Let us get the suspense out of the way. Rajinikanth's next, after S. Shankar's 2.0, according to people very close to him, will be a sequel to Kabali. Which is why Pa. Ranjith has been chosen to wield the megaphone once again with the Superstar. The movie is being produced by Rajini's son-in-law, actor Dhanush.
From the manner in which Kabali ended in the Indian version, with a gunshot heard and the screen going blank, it was obvious that director Ranjith had left himself more than a foot in the door for a sequel. With the film doing phenomenal business, helped to a large extent also by the in-your-face marketing, Kabali Returns is bound to start with a huge advantage.
"Kabali thirumbi vanthuten (Kabali has returned)", the line Rajinikanth's character mouths in Kabali, will indeed come true.
"Not just Tamil Nadu, Kabali is a super super hit in Kerala, Karnataka, overseas, Nizam's territory, even north India,'' says Kalaipuli S Thanu, the producer of Kabali.
With the film doing phenomenal business, helped to a large extent also by the in-your-face marketing, Kabali Returns is bound to start with a huge advantage.
Thanu is known to be a genius when it comes to publicity. He was the man who had christened Rajini as 'Superstar' in 1978, a moniker that has stayed with the actor ever since and is still used in the opening credit roll of every Rajini film. From a Rajinikanth Air Asia special plane to Kabali endorsements to creative Dubsmash videos, the Kabali fever drowned Tamil Nadu.
Which is why the makers of Kabali feel that just like people are waiting to know why Kattappa killed Bahubali, what happened to Kabali when the shot was fired is a question that lends itself to several interesting answers.
Pa. Ranjith, who is just three films old, is understandably over the moon but refuses to spill any beans on the movie. "It is too early to talk about what story or role that I have thought out for him. But Kabali has been an inspiration for me to carry forward the journey with him," says Ranjith.
The decision to keep it in the family is a strategic one. For several years and films, Rajinikanth is known to have helped out friends in need by doing a movie with them. His brand equity has added several stars to the stature of those producers and directors. With his health in recent months being a matter of concern, Rajini has decided to bat in home conditions now.
Producer D. Suresh Babu says it has become a trend for big stars to act in home productions. "Shahrukh does it, Salman does it, even Chiranjeevi is doing it for his 150th film. And nothing wrong with it if the family can maximise the brand. Frankly speaking, what value does a producer really bring to the table, when the star is so huge? Nothing,'' he says.
Wunderbar Films, the production and distribution house owned by Dhanush and Rajini's daughter Aishwarya, has acquired a name for backing some quality cinema in the last five years. It started with a bang with 3, marking Aishwarya's debut as director with the difficult subject of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Though it made the news more for Dhanush's debut as playback singer with "Kolaveri", it was yet another in Tamil cinema's long list of movies that dared to experiment with stuff that is not run-of-the-mill.
Wunderbar Films produced Shamitabh last year, its only foray into Hindi so far, where Dhanush acted with Amitabh Bachchan. It was a movie about a mute actor who acquires the voice of another man and becomes a film star, leading to ego clashes between the two. Kaaka Muttai was a delightful film about two boys from the slums of Chennai, who set about earning money to buy a pizza. The movie went on to win the National Award for the Best Children's Film in 2015 and the Best Child Artist awards for its lead actors.
Dhanush continued his love affair with the national awards when he produced Visaranai, a hard-hitting movie about a person who is jailed for a crime he did not commit. The movie won the National Award for Best Tamil Film in 2016. Another commendable production from Dhanush's stable was Velaiilla Pattadhari, about an unemployed youth trying to make a mark. Dhanush played the lead and also wrote all the lyrics, besides crooning three numbers.
With undertones of Dalit unrest, Ranjith made a political statement in Kabali, even though the film was set in Malaysia, and it showed where his sympathies lay. It did not go unnoticed that perhaps for the first time in two decades, a Rajinikanth director had used the actor and not exploited the Superstar persona in the film. With critical appreciation coming his way for the way he carried himself and his acting, Rajinikanth clearly wants more layers to be peeled off his larger-than-life image, to showcase his acting talent.
With critical appreciation coming his way for the way he carried himself and his acting, Rajinikanth clearly wants more layers to be peeled off his larger-than-life image, to showcase his acting talent.
Dhanush as producer and Ranjith as director too are a good fit, with sensibilities for a similar brand of cinema. Ranjith's Attakathi and Madras reflected a different way of cinematic thinking. It is this pool that Rajinikanth is now looking to tap into, in the twilight of his film career.
Thanu will be a happy man. Because he has created a brand that has already spawned two new films. Apart from Kabali Part 2, the hit number "Neruppu da (blazing fire)" has already been booked as the title of a new Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan's grandson, Vikram Prabhu.
2018 will be time for another round of "Magizhchi".
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