Friday, March 3, 2017

Rajinikanth's Baasha to be re-released in Tamil Nadu; immense buzz around the 90s cult film

The re-release of Rajinikanth’s Baasha in Tamil Nadu has revived the discussion about what makes it such a cult film and its influence on modern commercial blockbusters in South Indian cinema.

Superstar Rajinikanth’s Baasha was one of the defining films of the 90s and having stood the test of time, the buzz surrounding the re-release of the film on 3 March in Tamil Nadu is palpable. The digitally remastered version of the cult film is expected to take a humongous opening at box-office, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the film surpasses the week’s other big releases in terms of footfalls.

Rajinikanth in Baasha. Image from Youtube.

Thamizhazhagan, a die-hard fan of Rajinikanth who runs a fan account (Rajni_FC) on Twitter, says, “I’ve been a fan of Rajinikanth all my life and I can’t put in words the joy I get when I see Rajini on big screen. A lot of youngsters today might have not watched the film on big screen, but the remastered version gives us a chance to relive Thalaivar’s magic on big screen once again.”

To celebrate the film’s release, Karthik O Positive, another die-hard fan of the actor who manages RBSI - a popular Rajini fan page on Facebook, and Thamizhazhagan, along with other fans, have arranged a special screening at one of the prime multiplexes in Chennai and nearly 100 auto-drivers are expected to attend the screening. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Rajini is treated like a God by auto-drivers all over Tamil Nadu, considering that the actor had played the role of an auto-driver in the film.

Directed by Suresh Krishnna, the film, which originally released in January 1995, was a blockbuster and even after 22 years of its release, no discussion about Rajinikanth is complete without mentioning Baasha. It redefined the way heroism is portrayed on screen and gave a new template for mainstream action dramas.

But it wasn’t just Tamil cinema that changed post Baasha’s release.

Such has been the impact of the film, in the past couple of decades, that it spawned several spin-offs and copy cats in Telugu cinema as well. Starting from Balakrishna’s Samarasimha Reddy (1999), Narasimha Naidu (2001), Chiranjeevi’s Indra (2002), Simhadri (2003) to recent Telugu films like Dictator (2016), the ‘Baasha Template’ continues to reinforce itself in multiple ways even today and how.

The biggest contribution that Baasha made to storytelling, perhaps, is the popularising of using ‘flashbacks’ to create drama and suspense in the story.

Writer and filmmaker Gopi Mohan says, “I don’t know how much money the original Telugu dubbed version made in 1995, but thanks to that film, Telugu film industry would have easily made Rs 200-300 crores in the past 20 years (laughs). Almost every big star in Telugu cinema today would have acted in at least one film which was inspired from Baasha’s style of storytelling. Using flashbacks, as a key method of storytelling in Telugu films, became really popular after Baasha released.”

In the first half of the film, there’s barely a fight and Rajinikanth restrains himself for so long that it was unlike anything that people had seen back till the mid-90s. And when he broke free to reveal his true identity, just before the interval, a new brand of heroism was born.

“Baasha changed everything. It broke free from the template of having to include a fight for hero’s introduction scene and the heightened sense of drama that the film achieved without doing much was unbelievable,” Gopi Mohan says, adding, “The film was also instrumental in creating a market for Rajinikanth in Telugu. Since then, every film that he has done in Tamil has been dubbed in Telugu.”

Rajinikanth in Annamalai. Image from Youtube.

Ironically, the original plot of Baasha was itself inspired from a scene (which didn’t make it in the final cut) in Mukul S Anand’s 1991 action crime drama Hum, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth and Govinda.

In his biography ‘My Days With Baasha’, director Suresh Krissna recalls that it was Rajinikanth who told him about the scene where Govinda who wants to join the police force doesn’t get an admission to the police academy and finally, his brother (played by Amitabh Bachchan) goes to meet the chief and comes out with a seat for Govinda. The scene was the genesis behind the whole plot of Baasha and right from the film’s title to the iconic punch line - “Naan oru thadava sonna, nooru thadava sonna maadiri (If I say something even once, it's as though I've said it a hundred times)” - it was all Rajinikanth’s idea.

The star was also instrumental in convincing the film’s producer RM Veerappan, who was scared that fans will get angry, to retain the scene where Rajinikanth gets bashed up by the goons just before the interval fight sequence. According to Suresh Krissna, Rajinikanth even offered to pay from his own pocket reshoot that part if RM Veerappan wasn’t convinced with the impact of that dramatic scene.

It wasn’t just the flashbacks and drama that set Baasha apart from the rest. The film was also instrumental in popularising the concept of punch lines in films.

It began with Rajinikanth-Suresh Krissna’s Annamalai (1992) and the popularity of Baasha turned the idea of having punch lines to define a hero’s character as a necessity. Sudhish Kamath, film critic-and-filmmaker, says, “After Annamalai and Baasha released, punch lines became a norm in Tamil cinema. It almost became part of the narrative and people actually began to believe that if the hero doesn’t a punch line or a trademark mannerism, shown visually, then the film won’t work. Another significant aspect of Baasha, which became mainstream, was how well it depicted the dramatic transformation between the two personas of a protagonist.”

Over the years, Rajinikanth might have appeared in other blockbusters like Padayappa, Chandramukhi and Endhiran to name a few, but there has never been a film like Baasha.

So what’s the magic element? “The magic element in Baasha is Rajini’s style. Be it the way he sits in the chair or talks to the villain, everything that Rajinikanth did became the stuff of legends. The dialogues and Rajinikanth’s style were phenomenal and they were the biggest factors in the film’s success,” says Dhananjayan Govind, National Award Winning Writer and Film Producer, adding, “I don’t think people will ever forget Baasha. You can’t compare it with any other Rajinikanth’s film. That was the film which turned Rajinikanth into the biggest star that Tamil cinema has ever seen.”

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