"He is our god,” the man says, looking reverentially at the 80-ft-high cutout, supported by a scaffolding that rises to the skies outside the theatre. Superstar Rajinikanth smiles rakishly from the cutout designed in vibrant hues to match a still from the film. The ritual prayer—offered to the cutout of their hero, nay, god, before the first show begins—is just over. Strewn across are remnants of the paraphernalia—garlands, thalis with camphor, sweets and pots of milk. The fans now climb a ladder placed against the cutout to bathe it with pots of milk, adorn it with flowers, light the camphor to the chime of bells. They climb down the ladder and distribute sweets that had earlier been offered as prasad to the cutout, among fans who had been thronging the proscenium arch since 3 am. They believe this pre-release ritual would ward off the evil eye and assure the film’s box office success. In the land that birthed the atheist Dravidian self-respect movement and gave the slogan “Tamizh engal moochu (Tamil is our breath)”—it is scarcely believable that the people’s hero is a Marathi-speaking Kannadiga with demigod status.
The Southern states love their silver screen stars. The love for cinema started even before the country got its freedom. Nothing seemed odd that the stars’ popularity was well within the confines of their linguistic borders. Language tied the audience in an emotional bond, brought solace to the drab, unexciting life of the man on the street.