Why Rajnikant is such a superstar has less to do with the way he flicks his gogs and more to do with his residence address. Nowhere in this country are people as movie-mad as in south India. When Andhra's N.T. Rama Rao's films were released in the sixties and seventies, his underprivileged fans would donate blood to pay for movie tickets. When M.G. Ramachandran died in 1987, two million followed his remains, 30 committed suicide and thousands shaved their heads. Rajkumar's death last year brought on riots in Bangalore; his 'fans' shut the city down for two days, burnt cars, tear-gassed civilians and indulged in street wars. Interestingly, Andhra is known to have more cinema halls per square kilometre than anywhere else in the country. South Indian films are a curious social phenomenon. They may be scoffed at as vulgar, base and even gaudy. The heroes are paunchy and mustachioed. The heroines are fair, flabby and semi-naked, like zaftig dolls. The sets are huge and surreal, the action extreme, the songs are raunchy and the plots are stuck in the eighties.
But that's the most wonderful thing about the films. They may be unintentionally comic, but they are unpretentious. They pander to every stereotype there is without any intent to pseudo-intellectualise. Rajni played a foreign-returned person in last week's Rs 90 crore release, Sivaji - The Big Boss. His face was whitened in every frame, using a first-time computer regeneration technique and a Caucasian woman's complexion. These films are watched with the heart, not the head. They are made for the front-bencher for whom cinema is the only escape from the hot weather, his jobless existence and an ultra-conventional mindset. The film is his relief. Which is why all southern heroes are almost always fighting the system. Which is why the hero always gets the girl. Which is why the impoverished employee always wins over the rich employer. Which is also why the average film-watcher will queue up for never-ending hours to pay Rs 10 for a first-come-first serve seat.
I'm convinced of this, especially when you take Kerala into account. Kerala doesn't share the economic disparities of its southern counterparts. Audiences here enjoy a superlative literacy rate. Kerala boasts immense talent as well; Mammootty and Mohanlal are both brilliant, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan is one of the state's intellectual exports to the mainstream.
The south Indian hero is a cultural mixed bag; he is a political, economic and social icon. NTR always played Krishna in Telugu mythologicals. Rajni will never play a bad guy. Khushboo, who had a temple built to her, was chased with a broom when she innocently said that a woman didn't need to be a virgin when she married. These stars are a reminder of a movie-goer's moorings.
Can Amitabh Bachchan ever achieve this? Not unless he returns as the angry young man. And learns to speak Tulu.
Info: Yahoo India news