10 August 2002
Baba is being awaited with bated breath in Chennai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It is three years since the release of Rajnikanth's Padayappa, and there is unrest among his devotees.
It might be recalled that Rajni was contemplating retirement thanks to a troublesome knee. It took a lot of convincing by fans and well-wishers for the megastar to don greasepaint again. He first went in for a naturopathy treatment at a resort in Palakkad, Kerala, but walked out halfway because he could not adhere to the stringent rules.
Rajni has written the script Baba, about a thinker forced by his followers to return to society and save mankind from the forces of evil. Rajni wanted his favourite director KS Ravikumar to direct the venture, but since he was busy with Kamal Haasan's Panchathanthiram, Rajni opted for Suresh Krissna, an old faithful. Krissna, incidentally, needed a shot in the arm after the disastrous Aalavandhan (Abhay in Hindi), starring Kamal Haasan.
The announcement of Baba commencing shooting had moneybags lined up in front of Rajni's Poes Garden residence. Rajni has stopped selling his films to distributors in Tamil Nadu. Prints are sold directly to exhibitors.
Allu Aravind, Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi's brother-in-law, has acquired the Telugu dubbing rights of Baba. In fact Chiranjeevi was supposed to make an appearance in the film. So was Hindi icon Amitabh Bachchan. But the idea was dropped.
In Karnataka, Padayappa was sold for Rs 40 lakh to close friend Ambareesh. This time when Ambareesh approached Rajni, the actor quoted half of what Ambareesh had earned from Padayappa. Ambareesh declined. The film was then sold for some Rs 10 million.
Rajni had reportedly contributed Rs 10 million towards the release of kidnapped Karnataka actor Dr Rajakumar and wanted to recover the money. A trade magazine reports that Rajni earned Rs 500 million on the table before the release of the film.
Trying to cash in on the craze he has generated in Japan, Rajni also signed a Japanese actress who he says plays his sister in Baba. The rights for Japan alone were sold for Rs 10 million.
Apparently, there is a craze for the Southern superstar in Malaysia and Singapore, too. At a recent stage show, the stars of Baba were greeted to traffic jams on the streets of Kuala Lumpur with fans clamouring to get a glimpse of their idol.
The film releases on August 15.