He's the evergreen bus conductor-turned-film star who is worshipped like a god in his native south India. Now the actor Rajinikanth appears to have a movie budget that befits his megastar status.
The 60-year-old superstar's latest film, the Tamil-language Endhiran, has a budget of 1.65 billion rupees (35 million dollars), according to the movie's official website.
That would make it the most expensive Indian film ever, beating Bollywood's Hindi-language underwater odyssey Blue, which reportedly cost 750 million rupees, and Kites which starred Hrithik Roshan and was said to have been made for 1.25 billion rupees.
Shooting for Endhiran, which is due for release later this year, has taken the cast all over the world, from the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru to Brazil and the United States.
"It seems a very lavish production from what we've seen from the stills," leading film critic Taran Adarsh told AFP.
The science-fiction fantasy, which will be released in Hindi as The Robot and Robo in Telugu, also stars former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, who is one of Bollywood's biggest names and the daughter-in-law of megastar Amitabh Bachchan.
But the big draw is still likely to be Rajinikanth, the moustachioed action hero famous for his stylised acting who left a job on the buses to study drama in the then city of Madras in southern India in the early 1970s.
A star of more than 150 films, his presence on screen has been likened to a leaping tiger, and his fans are known to pray in front of life-size cardboard cut-outs of the actor for the success of his latest release.
"Rajinikanth is a very big star in India as well as in Japan, Malaysia, the US and UK," said Adarsh, who writes for www.bollywoodhungama.com.
In Endhiran Rajinikanth plays the dual role of a scientist and a robot he creates that falls in love with Rai's character.
The film sees him team up with the director S. Shankar and the composer and lyricist A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for his work on the hit film Slumdog Millionaire.
Analysts said the actor's star appeal and the big budget is increasingly rare, as studios, particularly in Bollywood, find that a big name and even bigger budget are no guarantee of box office success.
Revenues declined by nearly 14 percent to 89.3 billion rupees in 2009, hit by a damaging Bollywood producers' strike, swine flu fears and poor quality content, auditors KPMG said in a report published in March.
In recent years, exorbitant fees for actors have been cut and performers have turned their attention to quality not quantity when making films in the hope of making an impact in India's increasingly crowded entertainment sector.
South Indian cinema -- India's largest film-producing region encompassing Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada language films -- remains more star-driven but is taking note of the need for higher production values.
Studios across India are putting more money into the quality of production like special effects, script-writing, marketing and consumer insight work, said Rajesh Jain, head of media and entertainment at KPMG.
"It's a shift from taking audiences for granted," he added.