The R Factor and the media

BY B.P. Sanjay| IN Media Practice | 17/06/2007
Rajni has had a love hate relationship with the media including a unilateral media boycott in the late 1980s to protest his so-called arrogance.

B.P. Sanjay

Publicity build up for movies, film stars and celebrities in the media has become a common feature. It also speaks volumes about the well oiled publicity mechanism that is in place for such efforts.  The 24/7 networks contribute to this  build up by  their  repetitious cycle of not only hard news but soft content that borders on publicity.  A case in point is the overwhelming media coverage for Sivaji..., the latest Rajnikanth movie released this week.

The fact that it is a big budget movie is beyond doubt and obvious for every reader, viewer and listener. Sivaji...  was released in 1000 theatres this week which would approximately mean that one in every 12 or 13 theatres in the country is screening Sivaji.  In Andhra Pradesh alone it was released in about 350 theatres with an astronomical price tag for its territorial exhibition rights. It has also reportedly fetched a very high black market price for the first day first show ticket. A curious but interesting reality check that is accepted by mainstream media and the film industry  is to measure the popularity of a movie by its black market ticket price. The stories of his fans wanting to do anything to try and see the movie on the first day/first show is splashed with appropriate quotes that extol the attributes of the super star and his one word, short sentence dialogues with a punch.

Sivaji¿s release in Andhra has also refueled the dubbing movie debate as Telugu film producers are reeling under the unprecedented local response to Sivaji in particular and dubbed Tamil movies generally. In the neighboring Karnataka, the Kannada film industry has accepted the reality of success of other language movies as the demographic character of cities such as Bangalore makes it very difficult for the industry to lobby for any intervention by the state.  Measures such as differential taxation and staggered release for non-Kannada movies have not yielded dividends for the Kannada film industry.  The veiled threat by the Kannada Protection Forum on the eve of Sivaji... release has not necessarily deterred the fans from their enthusiastic response to movie.

Side bars and human interest stories are also grist for the media. The Hindu reported how a retired driver of a Bangalore Transport Corporation could not wait to see Sivaji on the first day. The retired driver fondly claimed that Rajnikanth used to be his conductor and how he had not only encouraged him to pursue his acting but also partially supported his studies at the Adyar  Film Institute, Chennai. Incognito, the report adds, the two even to this day enjoy their camaraderie by watching movies and engaging in their ?like old time? habits. 

Despite media hype and the unprecedented fan following, academic scholars who analyse cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu do not ascribe any political charisma to the super star. The legacy of MGR phenomenon is indeed limiting for any serious analysis about the Rajni¿s super star status including the fact that his movies cannot be regarded as message bearers in a political sense. However, the aam aadmi is no doubt mesmerized by his acting or as intellectuals would have it, ?style over substance? acting in his movies.

Elite and subaltern perspectives zero in on the Rajni¿s super star status. His imitational mannerisms are bywords among families that wish to demonstrate how their child can faithfully imitate the super star. Flipping cigarettes, pulling back one¿s unkempt hair and maintaining differential gaits to heightened background music are frames that bring instantaneous gratification to his fans.  Comedy sequences featuring the star include a la Amitabh sequences and his so-called fear of snakes.  One cannot escape the additional props that some theatres, particularly in southern Tamil Nadu provide to heighten his impact on the screen. Psychedelic lights come up encasing the screen whenever Rajni performs a USP mannerism in his movies or delivers a punch line. His punch lines are faithfully reproduced by his fans as and when needed Last week the media was replete with such  sound bytes from his fans to mark the release of Sivaji... release. Intelligentsia sneer at such imitation and are visibly   contemptuous towards the super star and the huge fan following he has.

Rajni has had a love hate relationship with the media including a unilateral media  boycott in the late 1980s to protest  his so called arrogance. However, this is passé® He is a favorite media subject and both mainstream and local television networks never tire of telecasting his movies including using his clips in the numerous film- based shows on television.  Comparatively he is media shy and does escape to his retreats as and when speculation is rife about his manifest political support for one party or the other.  His e-fans website recognizes this:   ?A bit of a recluse, Rajni may be. But everyone who¿s had the privilege of a darshan with the thalaivar (leader) has come away with a spring in his step and a warm glow in the heart. Warm, friendly and affable, he¿s the sort who deserves all the superstardom he¿s earned. Such men, indeed, are rare....? 

The highest paid film star in Indian cinema (Sivaji has reportedly fetched him an astronomical Rs. 30 crore) is indeed an headline reference in day time television bulletins. In the heartland of Dravidian politics and psyche Rajni has set a trend and spawned many other heroes in the same mould. Call it suspension of disbelief but the common feature in all Tamil movies is all earthly heroes including Rajni never tire of wooing heroines who usually represent the fair and lovely category. The carpenter turned conductor turned super star has come a long way. Does he need media or does the media need him to fill their columns and airtime is perhaps a clich餠academic question.

Tailpiece: the fair and handsome factor for men has a new dimension apart from the phenomenal sale of creams etc., Deccan Chronicle reports that a song sequence in Sivaji where Rajni is shown with an incredibly fair skin face cost the producer a huge sum.  Oblique marketing for chemical peeling (the procedure which Rajni went through) was evident. The spin off stories about the R factor and Sivaji in the media will continue till he completes his next movie that may be two years down the line.

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