By Sudharshan Garg
Rajni fandom dawned on me when I first watched Dalapati. I was a wee young lad of 11, my family told me it’s too violent and I should not watch it yada yada but this was 91 and times were very different. I lived in Gopalapuram and Satyam Theatres (the 2nd best chain in Chennai back then) was but a 2-3 min cycling distance away. I distinctly remember that the movie released on Diwali day so. A group of us, some 6 kids in total (3 of them lived in Beasant Nagar but came to my place on the humble cycle in the afternoon) decided to watch the movie, 4 pm show. As I lived the closest I had the absolutely unenviable task of queuing up for advance tickets.
Now if you weren’t around in these days or didn’t watch movies then, just Google “Mannan Goundamani ticket scene” to get an idea of how much fun it was. Iirc ticket sales opened 5 days ago or something to that effect so I dutifully went with my bestie and we queued up. Took us almost 4 hours in queue, witnessed the cops on duty lathi charge a particularly racuous bunch, almost lost my glasses in the melee and walked away victorious. We each picked up 3 tickets each and walked away feeling like the Survivors of a phalanx company involved in a pitched battle in Athens a few millenia ago.
For years after this movie we became each other’s Surya & Deva, if our parents were upset with us for scoring abysmal marks and compared us against the “samatu pasangas” out came “avanagala niruta solu”and so on and so forth.
Our teens coincided with the phenomenal rise of Rajni because he came up with a line up of phenomenal hits, culminating in Basha. Sure his run continued till it hit the nonsensical speed breaker that was Baba but that’s another topic for another day.
To us this group we had morphed into watching movies voraciously, and by 7th grade (13 years or so) we could range across Mount road so our options increased. The first time I ever cycled past Spencers Plaza was what was a rite of passage for any Thalaivar rasigan, a FDFS at Albert. This time around it was Pongal, I remember this distinctly because we queued up at 0730 for a 0900 show iirc and given Chennai and it’s hatred for that accursed “Pani” (Pani, people swear goes in through their ears…when it’s a balmy 20*c), we go in and we realised our black ticket dealer had ripped us off. 6 tickets spread across 4 different corners! This was also may I remind you, pre cell phones so we had to determine a pre arranged meeting spot during the interval and one for when the movie ended but this was FDFS, at Albert and Baasha was peak Rajni! We were with a large, loud, crazy extended family and didn’t even notice that our friends weren’t sitting (or in this case dancing in the aisle) next to them. I watched Muthu in the “tent kottai” in my village, ground seating…like literally on the ground. Pity that the theatre owner decided to supplement his income by running “Bittu padams” (soft porn) on the side, the cops repeatedly raided him till he eventually shut it down and converted it into a marriage hall. As an aside the last movie he played and I saw there was the Action King starrer, Adimachangli.
This FDFS and love affair for Thalaivar continued in for years but we hit Baba and by then we were older and even Thalaivar was slowing down, most of us started working as well so leaves was a pain and we switched to FDNS (night show). This didn’t have an impact on our work but we still got to watch Thalaivar on screen on day one and that…has continued to this very day.
The past 3-4 movies of his, I have walked out with a splitting migraine, Annathe I could not even make the interval mark, every time I bitch and whine about how bad his movies are but like a jilted lover just waiting for that nod…I run back every single time he releases a movie. After the likes of Lingaa, Darbar, Annathe and ofc the cinematic abomination that was the directors previous effort, beast, I am fully conscious of the fact that I have wasted Rs 600 on the tickets and will be wasting my time but….wild horses couldn’t keep me away!