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A little over two decades since its first release, Rajinikanth’s Baba comes calling at cinemas in a relatively new avatar, refurbished and reinvigorated. Baba’s comeback has set off expectations that the 2002 box office dud will rise up from the dead like a phoenix. Of late, social media has been teeming with photographs of the superstar engaged in dubbing work for the film.

It is on Rajini’s instance that Baba is getting resurrected now, the film’s director Suresh Krishna says. Yet questions have sprouted over the reason for its revival and over the way the film will be received two decades later when much has changed in Kollywood.

The main reason for Baba’s new avatar is probably that it will be in keeping with the recent trend of film buffs going gaga over Hindutva-hued films. Recent releases Kantara and Ponniyin Selvan, which dwell on Hindu spirituality or culture have been received well. Another film tinged similarly with saffron hues, Brahmastra, has also gone down well with the audience. The forthcoming Telugu film Hanuman, likewise, has oodles of pre-release hype about its Hindutva core.

This is not the first time that a film has been re-released years later. There have been revivals of Rajini’s Baasha, thespian Sivaji Ganesan’s Karnan and the 1980s’ rage My Dear Kuttichaathan. But the difference is that while those films had been big box-office hits back in the day, Baba had been a disappointment. It did not entertain Rajini fans and did not make profits for its producers and distributors. Baba originally released on August 15, 2002 after much hype. But when it dashed all expectations, Rajini was quite taken aback and there were reports that he compensated the distributors for their losses.

A commercial hero to the core, Rajini ventured to don the garb of Sri Raghavendra in his 100th film produced by K Balachander and directed by his favourite director S P Muthuraman. The film was a great letdown, and not the memorable mega hit the 100th film of a superstar is expected to be

Rajini may stride upon the state like a colossus, but he is, like most cinema personalities, a conventional man with his own strong beliefs. Rajini is also noted for not holding back when it comes to having his own way. A commercial hero to the core, he ventured to don the garb of the saint Sri Raghavendra in his 100th film produced under the K Balachander banner of Kavithalaya and directed by his favourite director S P Muthuraman.

But his fans are used to and want their swashbuckling hero stylishly snapping fingers, running fingers through the shock of black dishevelled hair, thrashing villains with legs and hands swirling and gyrating, and above all, his dexterity with cigarettes. So, when they were treated to a Rajini exuding spiritual tranquillity, an ascetic dripping with calm and composure, Raghavendra, no wonder, became a great letdown. It was far from the most memorable mega hit that a superstar’s hundredth film hoped to be.

Also Read: How old are you Annaatthe? Rajini’s aging fan base

Similarly, he produced and acted in Maaveeran in 1986 directed by Rajasekhar, who had made several hits with Rajini and Kamal. On the 100th day of another Rajini-starrer ‘Dharmadurai’, Rajasekhar passed away. Upset over the death of his favourite director, Rajini is said to have cancelled his shooting so he could attend the funeral.

The film Maaveeran revolving around Rajini playing the poor people’s messianic hero and taking on the British was expected to go down well with the audience. The film featured actress Sujatha playing Rajini’s mother (as also in the 2002 Baba) and also starred Dara Singh, the popular boxer. But the film smacked of the dusty run-of-the-mill content and turned a flop (alongside Kamal’s Vikram also released and bit the dust. Comparing both films, a review said that Rajini’s film failed because its storyline was backward by 10 years and Kamal’s film did not hit the spot as its storyline was ahead by 10 years).

An undaunted Rajini later went on to make Valli, a film named after his sister, a role played earlier by Shoba in the J Mahendran-directed film Mullum Malarum. Released on August 20, 1993, Valli did not capture the general audience’s fancy nor that of the fans’. Because of the hackneyed storyline and despite politically satirical innuendoes, Valli turned a damp squib.

Baba, released in 2002, was based on a story written by Rajinikanth himself. The dialogue was penned by noted Tamil writer S Ramakrishnan jointly with Gopu-Babu. The credits thanked other popular Tamil writers Balakumaran and Sujatha and also Swamy Paramananda, disciple of Swamy Dayananada Saraswati.  The film began with a quote, “The known is only a handful and the unknown as big as the world.”

Like Raghavendra, Baba too was an exposition of Rajini’s inner spiritual urge. But unlike the former, the latter featured Rajini at his usual best in macho gimmicks and magical dialogue delivery. Punch lines were sprinkled all through the film to pep up his fans as usual. The crisp words ‘gatham, gatham’ he uttered often in the film had an ominous ring. Connoting an end to all, the so-called punch dialogue however seemed to bring down the curtain on his career. Expectations of a mega hit dashed to the ground, Rajini cooled his heels for over two years till P Vasu came along and restored his mass appeal with Chandramukhi in 2005.

Taking a cue from Baba’s re-release, Kalaippuli S Dhanu has already announced that his own past film featuring Kamal — Aalavandhan — is in the pipeline, being remodeled, re-edited and renewed

Now the same Baba that left Rajini licking his wounds over two decades ago is being dusted off. Deletions and additions have been made by way of toning up the film’s quality. The new version, made in line with the current trend, is expected to hit screens right from the early hours on Rajini’s birthday, December 12.

Probably, Baba would appear far better to Rajini’s circle and to his fans, compared to his recent films Kabali, Kaala, Petta, Darbar and Annaathe, none of which were blockbusters worth their salt.

Also Read: Superstar’s political business: Ahead of film releases, Rajni backs governments and gets GOs passed to help boost ticket sales

In case Baba getting a new lease of life sets a successful precedent, more of Rajini’s flops will get a rebirth. Taking a cue from Baba’s re-release, Kalaippuli S Dhanu has already announced that his own film featuring Kamal — Aalavandhan — is in the pipeline, being remodelled, re-edited and renewed.

Expectations are rising over Baba, which is coming back to theatres on Rajini’s birthday, December 12. Not long ago Linga too was released on his birthday. But it proved lacklustre.

The stakeholders involved must have thought the time is now ripe for Baba’s new avatar.  But whether the film will just be an encore of its failure or hit the bull’s eye it had missed earlier, let us wait and watch.

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