While immersing myself into the Indian lifestyle, specifically in Tamil Nadu South India, I became engrossed with the local penchant for the film actor Rajnikanth. I even made it a goal that during my time in Pondicherry I would see a Tamil film starring Rajnikanth. If you don’t know him, then you have not interacted with enough people from South India (if this includes you please be directed here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajinikanth_filmography, this is apart from the Wikipedia page dedicated to him). Just being Indian, I had heard mention of Rajnikanth growing up, not because I had ever watched a Tamil film, but rather because of his popularity, which extends into Bollywood (Mumbai-centric equivalent of Hollywood especially for North India).
I was excited to learn he had a film, “Kabali”, coming out during my time in Pondicherry. Despite being here for twelve weeks I certainly do not have enough of a command on Tamil to carry a conversation, let alone follow an entire movie. But hearing people talk about the ‘Rajnikanth film experience’ made me want to attend. A midnight premiere of a Rajnikanth starrer is unlike anything Americans would expect. In contrast to the midnight premiere of say a ‘Harry Potter’ movie, where everyone dresses up as a favorite character, watches the movie intently, and cries at the ending (which I have no shame in admitting I do), no no—a Rajnikanth movie is a completely different ball game. Chaos takes over the theatre district as the launching looms close. Tickets are sold out and the scale of scalped tickets rival the superbowl; and this can go on for weeks if it is a hit as his star powers command! Attendees do not expect to hear the movie’s dialogue because of the constant screaming, cheering, whistling, and ‘then some’ at his mere appearance on screen. It’s even hard to follow the story line because of people approaching the screen, even throwing things from their seats —flowers, coins, currency notes — akin to temple offerings!
To call Rajnikanth a legend would be an understatement. “Kabali” is marketed ubiquitiously through town with his poster face staring back from all buildings, signs, and buses at every nook of daily life. Originally, “Kabali“ was to released on July 1st, giving me ample time to squeeze in a show two or three weeks after the premier. I would be safe attending (saloon type brawls are not unusual) and maybe even appreciate the movie and his acting. Unfortunately, the release date kept getting pushed off, ultimately, landing on July 22. I would be on my way out of South India. You know what else happened on July 22? In anticipation of the long awaited premier, many South Indian states/provinces declared the day a holiday—colleges, universities, schools, and government business would be closed! Officials and administrators knew that students and workers, for that matter professors and bosses, would not show up anyway! For further examples of companies ordering a holiday for the premier, read http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-36842524. While I am sorry to miss the experience, I am reassured that there will be many more chances despite his age of 65.
This ‘Rajnikanth fervor’ is just one example of how passionate Indian people can be once they have decided to favor you! Men and women alike, across all social, religious and political lines unite in their love of Rajnikanth. This love extends outwards with greater implications for India as a whole – the people here find it easy to love and care for anyone they see as their one of their own.