Not a complete Review.
Rajinikanth is not a mere mortal cinema actor - he is a fantasy, he is an emotion, he is an impact, he is an impression, he is an experience, he is a perception, he is a sensation, he is a marvel, he is a mystery, he is a phenomenon in himself. His movies are not mere 24 frames per second shot with a digital video camera - they are an event, they are a festivity, they are a celebration, they are a detailed revelry to be relished. The moment a Rajinikanth project is announced, Tamilnadu tunes itself for an extravaganza. Everything "Rajini" makes news - still releases, trailer release, audio release - anything Rajini is consumed upon with a reverent devotion and authentic enthusiasm, which only Rajinikanth commands. The fanfare and the mass adulation submitted at this particular individual will be relevant at only one context - Rajinikanth. The fundamental rules of cinema, its narrative structure, its impact on the emotional system of the audience, its effect on the psyche of the spectator - all these seem to work different in this context - Rajinikanth.
"Cinema from an Idea" and "Cinema around a star" - each work in a distinct manner. During the studio days, when independent cinema was a distant idea, the studios required some kind of assurance and minimum guarantee at the box office. This is where the relevance of the "star system" emerges, the idea of the fan clubs and fan devotion arises. In the panorama of the "star system", the way a film works with its audience is altogetherly different. The audience, first of all tries to establish a one to one relationship with his favorite star and only after this, the settings of the story and the actual cinema walks into him. The production houses encouraged this idea with mass publicity campaigns and the actors endorsed the "fan activity" in large scales. There is an important drawback with the system though - How-much ever effort a particular actor invests in his performance, the audience will always perceive the personality above the performance. Thus, the idea of "fantasy acting" packs the final punch and the actual acting in a puristic sense - the "method acting" loses out in the race.
Rajini's collaboration with Shankar has marked a significant departure from the star-fan dynamics that Rajini has set in motion somewhere at the dawn of his film career. Rajini as a star was an altogetherly new phenomenon in the tamil social milieu. Stars who garnered mass adulation in the previous generations like M.G.Ramachandran and M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar had "attractive" physical appearances (in a conventional sense), their roles were tailored in such a way that at no point of time the audience will develop a sense of aversion or uneasiness with their behaviour on-screen. More importantly, MGR and MKT had a huge following and popularity amongst women. Rajini broke all these conventions when he emerged - he had a rough angry man look, his complexion was dark, he smoked on-screen for almost 100 movies, he did spine-chilling villainy when he set out as an actor - Still, he naturally was the toast of the town with his active prompts and charismatic styles. But, it was the subalterns and the masses who initially were the patrons of the Rajini phenomenon, his popularity and stardom among the elites and women was something that happened at a much later stage. Coming to the star-fan dynamics - it was a totally different ball game those days - Rajini mostly played an angry young man who stood for the people, he fought for the poor in a simulated feudalistic society, he smoked lavishly on-screen, his characters were developed with cues of misogynistic and male chauvinistic behavior (in many movies). The audience enjoyed everything he did on-screens ... those were the audience who inculcated a sense of loyalty and integrity in them towards their "Thalaivar" and were the first generation fans of Rajinikanth.
Shankar has brought about a whole new shift in the way Rajini is perceived by his fans. Rajini stopped smoking on-screen (for a different reason though), he has started doing roles of a software engineer and Robotics scientist these days, he wears wonderful clothes, lives in rich bungalows - In all, he is portrayed as somebody whose standard of living is very high. This is in stark contrast with what Rajini has been doing all his career. How many times before "Sivaji" have you seen Rajini trying to woo a girl in all those details ?, How many times before "Endhiran" have you seen Rajini running away with his girl as somebody (Kalabhavan Mani) chase him ?. We all knew Rajini who used to say, "A Man shouldn't be in pursuit of a woman" and "Thaedi vandha kadhal" etc, we only saw him thrash tens of baddies. This is the "image makeover" I am trying to convey. "Endhiran" was an all new standard towards this particular idea - "Endhiran" carries no identity of a "Rajini movie", no styles, no punch dialogues, no intro song with the message to the audience, no freaking introduction scene. Its a Shankar film, its a Sci-fi film, Period.
Over to Endhiran: More than Vaseegaran - the scientist it was Chitti - the Robot who garnered all possible attention and applause. Wickedness and Villainy are the real "bread and butter" of Rajini's histrionics with which he started with. He does villainy right from his instincts ( "Mottae boss" of Sivaji is one more example on this light ). It is because of this intuitive performance, Chitti's character has come out so well that it looks almost effortless. Mufflers, pronounced collars, bandages - the costumes to hide Rajini's ageing neck serve the purpose but still, Vaseegaran does look older especially when he is seen alongside with the vibrant Chitti.
In Sivaji, we had Vivek seen with Rajini all the time which kinda irritated. This movie is full of Rajini - the presense of either Vaseegaran or Chitti is guaranteed in almost every frame. After Chitti Version 2.0's arrival, there are more Rajini's - 100s of them all through the frame - Satisfaction. The dialogues discussing Fibonacci series, Neural schema, medical terminologies etc provide a scientific feel but the songs' lyrics were over-stuffed with science tit-bits, I feel. The train stunt sequence and the final animation spectacle were real long - warrants choppings.
Though the film looks rich, I still can't find 160+crores on-screen. The "Machu pichu" song - "Kilimanjaro" was the most visually appealing. Resul Pookutty, AR.Rahman, the animation experts from the west, Rathnavelu - all are felt.
The commercial value of Rajinikanth, the star seem to be on a rise, there's no waning of his star value in the recent future - If an individual can set in motion so much commercial activity, If a cinema star can guarantee so much excitement to so many people, why should he ever retire from cinema ?
One important critic on the big budget productions involving stars of the stature of Rajinikanth is that, it heralds the arrogance of "Capitalism" in cinema production. Just observe - one or two weeks before and after the release of "Endhiran", you won't find any high profile film releases - Who wants their film to be washed away in the frenzy that "Endhiran" generates. Calculations are on - 2500 prints * 4 shows a day * 150 rupees per ticket - How many days does it take for the "Sun Pictures" to gross all the money that they have invested in. With all the media under their control and the kind of intense promo campaigns that they can manage, its a juggernaut of influence that "Sun Pictures" manages over the creativity industry of the state. And, it is the small scale productions and indie ventures that are promptly crushed on the way. Arguments discussing "consumer driven economy" will ultimately project capitalistic undertones only - Quoting Rajini himself from Sivaji - "Rich get richer and poor get poorer".