Kamal Haasan turned lead actor in 1973. Rajinikanth made his acting debut in 1975. Lokesh Kanagaraj and Nelson, the directors of their upcoming films, Vikram and Thalaivar 169, were born in 1981 and 1984. Many contemporaries of Lokesh and Nelson, including directors like Karthik Subbaraj and Pa Ranjith were born in the 80s, and it is clear that their film appreciation sensibilities were moulded by the two polestars of Tamil cinema. Of course, over the time, each of their ideologies or political standpoints would have evolved to reach the place it is now, and the films they grew up watching might not have aged like fine wine. However, there is no doubt that Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan are names that many young filmmakers had on their wishlist when they started out in the industry.
In Rajinikanth’s case, the departure of his comfort directors like SP Muthuraman and Rajashekar, paved the way for his collaborations with Suresh Krissna, KS Ravikumar, and Shankar. Similarly, Kamal Haasan too stuck to his comfort zone directors like KS Ravikumar, Singeetham Sreenivasa Rao, Santhana Bharathi, and Kamal himself, too. In fact, after Jeethu Joseph, Vikram marks his first film with a non-Kamal circle director since Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. With changing times, both these stalwarts are making some changes in their careers, band Rajinikanth was at the forefront of such a move. Post his Shankar phase, Rajinikanth has collaborated with Karthik Subbaraj, Siva, Pa Ranjith, AR Murugadoss, and will next work with the 3-film-old Nelson. This move by the biggest movers and shakers of the industry has bolstered the young brigade to make films for the big names of the industry. No name seems too far out of reach with the right kind of contacts. But with this power comes great responsibility, and this is where many a filmmaker face a few hurdles.
When one gets a chance to make a film with their matinee idol, what is the kind of film they want to make? Do they make a film in their own style, or make a film that incorporates their idol’s style statements. It is in this dilemma that we see a percentage share happen between young filmmakers and superstars. Starting from 50-50 to a 70-30 to a 100 per cent proclamation, the number varies with every collaboration. If a Karthik Subbaraj was vehement about celebrating Rajinikanth and giving the unabashed superstar of the 90s to the 2020 audience through Petta, Pa Ranjith was clear that his political voice could do with the superstardom of a Rajinikanth and gave us a Kaala and Kabali that reinvented the Superstar. If there are one section of fans who laud Pa Ranjith for giving a new fillip to Rajinikanth’s career, there are others that blame him for removing the sheen from typical Rajinikanth films. Similarly, if Karthik Subbaraj is heralded for bringing back the Rajinikanth of the 90s, he also receives criticisms for pandering to the fans, and putting brakes to the Rajinikanth renaissance that seemed to be in its nascent stages.
Of course, we also have Vijay films being branded as “fanboy” films, but there is an extra sense of reverence that comes into play with the films of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Such is the legacy and the variety of characters played by these two doyens of Tamil… Indian cinema that it is almost impossible not to look at their films with the younger crop of filmmakers as some sort of tribute. Adding fuel to this fire, even these filmmakers use an old title, a reworked BGM, references to previous blockbusters, etc… While it did seem interesting at first, and amusing after a point, there is an important question that needs to be asked. Have we reached a point of saturation where the audience doesn’t just want the celebration of these superstars but a strong script that is worthy of their presence? We have seen many aspiring filmmakers lose track of what they really wanted to do in their quest to satisfy the fans of the stars. Being a fan themselves, they are torn between keeping the whistling fan in them happy and satiating the doubts and voice of the filmmaker. Are they fans first and filmmaker second or filmmaker first and fan second? This is a question each filmmaker would have asked themselves repeatedly while directing their favourite star.
With Kamal Haasan returning to Tamil cinema after four years with Vikram, the expectations are definitely high, but so are the whispers about the melange of the worlds of Lokesh and Kamal. Not everyone is convinced about Kamal finally letting go of the reins. Lokesh says Kamal Haasan has indeed let go, but the doubts still remain, and by this time on Friday, we’d get a clearer picture as to who won that tough tug of war. Is it Lokesh, the Kamal Haasan fanboy… or Lokesh Kanagaraj, the maverick director… or he has managed the unthinkable and both come out trumps.
For now, let’s all keep calm and say… Vikraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam