It is rare for a film star to be featured in these columns. But, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth is no ordinary film star. The highest paid actor in the country, his pay cheque per movie, at Rs 25 crore plus a share of the revenues, puts him well ahead of his peers in Bollywood.
When his latest film, Sivaji - The Boss, hit theatres across the world on June 15, fans queued up overnight for the first show in Chennai at 5.30 in the morning. In Malaysia, which has a large Tamil population, crowds went berserk when there was a delay in screening the movie. His movies are dubbed for the native audience in Japan, and he also has a large following among NRIs in the US, the UK and Canada.
There are no easy explanations for the popularity of this balding, dark, 57-year-old grandfather, fondly called Style Mannan by his legion of fans. Shivaji Rao Gaikwad, who morphed into Rajinikanth, is a Maharashtrian who grew up in Bangalore and worked as a bus conductor before embarking on his acting career. He is the ultimate superstar if box office collections are along the barometer. His last film, Baba, was dubbed a failure because it grossed "only" Rs 20 crore. Most other actors would give an arm and a leg for such collection figures. What endears him to the industry fraternity is the fact that when some distributors lost money on Baba, he reimbursed them.
How's this for a business model? If the movie is a success, distributors make money, but if it incurs losses, they get reimbursed. Little wonder then that producers, directors and distributors love him.