The Last Superstar

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hese final years of Rajinikanth’s career are historic in their import, for never again will we see the likes of him.
Rajesh Khanna is usually called the first superstar. Never before, we hear, was an actor known to cause such frenzies among fans. Rajinikanth, then, is the last superstar. Never again will an actor rise to such heights of popularity, inspire such depths of devotion. These are the days of stars, certainly, but the sustained aura around movie-going that gave rise to the cult of stars is not there anymore. Our time is too divided. There is too much to do apart from watching movies once, twice, several times, and brag to friends that we were there first day, first show, etching ourselves into the only kind of history available to mere mortals. And superstars of the magnitude of Rajinikanth need that aura. They can be fostered only in eras where movies conflate into myths. What we have, these days, is mere excitement surrounding a new release. When a film is released in hundreds of screens, and when, if you don’t get tickets in one theatre it’s always possible to dream of seats in another, a small stake is driven into the bloodlust of the fan. Today’s stars are commodities stocked in a chain of supermarkets. They can never be superstars.

Rajinikanth himself may be never know how and why he became a superstar. Others were better looking, better enunciators of dialogue, better performers, better dancers, better clotheshorses. His transition from villain (or at least, a grey-shaded character) to hero is possibly one of the great mysteries of the cinema. He seemed so right as the bad guy. He carried such a charge, he left the hero in the dust. Of Rajinikanth it could be said that he would have become a superstar even if he hadn’t made the transition to hero. There was such excitement when he walked across screen. It felt alive. We often say that an actor has charisma, and we often struggle to describe what it is, what singular aspect constitutes this charisma, but with Rajinikanth you could point to Moondru Mudichu or Avargal and say, “That is charisma.” Science has taught us that two negatives make a positive, and it appears, in Rajinikanth’s case, that all those negatives combined into an electrifying positive. You cannot plan this. It just happens.

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