When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

India

Why This 66-Year-Old Actor Is Like A God In India

Moviegoers are turning out in droves to see Kabali, a new Indian film featuring superstar Rajinikanth. What's all the excitement about? KBR journalist Jasvinder Sehgal attends a pre-dawn premiere to find out.

Man ritually pouring milk on a Rajinikanth poster in Chennai on July 22
Man ritually pouring milk on a Rajinikanth poster in Chennai on July 22
Jasvinder Sehgal

BANGALORE — At the Balaji theater in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, fans of Indian actor Rajinikanth are rejoicing the release of his new film, Kabali.

Among them is Rajendran Mahadevan. The 42-year-old fan pours milk on the poster of his favorite hero and covers it in flowers. This Hindu ritual is a way of wishing the film success. "It's just like a festival celebration," Mahadevan says. "Only we're even happier today than when we're at festivals."

Kabali is set in Malaysia. Rajinikanth plays Kabaleeswaran, a former trade union leader turned gangster who takes up the cause of south Indian workers being oppressed in a foreign land.

Mahadevan says he loves the film star's charisma and style, and can easily roll off a few of his favorite lines. "We love his films," he gushes. "He still has his unique style, even at 66. I love his dialogue."

At the theater, some of the other movie goers have shaved their heads and distribute sweets as a gesture of good luck to the film. It's 3 a.m, not yet dawn. This is the first time in the history of Indian cinema that a premiere has been scheduled for such an early hour. As the film begins, audience members jump from their seats and dance in the aisles at the sight of their beloved hero.

Lokayan Sahni, an aspiring actor, is one of many here who traveled from outside the city. The young man came all the way from Mumbai — more than 600 miles away. Sahni's passion for the premiere is even more remarkable considering he doesn't speak Tamil, the movie's original language.

"I don't really understand south Indian languages. But it's worth watching just to see Rajinikanth act," he says. "He's more than an actor. He's a superstar. For millions of people, he's like a god. The way he walks, talks and acts. Aspiring actors like me can learn a lot from him."

Sahni says the excitement and frenzy surrounding the film isn't confined just to cinemas. "I've seen people wearing T-shirts printed with his photo. And many have grown out their beards to be like him. Even tuk-tuks and cars are painted with his posters," he explains.

Many private companies gave their employees the day off so that they can catch the film on its opening day. Some parents even kept their children out of school. And India's post and telegraph department released a special postal cover to mark the film's release.

Some people, though, predict that the Kabali craze will be short lived. "The hype is strategically planned. It's a marketing technique," says Rekha Sharma, a film critic from Mumbai. She explains that some of Rajinikanth's films were box office disappointments, and that this time around, promoters pulled out all the stops.

But Sharma also says that it's common in India for people to idolize film actors. The country's movie industry is the biggest in the world, producing more than 1,600 new films a year in more than 20 local languages. "Rajinikanth's popularity is immense, especially in southern India. And the film's initial release is breaking box-office records. But it won't continue that way," the film critic suggests.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Ideas

A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest