Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rajni - a Janus-faced life

Rajni - a Janus-faced life
It is not surprising to find a Hollywood actor professing or proselytizing a religious faith or spiritual practice. Tom cruise is known for his commitment to Scientology; Richard Gere, a catholic by birth, a Buddhist by choice has been active in the Tibetan freedom movement for a long time; Madonna, the pin-up girl of the eighties and nineties has switched allegiances multiple times from being a Jew, to a practicing Cabbalist, and then to Islam; Rain Wilson, a rising comedian indulges in Bahai - a Persian faith; Steven Seagal , the uncrowned king of martial art movies believes himself to be a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama; Robert Downey Jr, interestingly confesses that he is a “JeBu” – a Jewish Buddhist; or Russell Brand, the British actor, who chose to marry his girlfriend Indian style, is a committed practitioner of Kundalini Yoga( Incidentally, his Indian guru is now a very rich man!!) - The list seems to be endless, and this fashion statement to be “spiritual” with an assumed halo behind them, seem to render an authenticity to their ever increasing wealth and profligacy, that would be difficult to justify otherwise.
In Indian Cinema, none has used this card better than our own 'Superstar" Rajni. In a country with a surplus of Gods, Gurus and religious sects, and the easiest way to fame and glory is to assume a mantle of spiritual preeminence; Rajani’s rise to fame and his positioning himself as a messiah who can also “Act”; reluctantly wearing the riches around his shoulders; speaking soulful platitudes on very podium; sprinkling his dialogues and manipulating his story lines to weave an aura of mystery and enigma surrounding his destiny; occasionally dabbling in politics with a detachment that would be worthy of a Jesus Christ; struggling to keep his health and image intact; indulging in histrionics that is way past his age or competence - the legend of Rajani is still alive and kicking, as it has been for the last 25 years, at least. From an angry young, lecherous villain to this “superman” is a journey that possibly cannot be replicated in any other soil other than India. I am not for a minute being condescending here. I have, like million others who happen to be born in South India have grown up watching his stardom unfold on screen. We would eagerly look forward every year for his latest movie release, struggle our way to the ticket counters to get ourselves a gate pass to watch the “God” himself, as he performs his unbelievable stunts in screen. His half broken, incoherent diction of Tamil, his puny stature that can hardly be called muscular, his limited predictable range of histrionics were no impediment at all to us. We would simply watch him wide-eyed, bathing and basking in his immortality for three hours.
Well, it’s been quite a while since I have seen one of his movies on screen. And, I guess with age comes perspective, and now when I look back and reminisce, It is becoming blatantly clear to me that here is a man who simple cannot overcome his deep-down sense of insecurity on all fronts - as an actor who knows his stark limitations, or as a person who grew from Rags to riches, or as Man who was unwittingly crowned by a Stroke of destiny, and does not know what to do with it.
Yesterday night, after dinner, I chanced to tune into “Lingaa” – his latest movie release from 2014. To say, I was dumb-stuck at the sheer inanity of what was happening on screen would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. I decided to stay through the movie only to test the limits of my artistic patience, and frankly, I could not. Half way, I threw in the towel and could not allow my sensibilities, in the name of a feature film, to be dragged to such depths of buffoonery. In perhaps, what is supposed to be the opening scene set in 1939, our hero is seated in fast moving train, which is about to vandalized by a group of masked robbers; the camera lingers on the book that is being read, and I almost fainted from laughter when I saw its title. It is Joseph Campbell’s “The hero with a thousand faces”. A book that is profoundly mystical, and a book that I cherish as one of the most seminal works on comparative mythology in the last two centuries. Written by Campbell when he was young, it bursts with insights on interpretation of world myths in terms of inner development and maturity. And more importantly, it was first published in 1949. And our Hero was reading it in 1939. I would excuse this to be one of those cinematic bloopers that happen all the time; but I am not sure if that was really the case here. The reason this book was chosen is simple - to emphasize the majesty of the Man Rajani reading it. He is the Hero, and his dimensions are multifarious. Campbell would have squirmed in his grave if he were to be told of the use that his book was being put into. And so the movie lumbers along, on predictable lines iterating over and over again the personality that Rajani wishes to imprint on his gullible public; and absolutely no regard for the movie as an art or a meaningful expression of human condition.
Frankly, I don’t think we should blame Rajni for what he has continued to do. Art is defined and nurtured by the beholder. And as long as Cinema or any other form of art is taken as a mere vent to ones’ frustrations, or compulsive escapism from reality; then we will have to deal with such below-average fare doled out year upon year. An ailing patient, against the advice of his doctor, sneaked out of his hospital bed to watch Lingaa, and died in the theatre. His family rationalizes his death by consoling themselves that he died in God’s arms. What more can I say…
God bless…

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