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Rajnikanth: Bigger than Big B?

His mass appeal in TN far outstrips the Big B, says Saibal Chatterjee.

entertainment Updated: Aug 26, 2005 19:55 IST

The one and only Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood's sexagenarian superstar, is poised to notch up ten releases this year. In 2004, he had a full dozen. So, it is only natural, therefore, to assume that there is nobody quite like him in India.

The truth is that there is. Southern supernova Rajnikanth may no longer be as prolific as the Big B but his mass appeal in Tamil-speaking regions of the land far outstrips anything that Amitabh Bachchan is capable of achieving.

As he steps into his fourth decade in the industry, the Tamil movie industry's most enduring crowd-puller has delivered a monster hit far bigger than anything anyone has ever seen before.

No other Indian movie star can hold a candle to this 56-year-old megastar's undying penchant for single-handedly spearheading box office money-spinners.

Rajnikanth's latest film, Chandramukhi, which has him in the role of a suave, spiffily attired US-returned shrink on a visit to a friend's rural mansion, has smashed all existing records down south. The film, released four months back, is still running to packed houses in many parts of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. His romantic interest in the film is the 21-year-old Nayanthara.

The gross earning from Chandramukhi has already crossed the Rs 50-crore mark. The figure is expected to swell substanbtially as theatrical, DVD and satellite TV rights bring in big bucks from Malaysia, the UAE and the US.

Detractors have often derided Rajnikanth's on-screen mannerisms, his alleged lack of range and his tendency to go overboard with gimmicks. They have also found him wanting as an actor in comparison with the contemporaneous Kamal Hasan.

But it is not merely Rajnikanth's amazing box office clout that is noteworthy. In his 30-year career, the superstar has demonstrated far greater versatility as an actor than he is usually credited with. Villain, anti-hero, action man, comedic character, dramatic thespian, emotional powder-keg - he has essayed it all with aplomb. In Mani Ratnam's Thalapathi, he was pitted against Malayalam superstar Mammootty. Rajnikanth matched the latter skill for skill.

Rajnikanth's only competition is Rajnikanth himself. Chandramukhi, a reworking of a 1993 Malayalam hit Manichitrathazhu, has become Tamil filmdom's biggest ever grosser by outstripping yet another Rajnikanth vehicle, Padayappa (1999).

The success of Chandramukhi,coming three years after the box office debacle of Baba, written and produced by the star, has put him back where he belongs: right at the top of the heap. He doesn't seem likely to vacate that perch anytime soon.