On Rajini's stardom

This is an extension of an exchange that I had with Zero on twitter from here. I thought I’ll also touch on some things I wanted to talk about during Endhiran’s release.

The general point that everyone seems to agree with is that a star like Rajini and the media feed on each other to push their own agendas. What many don’t quite agree is that the same is true of the fans who are incomparably ‘politicized’ than those of, say, Bagavathar. Whether it’s organic or not, a star’s fan in Tamil Nadu (the one who engages in ‘marketing’), post MGR, mostly tends to have ambitions that far exceed the star/star’s film’s success [1]. The ‘fans’ who sustain the spectacle of fandom created by the former engage in it purely as an act of aggrandized consumption [2]. I think, for these fans, their relationship to the star does in fact offer a rather distorted understanding/experience of the film that isn’t necessarily ‘productive’ (from an understanding they could have had otherwise, even as ‘fans’ of a different kind – different from either). For they both construct a discourse that normalizes the inclusion of a film’s externalities such as ‘budget’ in its appreciation (at least in its most primary mode). Because they know what’s external for the film is, nonetheless, essential for the spectacle.

While it’s true that marketing muscle is an inextricable part of star power, it used to originate from the star -- he’s usually the top of the pyramid. It may not be the case anymore. The star’s image has now been hijacked and remodelled to meet ends that probably don’t serve the star himself. So a different kind of spectacle is manufactured in which the star is an auxiliary mechanism to propel, in this case, the producer. The interesting thing is, there isn’t much resistance to this. Or so it seems, given how many 'fans' actually mention Maaran’s name alongside Rajini. It’s quite an anathema for an erstwhile Rajini fan [3].

The least that can be established is that Rajini’s star power and the ‘marketing muscle’ that he’s supposed to possess ‘naturally’ did not save Baba [4] (let alone the election results in 2004). And there’s little reason to believe that his waning star power gathered momentum, like it did in the 80s, as he aged further from then, by his fans’ efforts or some such. While he may have had the potential for resurgence, he probably could not have done it on his own (even with what could be called ‘good’ films). What the Sun corporation has done is to re-articulate the dormant fanaticism of Rajini fandom by suggesting normativity of the exaggerated, and in presenting that it’s both a matter of pride and Tamilness even. The ‘new age’ yuppie fans badly needed the re-articulation to legitimize their publicized indulgence -- and lend some elitist charm -- in activities that were otherwise relegated to the ‘uncultured’ [5].

Shankar’s own claims of grandiosity (especially one that’s perceived in the north Indian media) further exotified -- what is perhaps a matter of shame (my personal opinion) -- the participation in the spectacle of Rajini fandom. Ultimately it translates into a desire to seek the film’s success and break box office records at any cost (literally) in order to sustain the spectacle. This collective participation is enabled by simulating a cloud of consensus in all forms of media. This is the point of departure for ‘real’ star power from what is manufactured.


1.That his contemporaries who tried to follow the same model and that only Rajini succeeded to a great extent (intentionally or not) is what sets him apart.

2. It’s not unlike the self-elevation common in other kinds of fan mentality (among certain ‘fans’).

3. It's different from producers/distributors who used to be the auxiliary beneficiaries in Rajini’s older films. This ‘paradigm shift’ is also, incidentally, a mark of public acceptance of corporate greed and profiteering (as discussed in the podcast with Krishna Ananth).

4. It’s debatable (and a different point altogether) as to whether Baba failed because it wasn’t as good as Endhiran. But then, it only undermines the argument of 'star power'.

5. People in videos like this seem to be have been desperate for an excuse to do something like this or it’s just the old ‘bhangra envy’.


Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective. Reminds me of the NDTV debate with Gnani, Sreedhar Pillai, Chinmayi and another gentleman. Chinmayi was behaving was exhibiting typical fan behavior.

I am surprised why Kamal, who once used to have a huge fan following and even now probably gets the 2nd best opening does not generate this kind of hysteria. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

what's the bhangra envy?

Anonymous said...

This article is downright silly. Who 'manufactured' the success of Chandramukhi after the flop baba and the 'loss' in 2004 elections? Kalanithi or Amma?

Suresh said...

Whoever it was it sure wasn't Rajini's star power.

krishna said...


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