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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.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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