The Baba phenomenon
Could the hype around Tamil superstar Rajnikanth's film prove its undoing?
N Sathiya Moorthy in Chennai
Tamil superstar Rajnikanth's Baba was expected make a lot of money for its distributors and cinema halls, which in turn could be invested in other films by other actors, thus reversing the current negative growth of Tamil cinema.
But the lukewarm response Baba has received has possibly taken with it the investments and earnings of the exhibitor and the distributor.
The overseas rights of Baba were sold for a whopping Rs 60 million (approximately $1.2 million). However, initial reports do not seem very encouraging, and the fear is that the film may not make one-third its investment.
According to trade estimates, Rajnikanth would have made up to Rs 500 million (approximately $10 million) on Baba against an investment of Rs 50 million (approximately $1 million), excluding the actor's payment. Others claim the expenses could have been as low as Rs 20 million (approximately $400,000), and the earnings as high as Rs 1 billion (approximately $ 20 million). The truth is estimated at somewhere in-between.
Now, insiders say the film may not gross Rs 200 million (approximately $4 million) invested by distributors in Tamil Nadu, even if it recovers its initial shocks. They put the distributors' loss at about Rs 100 million (approximately $ 2 million). Reports also speak of the disappointing audio sales.
This in spite of its music scored by A R Rahman; the audio rights were sold at Rs 30 million (approximately $600,000).
Going by early reports, industry sources say Baba is a washout in the other three southern states --- Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh --- too. Though it is too early to predict whether Baba would follow the footsteps of his earlier Pandiyan, which bombed a few years ago, it is not expected to repeat the success stories of his last two movies, Badsha and Padayappa, whose box-office records Baba was expected to break.
Baba has not met the expectations of the thousands of Rajnikanth fans or the ordinary filmgoer, thanks to its jaded storyline and a faded Rajnikanth. Unfortunate, when you consider that Baba was launched amidst much hype --- Rajnikanth had decided to appear before the camera after three years (his last film was Padayappa).
For the first time in Tamil cinema, advertisers sought to promote Baba as part of their campaigns. They entered into a contract with Rajnikanth's representatives, who legally barred others from using the logo, pictures and promotional material of the film to promote their products. In fact, even the tea and coffee served on the sets of Baba were sponsored, for which there was also a 'sponsorship fee' of sorts!
Rumours are now on that Rajnikanth is said to be considering plans to launch his next movie already. There could be two options here: a mega-budget movie directed by Shankar, the man with the Midas touch in Tamil cinema. Though Shankar's Nayak, a Hindi remake of his megahit Mudhalvan did not fare well, he continues have the vision to plan big and convey a social theme through a purely commercial milieu.
In fact, Shankar was earlier being considered for directing Rajnikanth's Baba. It was finally directed by Suresh Krissna, who had given such big hits as Badsha and Padayappa.
The other option is for Rajnikanth to resurrect his earlier directors who had given box-office hits like Guru Sishyan with no political overtones or undertones.
An industry insider says, "People have begun identifying Rajnikanth with socio-political punchlines, if not political themes and dialogues. A Rajnikanth movie bereft of a political message may not be well received. If people are looking for pure entertainment, they can turn to the newcomers and need not have to be satisfied with an aging Rajnikanth in comparison."
Whatever the case may be, early commercial reports of Baba have not helped revive the hopes of the losing Tamil industry. "Rajni should have stuck to acting, without seeking to write the script and screenplay [of Baba]," asserts another industry source. "Given his image, no one had the courage to tell him what was wrong with both. No one really thought of the ordinary filmgoer or the Rajnikanth fan. Unfortunately, it is not just Rajnikanth who stands to suffer. The impact will be on Tamil cinema, and it is already in a bad situation."