Euphoric scenes reminiscent of an Indian movie came to life as people danced on the streets and ignited firecrackers. These jubilant moments were not a cinematic illusion, but the genuine celebrations of countless cinema aficionados in South India, rejoicing over the release of the newest film by one of India’s most prominent superstars. “Jailer,” an action-packed Tamil-language thriller starring the renowned actor Rajinikanth, has taken the region by storm since its debut in theaters last Thursday and is poised to establish new box office records.
With a fervent following akin to devoted fans of a deity, Rajinikanth’s return to the screen after a two-year hiatus has aroused immense anticipation. The level of excitement surrounding the release has even prompted some companies to grant their employees a day off to witness the spectacle. Notably, Redbooks Abroad, an education company based in Kerala, provided complimentary tickets to its staff for the initial screening, viewing it as a “day to relax, rejoice, and immerse yourselves in the magic of the silverscreen,” according to a memo obtained by CNN. Another enterprise, Le Hive, located in Tamil Nadu, decided to allocate half a day off to its employees to “prevent sudden sick leaves.”
These gestures from companies are just one facet of the feverish excitement enveloping the release. Local news outlets have been leaving no stone unturned, offering extensive coverage replete with live blogs, interviews with fans, and footage from outside theaters. Early estimates suggest that the film raked in approximately $5 million on its opening day, marking the highest debut for a Tamil-language film in 2023 so far, as reported by local sources.
Rajinikanth, aged 72, has amassed a filmography featuring over 160 movies, rendering him nearly synonymous with South Indian cinema. Renowned for his elaborate action sequences and distinctive dance moves, he wields a box office allure akin to Western icon Tom Cruise and is often regarded as one of Asia’s highest paid actors. Born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in the southern city of Bengaluru in 1950, Rajinikanth made his cinematic debut 25 years later in “Apoorva Raagangal,” a movie that achieved commercial success.
The adoration he garners from fans is often likened to the reverence accorded to religious figures. Some of his devotees have been known to express their excitement for his new releases by pouring milk on cardboard cutouts of the actor, a gesture typically reserved for Hindu deities. Similar scenes of jubilation accompanied the release of his 2016 film “Kabali,” in which he sported stylish three-piece suits and John Lennon-esque sunglasses to portray a wrongfully convicted gangster recently released from prison. The day of its release essentially became an unofficial public holiday for many, prompting several companies in Bengaluru and Chennai to grant their employees a day off to view the film.
Rajinikanth’s accolades extend beyond the silver screen; he has also been honored with the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards, two of India’s most prestigious civilian recognitions, for his contributions to the arts.
In the broader context of India’s multibillion-dollar film industry, renowned for its Hindi-language “Bollywood” productions, it’s important to note that almost half of India’s 1.4 billion population doesn’t consider Hindi their primary language. Within the nation, the “Tollywood” (Telugu language) and “Kollywood” (Tamil language) sectors of South India command a similar following to that of Bollywood.
While Bollywood often takes the spotlight internationally, the earnings generated by South Indian media and entertainment industries have nearly doubled year-on-year. In 2022, they contributed an estimated 52% of India’s overall film revenues, as revealed in a report by the Confederation of Indian Industry. A prominent success story from the South Indian film scene in the past year was “RRR,” a film that made history by securing its first Oscar for the best original song, “NaatuNaatu.”
Applauded for its lively choreography and catchy melody, the song also clinched a Golden Globe award, standing as a testament to India’s burgeoning soft power. Upon accepting the Oscar, composer M.M. Keeravani commented, “I grew up listening to The Carpenters, and now here I am with the Oscars.” He proceeded to deliver his speech by singing the lyrics to “Top of the World” by The Carpenters.