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.

Vote Stalin? In India, you can

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

History has it that Stalin and Napoleon were born a hundred years apart but in India, you will find the two working together – at least on paper.

Stalin and Napoleon (no relation to the Soviet dictator or the French emperor) are leaders in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a political party in Tamil Nadu that hogged headlines on Tuesday for withdrawing support to the ruling Congress-led coalition.

‘Vishwaroopam’ and Tamil Nadu’s cinema of politics

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The most unfortunate aspect of the censorship controversy over Kamal Haasan’s new movie “Vishwaroopam,” which came out on Thursday, is that it is happening in Tamil Nadu. India’s southernmost state has a history of using cinema as a tool of political dissent and expression, particularly regarding the Dravidian movement, but that spirit seems to have vanished with the decision to release a truncated version of the film after Islamic groups said certain scenes offended them.

First, a recap: “Vishwaroopam” (background on that name here) is a spy thriller about a Muslim man living in New York, masquerading as a Hindu. He must thwart a plot by a group of Afghans to blow up the city. The film came out on Jan. 25 except in Tamil Nadu, where Muslim groups objected to the portrayal of some characters as bearded, wild-eyed “terrorists.” The state banned the film under India’s criminal code, and chief minister and former actress Jayalalithaa said she could not guarantee police protection at cinemas that showed the movie. She also said that the ban was a move to preserve “law and order.” Haasan agreed to remove seven scenes to mollify the groups.

Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards

Rani enters her home for the first time in more than a week. She switches on the light, but it doesn’t work. Tsunami Colony, where she lives in the village of Idinthakari, has been deserted for months, and the electricity supply has been patchy.

The people who were living in the development fear that the police will return and ransack houses – as they reportedly have done to several places in the village. The residents prefer to sleep on the sand outside St. Lourdes church here in Idinthakari in Tamil Nadu, alongside people who have spent more than a year protesting the planned opening of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, which sits about 2 kilometres away.

There have been nearly 400 days of protests in the village. A plastic board outside the church tallies this number, every day. Villagers claim that their power supply has been irregular with long power cuts ever since they started protesting.

Cauvery River water fight paralyses Bangalore on Saturday

(This article was reported by Gokul Chandrasekar, Vineet Sharma and Bidya Sapam. Photos by Bidya Sapam)

The water was running in Bangalore on Saturday, but the buses were not.

“I have been waiting for a bus for over two hours now,” said Prabhat Kishan, 60, at the Majestic Bus Station in Bangalore.

India’s information technology capital shut down on Saturday over a state-wide “bandh,” or strike, that shut down shops, malls and restaurants. The bandh’s organizers paralysed the city to protest a decision by India’s Supreme Court to demand that the state of Karnataka allow the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to get precious additional reserves of water from the Cauvery River. It is the latest episode in a dispute that has endured for years in a country that is facing alarming shortages of groundwater.

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