After 12 days, Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe has grossed 2,250,000,000 Rupees (30,204,000.00 USD) 5 at the box-office. This despite the film receiving almost universally dreadful reviews. I myself, despite being an eager Superstar fan, found the film dreadfully loud, sentimental, violent and unconvincing. In spite of excellent parts, not least of which is Thalaivar’s reunion with Kushbu and Meena, it just does not pull together as a whole. The Times of India review gives the film 2/5 stars and is titled, “Even Rajinikanth cannot save badly written Annaaatthe.” Well it looks like they were completely wrong. The Superstar, it seems, has saved the film single-handedly!
What is it about Rajinikanth that enables him to draw the faithful even as a 70 year-old playing his signature super cool and superhumanly heroic character? Does the answer lie in his indubitably unique persona and ability to connect with the masses? Or does it lie in the Tamilian culture of adulation, veneration and deification of exemplars, and the ease with which Tamils nominate living culture heroes !
While the sound mix overwhelmed the screenplay in Annaatthe, the music was in itself superb. Particularly satisfying was the instrumental version of D. Imman’s Yennuyirey featuring the rising nadaswaram star from my birthplace Jaffna K.P Kumaran. I make a point of identifying Jaffna as my birthplace as one of my strong memories of my late father is of his love for this instrument which he imbibed in his Vaddukoddai youth in the 1930’s.
While my father Arumugam Deva Rajah was born in Seremban, British Malaya, I was born in Jaffna and, while he went back to live in his ancestral village in 1929 when he was seven years old, I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when I was two in 1963. I remember blasting the Namagiri Petai Krishnan record he bought along with our very first Hi-fi system. Appa used to be highly stressed from his work and sensitive to noise. I would instinctively turn down any record I was playing when he arrived home from work, but not this one, or any of the other nadaswaram records we acquired later. My affinity with the blaring tone of this ancient Tamil instrument is a mark of my identification with my father and with my culture.
Returning to the impetus for this post, I must say that Jaffna K.P Kumaran is a fabulous instrumentalist. His playing on the film music of Yennuyirey is great and he is absolutely amazing in the traditional temple form as well.
The screening of a new Rajinikanth film (there have been 168 to date) always brings to mind the Tamilian (Hindu) notion of divinity – that God is everywhere and in everything. This immanent deity has two significant implications. In deep metaphysical terms it means that knowing or experiencing the attendant reality requires a transcendence of the egoistic self and recognizing the unity of all consciousnesses in one consciousness. This unification or oneness of the divinity is, counterintuitive as it might seem, analogous to the Islamic notion of Tawhid. On more mundane egocentric level, however, this immanence means that Tamilians might choose to designate any one of the innumerable parts. of the ubiquitous divinity, as the bearer of the presence of the whole. While some might deem this to be idolatrous or, in Islamic terms, Shirik. for Tamils separate parts of the divinity, ranging from rocks and trees to consecrated icons, can each stand for the whole. It is this synecdochic ontology that allow Tamilians to turn, the adulation of public figures into a form of worship. While this deification of living people, ranging from gurus to politicians, is widespread it is the ritualistic offerings made to movie SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth at the opening of his films that epitomizes of this phenomena in contemporary Tamil culture.
It seems that when Madurai Veeran is depicted without his consorts, he is identified as “Veeranar”. He is always depicted with a sword and most often it is an aruval. This is Rajinikanth’s weapon of choice in Annaatthe in which he wields the aruval throughout. According to Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe, this weapon has been identified as a signifier of caste (Thevar) pride in recent Tamil cinema and there is a genre known as theMadurai Formula film or the 3M film where the Ms are murder, mayhem and madurai. While Annaatthe does not quite fit with this genre, the prominence of the aruval in Annaatthe, and its symbolism, intended or otherwise, can not be ignored.
With Annaatthe about to be released, a Malaysian politician claims a likeness to the SUPERSTAR! According to Baling MP Abdul Azeez bin Abdul Rahim his Indian constituents call him Padayappa, after Rajnikanth’s character who champions the cause of the poor and downtrodden in the film of the same name. He also took great pride in saying “I speak in fluent Tamil, which shows I not only accept the language but also keep it in high regard.” Sorry lah but I always thought the honorable member of parliament was a Tamil … you know what I mean … in ancestry, like he learnt it at home from Ammamma or more likely Appappa (judging from his proud colour, maybe even from his Appa?)! Anyhow, the point is that this analogy was thrown up in his self-defense after being angrily accused, perhaps unfairly, of insulting the Tamil language by the even more colorful Jelutong MP Sanisvara Nethaji Rayer s/o Rajaji Rayer … and it was all over an elephant! Here is the video!
The Annaatthe official trailer is out and it is clear that the avenging aspect of Rajinikanth’s persona is modeled on the fierce Grama Deivam or village deity of non-Brahmanical rural Dravidian theism. In the trailer, as the Superstar threateningly vows to sacrifice his foe to his deity, he is shown in prayer before an icon of Madurai Veera Saamy. Madurai Veeran or Hero of Madurai is said to have been a warrior of low caste who was appointed to high military office in the Pandian empire and then and executed by dismemberment on the order the King in an honour killing for transgressing caste boundaries in his lovemaking. Following this, both Madurai Veeran’s faithful wife and his high caste lover committed suicide. To pacify the spirits of Madurai Veeran and his consorts, the King deified him in a shrine built on the grounds of the great Meenakshi Amman temple.
Vaa Saamy is the 4th single released from the Annaatthe soundtrack.As observed in Film Beat “The Vaa Saamy song hints that Annaatthe will not just revolve around the family man avatar of the Annaatthe, but also features him as an action hero.” The clips featured in the video release are indeed stylishly violent in the Superstars’s signature style but what can it signify in the aftermath of his anti-climactic political non-entry? After the powerful social reform symbolism of his his roles Kabali and Kaala by Pa Ranjith, the violence in the following releases, Petta and Darbar seemed a little gratuitous. Now, in Annaatthe, the Superstar’s first release after the reneging of his promise to enter the Tamil Nadu political arena, one wonders what his avenging avatar might signify!. While I expect to be disappointed at the deepest connotative level, I still look forward to enjoying the incomparable denotations, detonations even, of his incomparable stylistics. … Vaa Saamy!!!