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April 28, 1999


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Rajni does it again

A still from Padayappa. Click for bigger pic!
Ganesh Nadar

The theatre had no air-conditioners, the fans were way too high to be of any use and the sound system is loud and often slid unbidden in falsetto. And there were enough people in there to make the term housefull no exaggeration.

The ticket included a picture of Rajnikanth and the film's name, a privilege reserved for the superstar's latest release. And when we'd come in, we'd seen the theatre compound was full of cut-outs and banners put up by innumerable fan clubs.

This is pretty common fare when a Rajnikanth film hits the screen. And as Rajnikanth usually does, he plays good guy, comedian, philanthropist, super fighter, singer, Don Juan all rolled into one. And the fans love the stuff.

There's a political angle to all this too -- one of the heroines, who behaves suspiciously like a vamp, Ramya Krishnan, is made to resemble J Jayalalitha, the lady whose latest achievement was bringing down a government.

The film-makers have gone to the extent of using the voice of someone who sounds uncannily like the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief. And every dialogue between Rajnikanth and Ramya seems like a direct attack on Jaya.

But let's get on with the story. Rajnikanth plays the son of a man with high values (Sivaji Ganesan). The boy is brave -- some might say foolhardy too -- for he puts his hand into a snake's hole. He is good -- bashes up bootleggers. He has a gang of cronies led by comedian Senthil. He loves a shy girl who works at his uncle's house but can't work up the courage to tell her.

One day the hero finds a bull trying to make holes in the vamp. So he gets around and plays Galahad. The lady in question, though a villager, has this habit of walking around in mini skirts and showing a heck of a lot of cleavage.

Click for bigger pic!
She is also the hero's cousin -- the daughter of the hero's mother's brother, which is considered distant enough to consider a matromonial alliance. Her brother is engaged to marry Rajni's sister.

At the engagement ceremony, Rajni and Ramya sings and dance together, the do ending with Ramya smooching Rajni. Consternation all around.

Meanwhile the hero's dad's brother, played by Manivannan, wants to divide the property. Sivaji hands over all the property to him and walks out -- to die on the steps.

Now the mother's brother son refuses to marry Rajni's sister since she isn't quite the rich thing she was. Rajni moves to a neighbouring property that turns out to be a deposit of granite. The scheming uncle tries to get it off him but -- as happens in this kind of film -- God makes a special appearance.

Meanwhile, Rajni and Ramya continue to clash. In a fit of asperity, she declares she will marry him come what may. He retorts, pretty grandly at that, "A man with too much greed and a women with too much anger have never succeeded in history."

Well, Rajni becomes rich again, thanks to the granite we mentioned. Now that things are fine again, the mother's fairweather brother turns up with Ramya's proposal, saying his daughter would pine away if Rajni did not marry her. The mother agrees to go over the next day.

Rajni submissively agrees to do whatever his mother commands. But the next day, the mother produces her ace, choosing the servant girl -- that her son always loved -- for her daughter-in-law.

She tells her brother that this is just revenge for his son having deserted her daughter. Ramya tries to kill Soundarya through various schemes, all of which are thwarted by Rajni.

Click for bigger pic!
Eighteen years pass. Ramya, having given up her homicidal plans, has retired to a room to pine away in peace while her brother has risen to the rank of state home minister. Ramya finally emerges from her room when she finds that her nephew's classmate is Rajni's daughter. She asks Abbas to woo Rajni's child, her plan being that she will later demand that he abandon her.

The hero runs up against the minister and the crony asks him fearfully, "Can we take on the might of the government." Rajni confidently replies that he has the backing of a higher authority. "We have God with us," he says. And when he finally runs up against the corrupt cousin-minister, he announces, "You have the cops with you but I have the people with me." The theatre, consisting predominantly of the latter class, roared approval.

This is the first time that a Rajnikanth film relies on body display to carry it along. We not only have Indian beauties showing legs and lots of torso but we have a couple of foreigners too thrown in for variety.

Ramya does a fantastic job. She is vicious to her dying breath, when she declares she will revenge herself in her next life. She does a fabulous tandav of rage when her father commits suicide. If she hadn't wasted her time imitating Jaya she would probably have won the award for the best villain of the year.

Sivaji, Manivannan, Lakshmi, Radharavi, Abbas, Nasser, Soundarya, all excellent actors in their own right, unfortunately just provide the backdrop for the clashes between Ramya and Rajni.

The main character is based on Rajni's most famous and most successful screen character --Basha. Give Basha a cheroot and that's Padayappa.

There, now you have a fair idea about the film. And let us assure you, if you are a Rajni fan, this film is vintage stuff.

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