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There seems to be a paradigm shift with which the current generation approaches life. The present generation is keenly aware that youthful years will be few. Time is short and they have so much to achieve. The previous generation approached life assuming eternal youth. This change in perspective has decided the art, culture and politics of the respective eras. Analysis of audience response to Rajini’s Annaatthe needs to take this into account. No matter what, Rajini’s films give a refreshing feeling every time we watch them in theatres. The trend was in vogue till Padayappa. It is a million-dollar question if we get the same feel from his latest films.

No matter what, Rajini’s films give a refreshing feeling every time we watch them in theatres. The trend was in vogue till Padayappa. It is a million-dollar question if we get the same feel from his latest films

Rajinikanth entered Tamil cinema at a time when the icons Sivaji and MGR had saturated their fame. The next ring of actors namely Jaishankar, Ravichandran, Sivakumar and Jaiganesh were carving out their places. Kamal Haasan was bubbling with youthfulness. It is still a wonder how Rajini quickly rose to fame amidst this stiff competition.

Rajini had a charm. And, this charm was taking him places. He managed to leave his mark on any role he donned in Tamil cinema. In two years’ time, Rajini has become a magic word. After his stint in Bhairavi, fan clubs for Rajini started mushrooming. Gossip and controversies pursued him. Some of his films succeeded while some failed at the box office. But Rajini’s growth curve remained exponential.

A generation between 1980 and 2000 identified itself with Rajinikanth. They were part and parcel of his growth story. His fans drew inspiration for their lives based on his silver screen portrayals.

There were fans that would do anything for their icon Rajini. They found a refreshing element in every movie and celebrated it. Not many of his contemporaries enjoyed that luxury. Moreover, Rajini’s fan base was unwavering and continued its loyalty as years passed by. This is borne out by registration details available in Rajini’s fan clubs.

Rajini’s entry into Tamil cinema happened 45 years ago. If a fan was 15 years old by then, he should be at least 60 years old now.  A good number of his fans are of this age. While young, these fans would have watched his films first day/first show.

As years passed, these fans would have had their own roles and responsibilities in their families. Even if they wish, they are not in a position to celebrate publicly. Their age would not permit them to climb on a flex board of their icon with milk pots.

Chandramukhi was a face-saver after the drubbing Baba suffered. The age factor of fans was very evident when Rajini’s subsequent movies like Sivaji, Enthiran and Kabali were released. Petta did better to an extent. But the reception to Annaatthe or Darbar brought forth the aging fan base of Rajinikanth.

His fans prayed fervently when Rajinikanth was rushed to a hospital in Singapore due to failing health in 2013. Even when he announced his decision to end his political aspirations, the fans respected his personal decision. But these fans are not young enough to receive and celebrate like they did when Rajini’s Muthu, Basha or Annamalai were released. Like their icon, they are also old.

Young people, after the year 2000, turned their loyalty to other promising actors. The fact is that every actor aspiring to touch the peak like Rajini would face this same problem when they age. A star like Rajini should aspire to make the moviegoers feel young rather than play a young man.

A star like Rajini should aspire to make the moviegoers feel young rather than play a young man

When Petta was running in theatres, Ajith’s Viswasam saw the actor playing a role of a father to a 13-year-old child. Vijay played middle-aged characters in Theri and Master. Rajini played the role of Keerthi Suresh’s brother in Annaathe movie. But his body language could not match the role of someone in his late 30s. But production houses seem hell-bent on showing him as young as possible.

Should Rajini continue playing roles not appropriate to his age? In Darbar, Rajini did play a mature role as the father of young Nivetha. But did his romance with Nayanatara click?

Rajini considers Amitabh Bachchan as his role model. But Amitabh did a beautiful transformation in his roles after 2000. He reached new heights when he started acting in age-appropriate roles. Rajini need not do roles as Big B Amitabh did. But he would do wonders if he slightly alters present roles for his age and health.

Rajini can indeed do it. He has done it in Kabali. A scene where he waits the entire night to meet his long-lost wife brought before us that Mullum Malarum Rajini albeit shortly. After Thrisoolam’s commercial success Sivaji Ganesan was on the verge of attempting the same roles but Muthal Mariyathai literally redeemed him. Sivaji went on to do such graceful roles starting from Jallikattu to Padayappa.

Hollywood’s Sean Connery and Harrison Ford did action roles even in their 60s. Even Rajini’s icon Sylvester Stallone is doing action movies at this ripe age. But Rajini may have to change his trajectory.

 Rajini doesn’t shy away from joining up with young directors to make movies. Recent additions are Pa Ranjith and Karthik Subbaraj. Despite all these factors, why should he allow people to stereotype him in all his movies? It is time Rajini starts choosing roles appropriate to his age and health. It is important that his films should make the fans feel young while watching the movies. Only then, Rajini can pull off a blockbuster like Padayappa again.

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