Baba returns: Rajinikanth hopes to ride fantasy wave with 20-yr-old film
Baba, released in 2002, was one of Rajini’s biggest flops. But he thinks it will work now due to social media and a right-wing wave, which has spurred the success of Kantara, Brahmastra, and others
Ahead of his birthday on December 12, Rajinikanth’s 2002 Tamil film Baba is set to be re-released. Buzz is that the makers of the film have decided to re-release it after gaining confidence from the success of fantasy films like Karthikeya (Telugu, 2014), Bahubali (Telugu, 2015), Kantara (Kannada, 2022), Brahmastra (Hindi, 2022), etc.
From 2014 to 2021, except Kabali (2016) and 2.0 (2018), most of Rajinikanth’s films failed to impress the audience. Trade analysts say though both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are good friends, when it comes to cinema as a business, they still retain the competition between them even when the third generation of actors (such as Sivakarthikeyan) are dominating the box office.
“With the film Vikram, Kamal has given an industry hit. He also has an excellent lineup of scripts with filmmakers like Shankar, H Vinoth, Maniratnam, Pa Ranjith, etc. But Rajini, who failed to enter into politics, is witnessing a downward inclination. So, he is desperate to create some ripples and hence has taken Baba on his hands again,” said Kathiravan, a trade analyst.
Story inspired from a book
The story of the film Baba is part spiritual and part political. Baba (Rajinikanth), when he’s born, is considered to be ‘a reincarnated failed saint’. He grows up as an atheist and his mundane life includes smoking, consuming alcohol, chewing tobacco, etc. He is involved in a fight with the ruling party’s deputy chief minister Ippo Ramasamy (Ashish Vidyarthi) over a land dispute. The latter takes revenge by destroying the house of Baba and immediately, he and his family’s fortune turns from riches to rags.
This also has an impact on his love interest and causes a breakup. Baba cries that the world is nothing but maya. At this juncture, an encounter with a beggar leads him to the Himalayas, where he meets saint Mahavatar Babaji, who is believed to living in the region for hundreds of years and can be seen only by a few. He teaches Baba a set of seven mantras which can be used only once and only for the welfare of others. If he uses those mantras for his own use, his karma is bound to follow him forever, warns the saint. How Baba uses those mantras forms the rest of the plot.
In 2017, when Rajinikanth was participating in a book-release function organised by Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, Chennai, he reminisced how the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda gave the story for this film.
“After Padayappa (1999), I was thinking about ending my career. I bought the book in 1978. But I read the book only after some 20 years when I was taking a break in Bengaluru. While reading the book, I came across the photo of Mahavatar Babaji. I felt that some light sparks were passing from his eyes to my body. I felt someone was giving commands to me and I was acting upon those orders. That night, I got the story for this film,” he said.
Interestingly, at one point in the film, a character urges Baba to use the mantra for himself and become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. However, Baba rejects that idea. It may be possible, Rajinikanth could have got an idea of floating a party that is based on aanmeega arasiyal (spiritual politics), while writing this film.
Losing for the second time?
When the film was being shot, it created much hype because the team of Rajinikanth and Suresh Krissna, the film’s director, had previously given big hits like Annamalai (1992) and Baashha (1995). But good actors need not be good writers. It was proved for the second time. In 1993, the actor, for the first time, had written a story, screenplay and dialogues for the film Valli, in which he did a cameo. But it was a disaster. Rajini wrote the script and screenplay for the second time for Baba, and like Valli, the film was also produced by himself.
From the time of shooting the film to post its release, Rajini got a lot of brickbats — the first-look stills of the actor, where he was turban-clad, was not well received and, one of the songs drew the wrath of Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam because it had some references to Periyar.
Since the film had many scenes in which the actor was seen smoking, the PMK raised objections and threatened that if the scenes were not removed, their cadres would ransack theatres. Subsequently, party cadres caught the prints of this film from a theatre in Jayamkondam in Ariyalur district. Also, Rajinikanth’s guru Swami Sachidananda Saraswati died a day after he watched the preview show of the film.
All this gave much (negative) publicity to the film, but it turned out to be flat and the film became a big flop. This was also the first film for which Rajini compensated the losses suffered by film distributors by repaying them from his own pocket. That was something new to the Tamil film industry.
New faults, new fans
Years after the release of the film, some DMK supporters started to find a new set of faults with the film. Many felt that the film had references attacking DMK leader M Karunanidhi and his son M K Stalin since the film had a villain who was the deputy chief minister. The alleged land grab charges started to rattle the DMK much later in 2011.
Amidst all this, Rajinikanth hopes to find a new set of fans for this film. It seems the actor thinks that the film will work now due to the presence of social media and a right-wing wave.
Film’s director Suresh Krissna said that they had added value to the film that will attract the new generation. Apparently, a photo of the actor that shows some recording sessions taking place is going viral and it is being claimed that some new scenes dubbed by the actor could have been added. The film is also said to be digitally remastered with some colour grading.
The total run-time has also been reduced to 2 hours 35 minutes as against the 3 hours of its older version. The composer AR Rahman too is said to have added new score to the film’s music. But the trailer shows nothing of that sort.
It is a fact that Rajinikanth is known for his regular Himalayan visits. In 2005, following the success of the film Chandramukhi, the actor went to the Himalayas. A Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan followed his trails. On that trip, the actor said that his fans were “upset” over the script of the film Baba.
“The failure of the film hasn’t bothered me much. But yes, my fans were upset,” he said.
Whether he is going to upset his fans for the second time is yet to be seen. The film is slated for theatre release on December 10.