With reporting by Neelima Menon
Sultan the Warrior to Rana; and finally, Kochadaiiyaan: we bring you the past, the present and the future of Soundarya Rajinikanth’s ambitious first venture
Dilli, an auto-driver from Anna Nagar, harbours a giant grouse. Multiplexes don’t allow paalabhishekam these days; he tells us ruefully when we call him up one afternoon, a few days before Kochadaiiyaan’s release. He’s on every entertainment journalist’s speed-dial now and is quite seasoned at the drill; answering questions with a certain degree of nonchalance that even the superstar would be proud of. Of course, being the president of one of Rajinikanth’s most ardent fan clubs requires its own unique set of qualifications. He can do a variety of the superstar’s trademark towel flicks in the blink of an eye, for one. But all that’s secondary, he says. The most important qualification of all, Dilli adds, is the ability to foresee.
Dilli is omniscient, yes, thank you very much. For, he had already seen this coming: this strange behaviour of not allowing a paalabhishekam to be performed for his favourite star when his movie is releasing. So he had already made preparations for a special pooja to be conducted at a temple back home in Nagappattinam. All in Kochadaiiyaan’s honour.
The multiplexes don’t allow banners or posters as well, these days. But Dilli has that remedied too. “We will be putting up 6-sheet and 10-sheet posters all over Anna Nagar,” he explains, “the celebrations have already begun. We are quite confident about the movie’s success. The kids are going to love it; and so would the family audience. We don’t care whether it’s animation or otherwise as long as it is Rajini sir!”[quote align=’right’]Why would I buy distribution rights of a film if I am not confident about its success? Kochadaiiyaan is not animation; that is a huge misconception. It’s a 3D period film – more like Avatar.[/quote]
In fact, Dilli – he’s now called ‘Rajini’ Dilli; a telling quality of an ardent fan, taking the Superstar’s name unto their own – “was just talking to the Superstar the other day”. He is matter of fact about it; for Rajini’s close and personal involvement with his fan clubs is a well-known fact. “He told me that Kochadaiiyaan will be the first of its kind in India, just like Enthiran,” he says, “And if we can appreciate Hollywood movies like Avatar, why can’t we do it back home?” Dilli questions passionately, “after all, this is Rajinikanth’s daughter’s film and we should support it. We have been waiting too long for it.”
He has also ordered a huge carton of laddoos to be distributed on Friday.
Theatre owners in the city are no less elated. Albert theatre, a favourite haunt of Rajini, is gearing up for the release in a big way. Mariappan, owner, tells us “the celebrations will start the minute Rajini sir’s name appears on screen.” But Sridhar, from the theatre owners’ association – who takes care of the release in rural areas – is a bit subdued. He’s keeping his fingers crossed for the movie to get a showing in his area. And, hasn’t really planned anything celebratory. Let the film release on time first, he says grimly. “I can’t predict a guaranteed hit,” Sridhar adds. He remembers feeling happy and anxious at the same time when watching the trailer. “I am not sure how this is going to be welcomed, It looks like a movie for children. Let’s hope for the best.”
Sridhar isn’t alone in his thoughts, though. Kochadaiiyaan ran into several roadblocks on its way to the big screen; was met with mixed, sceptical reactions even before anyone could get a glimpse of the flick; and was not considered the ‘regular Rajinikanth fare’ by many. It was “just animation”. A cartoon; plain and simple as that. Such was the perception. A prominent daily even ran a nasty “10 reasons” article as to why the movie won’t click, just a few days after the trailer was released. The reasons included tacky animation, inconsistency in direction and “not being able to see Rajinikanth as a cartoon character”. But Abhirami Ramanathan, a distributor, brushes aside all negative theories. “It is releasing in 29 theatres as of now. Why would I buy distribution rights of a film if I am not confident about its success? Kochadaiiyaan is not animation; that is a huge misconception. It’s a 3D period film – more like Avatar. I assure you such a film hasn’t been made before,” he declares vehemently.
