Art & Culture

Could Rajinikanth as Kabali be the anti-hero we love?

Saranya Chakrapani
Saranya ChakrapaniJun 11, 2016 | 10:48

Could Rajinikanth as Kabali be the anti-hero we love?

On his worst days, my cousin with partial down syndrome took to one ritual that could turn it all around for him: a Superstar movie. His rage at whatever he found unsettling about the mainstream world was addressed and channelised in his prized Rajini indulgences – sneering dialogues complimenting a rather sprightly bearing.

"Seeviduven! (I’ll slice you!)", he would hiss at times out of the blue; lower lip bit in, eyes pushed wide open; the expression looking almost ludicrous, painted against the comforting gawkiness of his face.

In Sivaji-the boss.

Rajini offered the drug for anything remotely conflicting to the head – mom being unreasonable with homework, adults grounding you for being caught at the theatre during school hours, friends who could cycle faster.

Didn’t Thalaivar nail that kind of stuff? One bruised ego later, he could return with a loftier morale by the second half; naivety given away for astuteness, the childlike smile replaced by a self-assured smirk, the stride of a charging lion; a dashing stubble, sun glasses and something to smoke – the last three almost invariable benchmarks of his riveting rise from the ashes.

From Annamalai to Sivaji, we have seen this drill and quite possibly taken from it to rise ourselves out of our own life’s injustices, whenever we could allow ourselves this shy indulgence.

And much as Rajini is best as the man who’s back with a vengeance, I think what has worked the magic these decades is that the vengeance for all his characters has always been to live well. With principles held intact and a heart unfazed by any bouts of tragedy that could strike during his screen-hour lifetime, he always has the last laugh.


He repeatedly underscores the message that there’s always hope, and this has added to his nurtured heroism over the years.

Sivaji’s high point could well be "Motta Boss" arriving on that chopper; invincible, characteristically stylish and more badass than ever. Manikkam, the benevolent auto driver with the kind of power that could get things done, but uses it with humility and restraint; he’d drop the line, “Enakku innu oru peyarum irukku (I have another name)”, rather coyly, using the alter-ego of Baashha, the dreaded don, only when really necessary.

This is also the sensibility that makes the upcoming Kabali, the ageing don somewhat endearing and even sexy.

Besides this terrific supposition that adversity only makes you more powerful (and fashionable), Rajinikanth perhaps also intrinsically carries the vibe that he’s better when meaner. And his directors seem to see this for what it is. If we dare to admit it: the haughty, cigar-smoking father in Netrikkan engulfs you the way his brash, but kind-hearted son never could.

The briefly occurring Vettaiyan in Chandramukhi, in all his depravity, sticks longer in your head than the witty doctor Saravanan; which well, is also why he’s in the climax. Chitti, the robot in Enthiran is many notches more exciting than Dr Vaseegaran, and we can’t stop watching him go “Meeeehhhh”, as he menacingly fishes out his victim.  


Over years of establishing a self-definition – which he’s now strategically allowing some upheaval in Kabali – what Rajinikanth has also done is show us how life works.

Even if in an ideal world.

And how when there’s more black in your grey than white, it’s still alright, because well, if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger. Take this in, be suave about it and you’re every hero you’ve wished to be.

Last updated: June 11, 2016 | 14:25
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