CHENNAI: It’s 9 pm on a Thursday night. A small crowd dressed in black tees with ‘Thalaivar da’ emblazoned on it, gather outside Kasi Theatre, overseeing the preparation for their big night. It’s evident that most of them, from spheres of life as wide apart as you can imagine, have known that sleep is not a friend they were likely to meet that night. “There are only two days that I really celebrate in my life — Rajini’s birthday and his film release. How often does it happen on the same day?” asks Rajini Kishore, from Pallavaram. His motley crew of friends agree vociferously.
To make the double delight count, the Internet-based fan group RBSI and a few fan clubs had talked the distributor and theatre owner into screening a show of Rajinikanth’s Lingaa at 1 am. And, we’re going along for the ride. By 10.30 pm, there’s a blip: the theatre owner refuses to play ball and says that he never sold the tickets and that the show was off. Outrage is the order of the day and fans go haywire, threatening to jump off everything from the theatre roof to the elevated Metro Rail corridor just outside. It’s a dicey situation and the cops don’t really help. Two constables saunter around inside quietly, while the men with considerably more stripes on their lapels oversee proceedings from their patrol vehicle, parked a reasonable distance away.
A little before midnight, there’s a ray of hope. Saidai G Ravi, possibly the best known Rajini fan club moderator in the State, calms the waters after meeting Kasi’s kingpin. “All of you shut it right now and don’t break anything, and we can see the Superstar on time,” he tells the now 800- strong crowd. To add to the effect, it begins to rain one minute before midnight and unusually, a cheer begins to go around, “It’s a sign. Every time, Thalaivar’s movie releases, it rains within two-three days. Nothing can stop him now,” says Vinodh, another fan looking skyward.
We’re still wondering if our rather retro looking ticket stubs will be worth the `600 we paid for it. But then again we’re in way better shape than most others. While we’re jostling to make our way towards the glass-panelled entrance, people are comparing notes about how high they went to be there. 1500...2500...4000... the numbers kept rolling, but beyond this much seemed a little trumped up. But we cannot discount the excesses that a Rajini fan is capable of.
Suddenly, there’s a scramble as the doors are opened. Hundreds troop into the theatre and quickly clog the space upfront. It’s delightfully old school with a curtain still drawn down over the screen, the air conditioning seems non-existent and the fans are kept switched off by the surly staff. But no one seems to notice — people are dancing, yelling themselves hoarse and whistling incessantly and the mood is electric.
As the clock ticks close to 1 am, people are restless as the curtain remains firmly down. Suddenly, a staffer makes a startling announcement ‘Everybody out’. Apparently, people without tickets and fake ones have slipped under their not-so-sophisticated checking system (a boy at the door who looked woefully underage but seemed up to the task). Grumbling, the crowd slowly walks out into the foyer and gets a crash course on what stampedes and claustrophobia are all about. “Maybe, they’ll just make us wait till it’s 4.30 am and play the regular show? If they think we’re going to leave if they do this, they’ve got something coming,” says Karan, a fan belligerently. It takes much more than the ‘10 minutes’ they promised us to do the stifling exercise and by the time the curtains began to make its ascent, it was 1.45 am.
Tired, sleep-worn and nursing sore throats, you’d think that most of the crowd would be content to sit for a while. No such luck. As the opening credits begin to roll, the roar is steady, like the whirring of a hundred machine vents. And it explodes as the words ‘R-A-J-N-I’ flash across screen. For the first 15 minutes, despite several requests for the people in front to sit down, no one is in the mood, and people keep standing till their legs can’t take it any more.
It’s a long, long movie, running almost 3 hours and 15 minutes with the interval and it takes a lot out of the fans — physically. As it winds down to the climax, not too many people are creating silhouettes on screen by dancing, as it’s not ‘that’ kind of movie. But they’ve sat through Baba, they’ve tolerated Kuselan and not criticised Kochadaiiyaan, so Lingaa is a lot easier for them to fall in love with. Finally, at 5.20 am, as they troop out close to exhaustion, the rush is still on. Close to a thousand people, who arrived for the 4.30 am show almost an hour ago, waited patiently outside. As thumbs up reviews were relayed to the incoming crowd, one thing was certain —this entropy of energy wasn’t going to end anytime soon this weekend. Most of them were already talking about the next show that they had booked to watch the film on Friday. And, in case you’re wondering if they were going home to catch forty winks in the interim gap, they’re not: most of them were heading to Poes Garden to try and get a glimpse of the Superstar and get to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to their idol, or any member of his family really. Some rites of passage don’t change, especially when we’re talking about Rajinikanth.