Originally scheduled to release on May 9, Kochadaiiyaan was later postponed to May 23; with the producers claiming that it was done to “cater to the demand of the audience across languages, as the censor certificates weren’t obtained for a few versions”. However, a source close to the Rajinikanth family confirmed to Silverscreen that the film ran into legal hurdles after the Oriental Bank of Commerce moved the court in Chennai seeking repayment of a loan that ran up to Rs 40 crores. And even before the official announcement on the delay was made, theatres had stopped bookings and had begun refunding money. While superstar’s fans were extremely disappointed at the turn of events, some producers utilized the opportunity to release their movies – a wise decision on the whole – and Yaamirukka Bayamey, one among the small films that was released on May 9, has now become a roaring success.
Kochadaiiyaan, at the end of the day, is animation, yes. But according to the makers, it is based on “photo-realistic 3D technology”: something that captures the performance of actors – via the special MOCAP suits that they wear – and syncs it to their virtual characters.
“Usually, we find big, physical sets, hundreds of actors and co-actors. But here, I had to imagine everything,” actor Nasser had recently voiced his experience about working on the movie. Actress Shobhana, on the other hand, was more descriptive – “there are no dance costumes, no sets. You have to imagine that you are walking up a hill; and work a sweat,” she had laughed, adding, “Bharatanatyam suddenly seemed like a challenge because you cannot move your legs wide apart lest the wires snap.” Deepika Padukone had something similar to say, “you can’t do certain things when the head-cam is on; so you first have to record the step and then do the corresponding facial expressions later. It was weird.”
This particular technology called for a 100-member team in India; and a 100-member team in China, alongside those from the Britain and the USA.
Change of fortune
Kochadaiiyaan, a Rs 125-crore venture, has received a clean ‘U’ certificate and has been dubbed in six languages including Telugu, Hindi and Bhojpuri and will release tomorrow in 10 countries on approximately 6,000 screens. Jointly produced by Media One Global Entertainment and Eros International, the movie, we hear, has been dubbed in Spanish and Japanese as well. This flick also marks the debut of Deepika Padukone in Tamil, who is reported to have signed the film “just for the thrill of acting with Rajinikanth”. Her stunts are said to be on par with Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill series and Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. Also among the cast are Jackie Shroff and Sarath Kumar apart from Nasser and Shobhana.
Meanwhile, in our undying quest for awesome quotes, we also called up Sundar, editor of onlysuperstar.com, one of Rajinikanth’s most followed fan websites. He had a huge surprise in store. “Ellathayum vittuten madam,” he tells us, solemnly. He doesn’t want to talk about it; but mumbles something indistinct about “bitter experiences” and “doing something else”. And so, we now regret to add that onlysuperstar.com, a favourite haunt of Rajini’s fans, is no longer functional.
[accordion title=’The history: Kochadaiiyaan over time’ open=’true’]Post Enthiran, it was Rajinikanth who approached KS Ravikumar with the idea of making an animation feature that his daughter had begun in 2007. But Sultan: The Warrior, after completing pre-production work, just didn’t take off for reasons unknown. Later, attempts were made to revive it; a period track was added and it became Rana. But the Superstar suddenly fell ill, and Rana did not see the light of the day. 2011, though, proved to be lucky for Soundarya Rajinikanth; and with her father behind her, she began work on Kochadaiiyaan, scripted by KS Ravikumar and inspired by the Pandya king, Kochadaiiyaan Ranadhiran. And this time, Soundarya got herself a solid team that included AR Rahman, Resul Pookkutty and Neeta Lulla.[/accordion]
[accordion title=’Promotions:’]Kochadaiiyaan was promoted in a big way (with a whopping Rs 15 crores), with hoardings at all Bharat Petroleum outlets, exclusive Kochadaiiyaan Karbonn phones as giveaways and even two official mobile games, titled “Kochadaiiyaan: The Legend: Kingdom Run” and “Kochadaiiyaan The Legend: Reign of Arrows”. The games were made available across iOS, Android and Windows platforms in March and quickly crossed one million downloads.[/accordion]
(Rajeshwari Ganesan also contributed to this report)