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AMMA'S out and ayya's in, but the big issue exercising the minds of Tamilians in the city formerly known as Madras is not the realignment of political forces that bored journalists hope is round the corner but the rather lukewarm response Rajnikanth has got from the box office for his new film Arunachalam. "Saar," said a moviebuff in all earnestness, "Rajni fillums run because 'voriginal' Rajni fans see it 'at least' 10 times. But not Arunachalam. They may see it once as a matter of habit. They may see it again as a matter of habit. They may even see it a third time as a matter of habit. But 10 times, no saar." Filmi types in Kodambakkam, Tamil tinsel town's dream factory, say the flick didn't click because Rajni tries to tickle the funny bone instead of breathing fire. The film is by no means a flop. Just a hit. But for the Rajni mandrams (fans' associations) that is bad news because it's not the same thing as a runaway grosser like most Rajni films. Even so, Arunachalam is a good example of how an allegedly parochial, chauvinistic state has turned the bend.

Protagonist Rajni, born Shivajirao Gaekwad, is Maharashtrian; his opposite numbers Saundarya and Rambha are Kannadiga and Telugu. But hasn't it always been this way: Malayalee MGR with Kannadiga Jayalalitha?

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