CHENNAI: At one end of Kamakoti Street in West Mambalam, opposite the Pillayar temple, stood an autorickshaw — every bit of it covered with Rajinikanth stickers in all his avatars. Its owner Saidai G Ravi is a die-hard fan of the Superstar.
“I spent Rs 40,000 on these decors,” said Ravi, his eyes glinting with pride as he showed the stickers. “I also periodically change the decorations on my auto, which is very special to me. So is my profession as an auto driver, which started 20 years ago, after Thalaivar essayed the role of an auto driver in Baashha,” he added.
The very mention of the movie Baashha brought a sense of nostalgia to Ravi. He recalled how the movie became a blockbuster despite not-so-impressive promotions. “It seems like yesterday. I was worried about the success of a new movie titled Baashha. Looking at the posters before the release, I thought the movie was a goner. But then, it left us spellbound. What acting! What style! There wasn’t one dull moment in the film; it is one of a kind. No replacement,” he said.
Ravi went on to mention the little details in every scene and enacted a few, aping the Superstar’s mannerisms and delivering the dialogue ‘Dei dei dei dei’ with the exact intonation.
Even as he was narrating the scenes with detail, he suddenly took out his mobile phone, dialled a number, and said, “Dei, enga irundhalum odane stand-ku vaa (come to the stand, wherever you are)” — reminiscent of Manickam’s style of summoning his sidekick auto drivers in the movie.
Within minutes, four other autos zoomed in, each of them having similar decorations as on Ravi’s auto. One cannot help equating them to the sidekicks in the movie, as the auto drivers introduced themselves as Udhayam Gani, Loganathan, Karthikeyan and Shanmugam.
Gani greeted the rest with a Baashha-style vanakkam. His eyes lit up at the mention of the film. He said, “I still get goosebumps when I recall the scene before the interval — Thalaivar’s smile and the way he repositioned his coat right after Anand Raj beat him up. I can watch that scene any number of times and never get bored.”
As Gani spoke, the others started describing their favourite scenes as well. Karthikeyan’s was the scene when Manickam reveals his alter-ego to the college principal who tries to harass his sister. He reeled out the dialogue from his memory, subconsciously imbibing Rajinikanth’s style in the movie.
The first and the only role of an auto driver played by Superstar in Baashha evidently meant volumes to Ravi and his friends. The auto drivers, who hailed from different walks of life, chose this profession inspired by the movie.
Gani, for instance, said that he was working in a theatre. After seeing Rajini’s larger-than-life image in Baashha, he started driving autos. Besides, the drivers have also taken a leaf out of Manickam’s book, and offer free rides to pregnant and elderly women.
Two decades after Baashha’s release, the movie impacts the lives of these men who chose Manickam’s way to do their bit to society, and remain loyal to the Superstar who inspired them to make a living.
Twist in Life
Loganathan, one of the auto drivers, revealed that he had given up a government job to become an auto driver after watching Baashha. “I was working in a ration store. My job was about to be confirmed when Baashha was released. Thalaivar’s screen presence motivated me to become an auto driver, and there was no looking back,” he said.