India's highest paid actor isn't Shahrukh Khan or some other Bollywood megastar. It's Rajnikanth, a balding 61-year-old actor with a beer belly and a mustache that looks like it went out of fashion sometime in the '80s. Hailing from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, he is revered by his fans as a "real man" with more No. 1 hits than any other actor in the world.
Slight exaggeration there, perhaps, but this man is like no other man who roams the earth today. So why is Rajnikanth the no. 1 man in Indian cinema?
Because Rajnikanth is the man. He's India's answer to Chuck Norris, but Rajnikanth needs no last name. India's message boards are alight with Rajnikanth jokes ("Rajnikanth was bitten by a cobra. After four days of intense suffering, the snake died.") In fact, Rajnikanth uses hot sauce as eye drops.
Onscreen, when Rajinikanth points his finger, it's accompanied by the sound of a whip cracking. When he becomes enraged, the director cuts to a shot of a gorilla pounding his chest or inserts a tiger roaring on the soundtrack. Echo is added to enhance his "punch dialogues," rhyming lines uttered at moments of high drama. "I will do what I say. I will also do what I don't say." Then he punches some goon so hard that he flies through the windshield of a minivan, defying gravity, and continues on out the back window on to the roof of a skyscraper. Rajnikanth is no. 1 for these and several other reasons, and you know you can't argue with that.
And he's done it again. Rajnikanth has come out with yet another mega-hit movie, made with a budget of 1.6bn rupees ($35 million) called Enthiran (Robot). Unlike his other action movies, this one is a little different. BBC reports, "India's most expensive film ever is a Frankenstein-type tale of a scientist who makes a robot in his own image, which turns into a monster and falls in love with his maker's fiancee." Yeah. And if you're already cringing, think twice. The visuals and graphics in the movie have been cooked up in the same Hollywood shop as Jurassic Park and Terminator.
But laugh all you want, folks, because Rajnikanth doesn't need your support. With a sizable cult-like following in Japan and Germany, this is a star whose fans have been known to perform Hindu bathing purification rituals on his posters. Moreover, while more and more Bollywood movies copy Hollywood conventions and morals, Rajinikanth stays respectful to his parents and chaste with the ladies. All in all, a true superstar. And if you know what's good for you, you will go out and watch Enthiran. And you will like it.
Curious to see him in action? Watch the trailer of his latest mega-hit, Enthiran: