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The Verdict: None can take the Superstar title from Rajinikanth because...

Rajinikanth has been the reluctant bearer of the Superstar title for over four decades.

The Verdict: None can take the Superstar title from Rajinikanth because...

Rajinikanth at Jailer audio launch. (Photo: Twitter/Sun Pictures)

Last Updated: 01.43 PM, Jul 30, 2023


Who is the next Superstar of Tamil cinema? It's been one of the hotly debated pop-cultural topics for nearly two decades now. Rajinikanth addressed it in his speech at the recent audio launch event of Jailer . He noted that he was never a big fan of that title especially when he was given at a time when legendary movie stars MG Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan were still actively doing movies. 

Rajinikanth, however, has been the reluctant bearer of that title for over four decades. And since early 2000, more precisely right after Rajinikanth's much-hyped movie Baba tanked at the box office, the debates about 'who's the next Superstar?' began to take root. Mind it, Baba was Rajinikanth's passion project. In addition to playing the lead role, he wrote the movie's screenplay and produced it. 

Before Baba, Rajinikanth had scored a massive commercial success with Padayappa (1999), ending the 20th century with a bang. At the time, Padayappa was touted as the highest-grossing Tamil movie with worldwide ticket sales grossing nearly Rs 50 crore. And at the beginning of the new century, Rajinikanth delivered the biggest flop in his career, Baba. The trade pundits sensed that it was the beginning of the end of the Rajinikanth phenomenon. After over 20 years of being on the top of the food chain, many felt it was time for him to ebb into the shadows. And Rajinikanth has been defining the expectations of the market since. 

"I am not an elephant, but a horse. Only an elephant takes a lot of time to get up when it falls. The horse, however, gets back on its feet immediately," Rajinikanth said during the audio launch of his movie Chandramukhi. And the 2005 horror-comedy went on to score a huge hit at the box office as it surpassed the collection records of Padayappa. Not to mention, the success of Chandramukhi began a new trend in Tamil cinema, where horror-comedy became the favourite of filmmakers who wanted to score a sure-shot commercial success. Even at a time when everyone thought the tide in cinema was turning against Rajinikanth, he continued to set new trends. 


Rajinikanth later went on to deliver several biggest hits with Sivaji, Enthiran, Kabali, Kaala, 2.0 and Petta. In the corresponding years between 2018 and 2019, in just a span of seven months, Rajinikanth had three big releases - Kaala, 2.0 and Petta. And these three movies went on to collect a combined Rs 1000 crore from their worldwide ticket sales. He continued to give the younger stars a run for their money by reinventing himself despite his age. He experimented with his roles, at least as much as his superstardom allowed him, with movies like Kabali and Kaala. And he achieved these great feats while fighting serious health conditions, which also required him to undergo a kidney transplant. 

So the question of who will replace Rajinikanth is redundant. There will be stars whose movies could sell more tickets than Rajinikanth movies. However, nobody could take the place of Rajinikanth in Tamil cinema, in particular and Indian cinema in general. And all the young superstars know this for a fact as many have demonstrated their admiration for the Thalaivar every chance they get in public events or their movies. 

However, still the question - who's the next superstar' is kept alive. It seems the debate is dredged up during the release of Rajinikanth's every new movie. 

“Superstar is like a position akin to the commissioner, IG, DIG, CM or PM. Superstar is another title and it passes from person to person over time. The person who holds that position will retire but the position will remain. They say Long live the king. But, when a king dies, a new king will come. An actor who has given many hit films in a particular era, whose films are profitable and whose fan huge following and whose films do not cause loss to their investors, that actor is a superstar. Just remember one thing, don’t expect me to do this until the end of my time," Rajinikanth had said at an event held to celebrate the success of Vikram's Saamy (2003). 

About 20 years ago, Rajinikanth gave a clear answer and that must have ended the debate. Yet, the question persists and those who ask never seem to get tired of it. It seems the actual question of those who are concerned is not who's the next superstar, but, when will Rajinikanth retire? 

In its history of over 100 years, the Indian film industry is filled with stories of the rise and fall of countless superstars. There are examples of stars who reigned the industry for years, fell into oblivion without a trace and never bounced back. But, not Rajinikanth. 

Rajinikanth began playing the heroic roles with Bairavi in 1977 and over 40 years later, he continues to lead the movies. And the biggest producers of the industry have no qualms in putting everything they have on Rajinikanth's back as they know his movies will have the biggest opening and their investments are safe.  

"Kochadaiiyaan and Ligaan didn't do well and they said my career is finished. They have been saying that for over 40 years. But, we can't blame them. Because they are vexed as this horse (read Rajinikanth) shows no signs of stopping. They saw it run for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and it continues to run even after 40 years. Naturally, it will cause jealousy and the stomachs will burn. What can I do? I'm not running, God and you guys are making me run. They are not able to understand this simple truth," Rajinikanth said during the audio release event of Kaala (2018). 

One cannot pry the 'Superstar' title from Rajinikanth because he never owned it. And it wouldn't make a nary of difference to his legendary cinematic legacy, should anyone stop addressing him the 'Superstar.' Because since the beginning of his journey in movies, he has been in a league of his own. 

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