How Rajinikanth and Kabali mania swept India

Indian film superstar Rajinikanth, who has the kind of following most Hollywood actors can only dream about, has released his latest film, Kabali.

Hundreds of thousands of fans are flocking to cinemas across India with frenzy also mounting around the world.

Some businesses gave employees time off to avoid “sick” days, a jumbo jet was repainted in honour of the film and Twitter India “broke” several times.

It made $30m (£20m) in film rights sales even before it released.

The film is being shown on more than 12,000 screens in India alone from Friday. The term “blockbuster” doesn’t even come close.

Image copyright @mohanstatesman

Who is Rajinikanth?

Rajinikanth is an Indian film actor who works mostly in Tamil cinema. He is one of Asia’s highest paid actors with a notoriously devoted fan base.

Screaming fans throng cinema halls hours before his films and prayer ceremonies for their success are held.

Watching a Rajinikanth film is an experience in itself. He lights cigarettes with his pistol, catches grenades with his eyes closed, leaps to unfeasible heights and knocks out rooms full of bad guys in mere seconds.

People cheer, clap, whistle and stomp their feet every time he comes on-screen.

Off the screen he is so revered that any news of ill health has been known to have serious consequences. In one incident, a fan from Tamil Nadu attempted to overdose on sleeping pills and later told doctors and his family that he had been trying to “end his life” and donate his kidneys to the actor.

What is Kabali all about?

Kabali has been described as a gangster revenge drama. Some reports say a trailer for the movie is the most watched teaser in Asia.

The film is being released in a number of countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the US, France and Japan, where tickets are said to be selling out fast.

What have fans have done for Kabali?

  • One fan will watch the show ten times – back to back

Srinivasan Jayaseelan, a self confessed “super fan” in the south Indian city of Chennai (Madras) has told reporters that he plans to spend all of 22 and 23 July inside a cinema hall, because he will be watching Kabali ten times in a row.

This man has painted himself all Kabali
  • People are repainting their vehicles in Kabali body paint

Sports cars, buses and even India’s ubiquitous “auto rickshaws” in south India are driving down the streets with Kabali imagery emblazoned all over them.

One car dealer in Tamil Nadu is even repainting brand new cars with graphics from the film and has told reporters that they are selling out quickly. One report suggests a businessman in Malaysia has also followed suit, getting a Kabali wrap for his Lamborghini.

  • A jet has been repainted with Kabali graphics
  Budget airline Air Asia has organised a special flight for the star’s fans

Budget airline Air Asia laid on a special Kabali flight from Bangalore to Chennai, featuring Rajinikanth’s favourite food. The special flight carried 180 Rajinikanth fans to watch the film.

Fans paid 7,860 rupees ($116; £79) return fare to fly from Bangalore to Chennai to watch the “first day, first show” of the film at a Chennai theatre, pick up movie merchandise and return home after lunch.

  • Employers in south India have declared Friday a holiday
The film is expected to make $30 million in the first three days alone

In Chennai and Bangalore, some companies have declared a holiday on Friday and given their employees free tickets for the film.

They say it is to avoid people calling in sick, turning off their phones or simply failing to turn up for work. One firm said it had declared a holiday to “avoid piled up leave requests to the HR department”.

  • Fans are crossing countries to watch the film

A group of Japanese fans have flown all the way to Chennai to catch the “first day first show” of the movie.

Wearing “Kabali” t-shirts and waving placards to the delight of fellow fans and reporters, they lined up outside cinemas in the city ahead of the film.

In 1999, Newsweek magazine compared Rajinikanth’s fame in Japan to that of Leonardo DiCaprio.