, left of centre in beliefs, is in part angry that Kaala’s getting the stick in Karnataka and in part like ‘O! Yeah he (Rajini) got his just desserts’. Could be that Rajini lost respect in Prakash Raj’s plate-sized eyes because the superstar is right-of-centre and rumoured to be aligned with Narendra Modi and the BJP.
That said Prakash Raj has flayed the politics of targeting films by the fringe, of any denomination, though he has not taken favourably to Rajini’s stand on Thoothukudi.
Prakash Raj doesn’t agree with Rajini that the police firing in Thoothukudi was triggered by anti-social elements jumping into the peaceful milieu of protesters on the penultimate day! Rajinikanth is quite emphatic that is how things panned out and he said so when he visited Thoothukudi after the police firing was over and the bodies were in the freezer. “Anti-socials,” he said in all seriousness and people jumped to collar that brand as if to the anti-social born, and proud at that. To many in the land of ‘Aayarithil Oruvan’, ‘I’m anti-Social’ is a badge of honour to be worn on the chest!
Among them, who else, Kamal Haasan! The gloves are off between the two superstars, Rajini and Kamal. Politics has branded them apart and whose histrionics wins the day, and the state, is a topic of heated discussion in Amma Canteens and places of worship in all of Tamil Nadu with the gods listening, eavesdropping shamelessly on the conversation like mere mortals! Taking righteous umbrage at Rajini’s anti-social barb – which is also Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswamy’s pointed intervention – Kamal Haasan shot back: “In that case #MeToo, I am also Anti-Social!”
To press home the point and, maybe in his mind, the political advantage, Haasan, founder of political outfit Makkal Needhi Mayyam, travelled to Bengaluru to stand alongside Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy to stress the point that he is, indeed, “Anti-Social”. The reason why the Kannadiga is waterboarding Kaala in Karnataka is because Rajinikanth said something Cauvery in Tamil that didn’t sound “Cauvery-in-Karnataka” to the Kannadiga. Kind of a case of lost in translation. And, politically-wise, Kamal Haasan chose to muddy the waters further rather than clear the air!
Like said the gloves are off, the “friendship of 50 years” more filmy than real. The screen-fight is over, now for the street-fight, the slugfest that is politics. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are gladiators in the political arena, in a fight to the finish, one in left-mail, the other in the right steel. Swords drawn, teeth bared, cavalry-ready and infantry-lined up. The suave anti-social versus the rustic interloper. How dare he cross over into the land of the Tamil? Alexander did not ford the Indus but this maverick crossed the Cauvery, now to see who is Sikandar. Oops! Now to see who isThalaivar!!(IPA Service)