India Insight

Obsessed Rajnikanth fans get their own cinematic tribute

The scene is in a theatre in Chennai. The lights go off and the screen flickers. The first images appear on screen, and the crowd goes nuts — jumping in their seats, screaming incoherently. There is pandemonium, and the movie hasn’t even started.

The object of this frenzy is a 62-year-old, balding man, known to his legion of fans as Anbu Thalaivar (beloved leader) — Rajnikanth, aka Shivajirao Gaikwad, a former bus conductor who is arguably India’s biggest film star.

People who don’t know Indian cinema beyond the concept of Bollywood are unlikely to know who Rajnikanth is. He is by far the brightest star in a constellation of actors in the many centres of regional-language films in India. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Assam and Punjab are among the Indian states that feature a rich historical and contemporary cinema, usually in their people’s local languages, especially for the benefit of the millions of Indians who speak little or no Hindi.

These local film industries often are financially successful in their own right, with many stars in these markets taking a shot at Bollywood success where the big time means covering the whole country. Rajnikanth has acted in some Bollywood films, but is among the few to have achieved country-wide stardom in the southern Indian languages of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

A new documentary film depicts the millions of die-hard Rajnikanth fans who take their fandom to a level that seems to defy logic. “For the love of a man“, which is likely to release next year, chronicles the passion of these seemingly ordinary, lower-middle-class men who sell property to fund fan clubs, hold prayer meetings for the success of the actor’s films, and even look for wives based on whether they are Rajnikanth fans.

Fandry puts a harsh spotlight on India’s caste system

Nagraj Manjule grew up as a Dalit, an untouchable, scorned by a caste system that he says never lets you forget how low you are. The short-film director channeled the shame and the ridicule of his childhood into his first feature film, “Fandry” (“Pig”) which won the Jury Grand Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival last month.

The movie is about a Dalit schoolboy named Jabya (Somnath Awghade) who  lives on the outskirts of a village and struggles against the caste system by daring to dream, and eventually rebelling against the perpetrators of that system.

He harbours a crush on a fair-skinned, Brahmin class-mate, dreams of buying fancy new blue jeans, and uses talcum powder to try to make his dusky face fair. Through scenes with his father, his best friend and the village maverick who becomes friends with Jabya, Manjule tells the audience that little has changed. The powerful climax gives the audience a glimpse into Jabya’s insecurities, his reluctance to accept his identity, before he finally snaps, retaliating against those ridiculing him and his family.

Documentary captures Indian cricket’s lesser-known faces

Prithvi Shaw is 14 and looks like any other schoolboy at first glance. But those who have seen him wield a cricket bat call him India’s next Sachin Tendulkar. They say he’s as natural and as powerful in his stroke play as the world’s most famous batsman was at that age. Shaw started playing when he was three, going up against people more than twice his age.

“He was shorter than the stumps he used to bat in front of,” Shaw’s father said.

The teenager plays cricket for one of Mumbai’s best school teams, trains with Tendulkar’s son Arjun at the city’s famed MIG cricket club, and is considered the next big thing in Indian cricket.

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