'Top actors came to me while Kabali was being shot, to ask me to cast them in at least one scene with Thalaivar -- even if it required them to clean a table on the side while Thalaivar is in the shot.'
Kabali producer Kalaipuli S Thanu, whose association with the southern superstar goes back four decades, tries to explain the Rajinikanth phenomenon.
The countdown to the release of Rajinikanth-starrer Kabali has begun, and its producer Kalaipuli S Thanu is in a very happy space.
After all, even before its release the film has already raked in Rs 200 crore!
Thanu, one of the most well-known producers in Tamil cinema, has had a significant role to play in the Rajinikanth phenomenon. He spotted the young actor's unique appeal four decades ago and christened him 'Superstar', a tag that has stayed with Rajinikanth till date.
In this exclusive interview with Rediff.com contributor T S Sudhir, Thanu explains what makes Rajinikanth tick.
Interestingly, he never refers to the Superstar by his name. Rajinikanth, for Thanu, is always 'Thalaivar' (Leader).
Congratulations on the overwhelming response to Kabali teaser. With over 22 million views already, it has broken all records. What explains the Rajinikanth magic?
Thank you. That is right. In India, no movie has got so many views on Youtube so soon. In 22 days, it has crossed 20 million views.
It is all because fans adore Thalaivar.
Then, of course, there is the manner in which director Pa Ranjith has presented him in Kabali.
You go back with Rajinikanth a long way. In 1978, you got your first break as distributor with Bairavi, which was Rajinikanth's first film as a solo hero. You christened him 'Superstar' then and the tag has stayed on for 38 years now. How different is the Rajinikanth of 2016 from the Rajinikanth of 1978?
There is no difference. People usually change with success and he has seen unimaginable success. But Thalaivar is still the way he was in 1978, when Bairavi was released. He respects people, and that is his biggest virtue. He is a true manithan (human being).
Though you have been associated with him for so long, Kabali is your first production with Rajinikanth. Why did it take so long to collaborate on a project?
Yes, Kabali is the first production though I have distributed many of his movies. But in 1985, when I was producing the film Yaar? (Who?) starring Arjun, Thalaivar made a cameo appearance.
We shot the scene in the puja room at his home in Chennai. Everything happens at the right time.
Explain the Rajini phenomenon. There are many people outside of Tamil Nadu, who would not be able to comprehend this craze for a 65-year-old actor.
I will not be able to adequately articulate what kind of a phenomenon Thalaivar is. But you have seen the (Kabali) poster we first released of Thalaivar, where he is sitting on a sofa, cross-legged.
Just see the expression on his face. It is so powerful.
I feel he is blessed by God.
I will not be able to disclose names but top actors came to me while Kabali was being shot, to ask me to cast them in at least one scene with Thalaivar -- even if it required them to clean a table on the side while Thalaivar is in the shot. I don't know how to explain this.
His look in the film reminds us of one of his biggest hits, Baasha. He's playing a don once again and also sporting a beard after a long time. What's the big deal about a beard, people may wonder, but then in Rajini-land, it is enough to send fans into a frenzy, isn't it?
But I won't agree that Kabali is Baasha revisited. In Baasha, that released in 1995, Thalaivar played an auto driver and sported a black beard only in the flashback scenes. He has never been seen before in any film, wearing the kind of full suits, like in Kabali.
He has never sported a white beard. And this is the first film in his career, where he is sporting an original beard, all white.
Kabali is quite different from the films the superstar has done in the last two decades. The people he has worked with regularly aren't a part of this movie. Was it difficult for Rajinikanth to come to terms with the fact that a seasoned director is not directing him, A R Rahman is not scoring the music and S P Balasubrahmanyam is not singing the title track?
No, he submits himself to the director of the project. He does not interfere.
But when crores are riding on him, weren't you apprehensive that someone with not much experience is the captain of the ship. It is your money, after all.
It was not a risk. Ranjith has directed two super hit films before this -- Attakathi and Madras. I am confident Kabali will be his hat-trick.
Kabali is releasing two years after Lingaa that did not do very well and distributors demanded that the producer and Rajinikanth compensate them for their losses. Before that, his animation film Kochadaiiyaan also was not a hit. Does that put added pressure on Rajinikanth with Kabali?
Lingaa was released by people with a background in running a college and a spare parts business. They knew nothing about the film business. They completely messed it up.
Marketing of a movie is a trick. See how I am doing it with Kabali, strategically.
Kochadaiiyaan was a different kind of a movie but with Lingaa, the distributors spread false propaganda on social media that the film did not do well. But Thalaivar does not come under any pressure.
In nearly five decades in the Tamil film industry, you have produced films starring several top actors like Kamal Haasan in Aalavandhan, Vijay in Thuppaki and Theri, Suriya in Kaakha Kaakha, Vikram in Kanthaswamy, and Mammootty and Ajith in Kondukondain Kondukondain. What is the difference between Rajinikanth and all these actors?
He is kadavul (god), the rest of them are devotees (laughs).
If you see this film, you will observe how immaculately he has performed in the action scenes, in the emotional scenes. And at his age, he is so sprightly.
At the airport, he would be walking while we would be running to keep pace with him. (Laughs)
Why did you cancel the music launch that was planned for June 12 and choose a soft, understated launch instead?
You know me, I like to do things in a grand way.
In the past 50 years, whenever I have marketed any of my productions, I have always done so with an intention to impress Thalaivar. But he called me from the US, where he is vacationing now and said, 'Thanu, keep it simple. I will meet everyone after the film is a hit.'
So we went by what he said.
Is he happy with how the movie has shaped up as, finally, the film rides on his name?
He is in a very happy frame of mind. He saw the posters of the movie on WhatsApp and called me to say that he liked them.
So will moviegoers see a Rajinikanth film or a Pa Ranjith film in July? Because the director is known for his realistic touch...
Thalaivar is the thalapathi (commander) of the movie, and he has Ranjith standing behind him.