Dilani Rabindran



That Inexplicable Rajini Effect, Rajinikanth, The Rajini Effect


Speaking with Kuvera and Nelson Sivalingam about the one & only Rajinikanth is like speaking with a pair of wide-eyed young boys describing their favorite comic book superhero – whose powers astound them to a point where even words do not suffice to explain their admiration… so instead they turned to film. The London-based writing - directing team spoke with an audible awe for the Superstar when I chatted with them regarding their feature film debut “The Rajini Effect”, which has its premiere in the UK this week; timing that seems beyond poetic to the brothers since it means their film will be screening at the same time Rajinikanth`s latest “Kochadaiyaan” is. The Tamil brothers, who grew up in Europe but were raised on good old fashioned Thalaivaa, are undoubtedly some of his biggest fans, so it is quite fitting that after years of other creative productions their feature film debut centers around the international appeal of the Superstar.

“The Rajini Effect” is the story of how a Japanese Rajinikanth - devotee Taiho, who has always dreamt of becoming an Indian superstar, enters a talent search competition that requires him to make a short film proving he has what it takes to become India’s next hero. Standing in line for ‘Enthiran’, witnessing the crowds who had come out in mass and the number of screens the major cinema chain provided a Tamil film, inspired the brothers, who run Barking Mad Productions, to contemplate doing a documentary that paid homage to the man and explored why so many people felt the same sense of wonderment they do; after time, however, they realized that a documentary format might be too clinical for a man that spreads so much joy around the world. “This is worship, it’s something more [than just cinema]”, Nelson explained, as they discussed the film’s universal subject matter, and that the film probably would not translate if it revolved around any other pan-Indian movie star, like Amitabh or Shah Rukh.  “Even Amitabh plays his age in films now, but with Rajinikanth… he’s timeless. [If things were different] You might have to explain to someone outside of the Indian population how a 63 year old man was playing someone half their age, but not with Rajini… he’s almost beyond any criticism; it’s sort of inexplicable”.

The brothers were initially working on a drama they intended to be their first film, but after a few rather seriously toned shorts they decided to “use up all their jokes” and take a break from the dark stuff to write a comedy about fan-love for Rajinikanth, and ultimately about the determination to go after your dreams.  “The film is about making a film, and like the film in the story ours was made on a rock bottom, shoestring budget”. But, despite its low budget, the film has garnered international attention and acclaim. The small production that was shot mostly on weekends by a team that had other day jobs, had its first screening in Germany at the Stuttgart Indian Film Festival in 2013, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film, and then went on to be screened at festivals in Seattle and Hawaii, and is finally hitting screens in its hometown, where its own dedicated cast and crew will finally get to see it.

The brothers, whose portfolio consists mostly of commercials and music videos, also hope to screen the film in India, where they expect fans of Rajini could enjoy the film on a whole different level: “You get something else from the film when you have grown up with Rajini”. But when questioned whether the quirkiness of the film’s premise and its out of the box humor would translate for an Indian audience the brothers were confident in the progressive state of South Indian cinema that has moved away from the predominant use of ‘slapstick comedy’. “Audiences are changing”, Kuvera explains, as the brothers discuss the success of recent Tamil comedies like NKPK, “and even now, how the comedy is moved into the plot, instead of being a separate track altogether is a big change, and shows the advancement”.

It also helps that the film already possesses some key Indian elements for success – like a dose of South Indian star power and an infectious soundtrack. Kollywood darling Anu Hassan, a friend of the directing team, immediately agreed to make a cameo in the film after hearing the premise, much like British Asian music director, Charles Bosco. Bosco, who is tied to several new projects in Kollywood, understood exactly what the brothers had in mind for the film, and what resulted is a diverse album boasting a range of Tamil filmi to urban indie British music, including a bonafide ‘Rajini anthem’ called “Thala Thalapathy”.

And what does Thalaivaa himself think of the movie? The brothers break out into laughter with this question as they re-tell how they planned to ask him to do a cameo in their film upon meeting him during a Kochaidaiyaan press conference in London, but after all their preparation, the diehard fans were at charming loss for words in his presence…but there’s always hope for a sequel.

Ultimately, their true passion for their ‘niche’ piece of work is evident when asked what’s next for the film after its UK premiere: “It’s really hard to release an independent low budget film these days made by newcomers, and people feel the need to ‘place’ our film into a bracket of “British Asian”, when really it’s about the Tamil community and a Japanese protagonist! Ultimately, it’s just about a guy with an outrageous dream; the arc of it is something anyone can relate to.” Of course distribution becomes more difficult with films that are harder to categorize, but this realization has instilled in the brothers a sense of commendable conviction: “We would even take it online. At the end of the day we want as many people to see it as possible because it’s a film that shouldn’t need to be categorized, it can be enjoyed by anyone, of any background.” - just like Rajinikanth. 

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