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What Rajinikanth Gets Right With Jailer, & Chiranjeevi Gets Wrong With Bholaa Shankar

The success of Jailer can be partly attributed to the seed that Rajinikanth planted at the beginning of his career. Karthik Keramalu writes.

What Rajinikanth Gets Right With Jailer, & Chiranjeevi Gets Wrong With Bholaa Shankar
Still from Nelson's Jailer

Last Updated: 08.23 PM, Aug 18, 2023


THERE’S a scene in the recently released action thriller, Jailer, in which the characters played by Mohanlal, Shiva Rajkumar and Rajinikanth join hands in order to put an end to the dirty schemes of the antagonist. It’s a well-planned fan service moment that dips its fingers in the cold pool of brilliance. More importantly, it instantly ups the factor of likeability for this film despite its shortcomings that are stacked atop each other. Although Jailer is strictly a movie featuring Rajinikanth in the lead, the cameo appearances assist him in landing the climactic punch perfectly. In fact, they leave the viewers wanting more.

While Mohanlal and Shiva Rajkumar have continuously gone on to headline all kinds of movies since the 1980s in Malayalam and Kannada, respectively, Rajinikanth has single-handedly broadened the scope of Tamil cinema with his charisma. Kamal Haasan has of course helped spread the wings further, but his talent mostly lies in pushing the boundaries as an actor and inspiring budding filmmakers. Haasan wears several hats and, unlike many of his peers, is also considered an auteur.

How are these actors, along with Mammootty and Chiranjeevi, ruling the roost for so long in an industry that’s infamous for its cut-throat competition? While a few adapt to the circumstances and shift to supporting roles, many others fizzle out of the limelight. Amitabh Bachchan is a textbook example of perseverance and grit. And he has never failed to surprise us with the turns he has taken. His filmography is as chequered as the other A-list stars who have made a splash, but he has survived despite those minor stumbles and major setbacks. His biggest strength, perhaps, is his skill, which lets him skate along the fence of stereotypes instead of getting caught in it.

Mammootty also has that surreal quality in him. He can be as insignificant as a drunkard in an arthouse comedy (Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, 2022) or step into the shoes of a famed politician in a biographical drama (Yatra, 2019). When it comes to Rajinikanth, however, the prestige that’s placed on him usually depends on the number of tickets he’s been able to sell. His performances do not fight for awards, even though many of them are thoroughly capable of earning him the same reputation as the ones crafted by his associates. His body of work loudly echoes in terms of the immediate rewards that are reaped. This doesn’t mean that his movies don’t stand the test of time – Baashha (1995) is as culturally important as Nayakan (1987).

The success of Jailer can be partly attributed to the seed that Rajinikanth planted at the beginning of his career. On the flip side, Bholaa Shankar in Telugu, featuring Chiranjeevi in the eponymous role, has failed to evoke a similar sense of euphoria. Remakes are always a hit-and-miss affair. And they tend to hurt the makers more often than not because outsmarting the standard set by the original — or even matching it — is tough. Moreover, comparisons are inevitable.

Still from Bholaa Shankar
Still from Bholaa Shankar

Ever since Chiranjeevi made his comeback as a principal actor in Khaidi No. 150 (2017), he’s faced one upset or another. The younger actors, who have the capacity to pull in enormous crowds, aren’t vying for his position; they have their own boxes to tick. It’s only Chiranjeevi who’s competing with himself, or rather his former self. Vedalam (2015), the Tamil movie upon which Bholaa Shankar is based, is just about a passable action drama. It shouldn’t have been remade in the first place.

This is how Rajinikanth hits a home run. His recent movies, too, barring Jailer, haven’t won him much praise, but he hasn’t stopped keeping an eye on promising filmmakers that he can collaborate with. There’s hope in the direction that he chooses to tread, whereas there’s trepidation around the cloud that hovers above Chiranjeevi’s head. That said, I must mention that these actors will gladly stay on the radar, as they are entirely capable of retaining their fan base even while churning out turkeys.

Age might, at the end of the day, affect their abilities, but not their creative goals. I only wish Rajinikanth and Co. would have the opportunity to herd the audience that adores them into the sunset, without slipping much. It hurts to keep going in circles all the time. When all else fails, we’ll naturally swing back to their earlier blockbusters. Nevertheless, it’d be great to discuss their post-superstardom works as well. I understand that observing the metre of a mass market is an uphill task, but gauging the worth of a story shouldn’t be that difficult for these veterans.

All I’m saying is that we need more movies in the vein of Jailer (without the comedic bits that don’t stick together) and less in the name of wholesome entertainers, such as Bholaa Shankar.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OTTplay. The author is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the content of this column.)