What’s Behind The Delayed Release Of Rajinikanth Starrer 2.0?
There may be more to the delay in release date of the film 2.0 than meets the eye. For cinema and politics are seldom mutually exclusive in Tamil Nadu’s political arena.
The news of Rajinikanth’s 2.0 missing its April 2018 release date on account of visual effects taking longer than expected, marries well with what is often said about timing. Since the speculation about his possible foray into politics came to pass, Rajinikanth has underscored how the time needs to be right for him to reveal his future course. Timing in politics, like the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau said, is perhaps the single-most essential ingredient, and as a close observer of Tamil Nadu politics, Rajinikanth understands the value of correct timing.
The ambitious sequel to the 2010 S Shankar-directed Enthiran / Robot, 2.0 is reported to have a budget of Rs 450 crore and also features Hindi superstar Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson. While one can understand how the visual effects can be a cause for the delay, after missing its Diwali 2017 release and then the April 2018 one, the film has taken almost a year longer to hit the screens. Could the real reason for this delay, or at least some part of it, also have to do with Rajinikanth trying to time not only 2.0 but also Kaala, the only other film that he is currently working on, to release as close as possible to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
The 2019 general election will be a litmus test of sorts for the 2012 Tamil Nadu assembly, and with Kamal Haasan possibly transforming into a political opponent as well, the state’s political arena could end up resembling a Friday where two superstars clash at the box office.
The reason for this speculation – the delay in 2.0 release is about something more than the ongoing visual effects – could have a bit to do with the intrinsic nature of cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu. This is a state where film stars are expected to wear their political identity on their sleeves and there exists a near-schizoid relationship between the reel and the real in the minds of both actors who portray these roles and the legions of fans. Much of Tamil Nadu’s political destiny since the creation of the state, and even before that, has been penned by people connected with films, be it Annadurai, the founder of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), who wrote six screenplays with the view to “educating the people of Tamilnad” and later M Karunanidhi, an immensely successful screenwriter in his own right, and actors like K R Ramaswamy, N S Krishnan, M G Ramachandran (MGR) and Sivaji Ganesan (who later joined the Congress). In fact, the DMK was once essentially viewed as the only party of Tamil nationalism that took film as a vehicle of political mobilisation and it’s hardly surprising that K Kamaraj, the then chief minister and president of the All-India Congress Party, mocked at the DMK's aspirations in the 1967 elections and is believed to have even said – “How can there be government by actors?”
One can’t help but see films that Rajinikanth and especially Haasan have lined up in the same light as MGR and N T Rama Rao (NTR) featured in once they made up their minds to join politics full-time. MGR mobilised his cadre with films like Netru Indru Naalai (1974), Idhayakani (1975) and Indru Pol Endrum Vazhga (1977) that clearly preached his political ambition. NTR, too, acted in films like Sardar Papa Rayudu (1980), a social-historical, and played the everyman with panache in Naa Desam (1982), a remake of Lawaaris where, unlike the Hindi original, the thrust was the protagonist’s search for an identity.
Rajinikanth’s enormous fan base resembles that of MGR and while his role in 2.0 is quite simply that of a superhero, it’s Kaala where he plays a powerful don living in the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai, that seems to be tailor-made to connect with his fans. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, Rajinikanth’s character escapes from Tirunelveli to Mumbai (remember the backstory of Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan based on Varadarajan Mudaliar?) and ‘Kaala’, which can mean both ‘death’ and ‘time’ is just that for those who oppose him.
The value of timing can never be undermined in Indian politics. The manner in which an Arvind Kejriwal captured the imagination of not just Delhi but also the entire country, as well as scores of Indians residing across the world perhaps, had as much to do with timing as with the issues that he had addressed, chiefly corruption within the established political system. Had it been a tad too soon, perhaps no one would have understood it enough; had it been a little late, it might not have mattered as much. From the looks of it, a 2.0 with all its razzmatazz and Kaala with its earthy flavour are pitch-perfect onscreen avatars for Rajinikanth to bolster his stock with his fans, but things might not be as straightforward. By comparison, Haasan is all set to release three films between now and the 2019 election and his ‘roles’ are no less appropriate to strike the right chord with the viewer.
First up, Haasan returns as the super-spy in Vishwaroopam 2 that might release in April and then he will play a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent who saves the day in Sabaash Naidu in December 2018. But it’s the ex-Azad Hind Fauj vet-turned-vigilante and crusader in Indian 2, the sequel to 1996 blockbuster Indian (Hindustani in Hindi), that could have made Rajinikanth want to pace out his films. Haasan has already gone on record to say that Indian 2 “may offend politicians, spark controversies.” He has also said that politicians are ready to turn anything into a controversy as long as it gives them political mileage; he knows the tool that he has at his disposal in Indian 2. Given that the film would not release before the first quarter of 2019 or, in other words, just around the time of the Lok Sabha elections, Haasan could tinker with the dialogues and so on to fit the mood. Ultimately, a Rajinikanth or a Haasan would have to shed their on-screen persona to be effective in public life and, be it films or politics, the hero is always defined by the entry they make… and for that, timing is everything.
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