It started as a curiosity to know why such crazy stardom for Rajnikanth
Amsterdam – based filmmaker Rinku Kalsy gets candid about For the Love of a Man, her documentary on Superstar Rajnikanth and all that went into putting together this film that will premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.
How did the love for making a documentary on Rajnikanth come along?
My really good friend who is also the producer of the film, Joyjeet Pal, who teaches at the Michigan University would keep coming to Tamil Nadu. He would be traveling, teaching and we would catch up on Skype and emails. Rajnikanth would be the one thing we would always discuss. Joyjeet had been to schools in Tamil Nadu asking kids what their ambition was and the kids would very specifically say that they wanted to be software engineers like Rajnikanth in the movie Shivaji. They’d say we want the same laptop he had in the film. These were schools in really small towns in Tamil Nadu. It was an aspiration they had, growing up and watching Rajnikanth. They didn’t want to be a businessman or anything else. Joyjeet would tell me such stories about fandom and I got really interested and so he recommended a few books for me to read. That’s where I started my research. In 2010 when Enthiran was releasing, I was in Amsterdam. I checked it out online and knew that I had to be there in person to really understand it. I wanted to see the ‘Paalabhishekam’, pouring of milk on huge cut outs of Rajnikanth. The first shot I took for the film was of a Paalabhishekam of a 100 feet cut out of Rajnikanth.
When was this happening?
First day first show. It started from the night before, but I was there in the morning. I asked the people at the hotel I was staying in about which theatres I could go to. They said it will be rowdy and so sent me to multiplexes. It was crowded but I had read that it is actually crazier (in single screen theatres) and so convinced the driver to take me there. So he took me to Albert theatre and that’s where I saw the huge cut out.
There are three cinematographers in the film. Why three and what was the brief?
This is a completely self funded project between Joyjeet and me. The first cameraperson who came in was recommended by a common friend in Chennai; then he got busy so I started looking for more people. That’s when I came across the LV Prasad studio and film school. So I put a word out and then I had these young, newly out-of-film-school kids, who were all fans of Rajnikanth. So my entire crew comprised of Rajni fans but they told me that what they were experiencing was new and so intense.
What is it that you like most about Tamil cinema?
I have been a fan of Bollywood films as well. But when I saw Giraftaar, the first Rajni film, I started connecting with what people say. He is not good looking in a typical Bollywood sense. But there is something very charismatic about the man, and what attracted me instantly was his style. The way his feet land and he throws his cigarette in the air and shoots it. So Chuck Norris! I got hold of all the DVDs that I could and watched all the Rajni films.
What kind of references did you look at, in terms of the treatment of the film and what was your input?
The kind of documentaries that I have worked on don’t have narration. I like the idea of it being a very neutral film where you are shown something and the viewers take what they want from it. I stayed away from narration, which made life very difficult for me. I had to portray their psychology through images. They are not just crazy fans. Fandom is a very serious thing. I wanted to show that seriousness.
What was the film shot on?
Since the film was shot over a period of four years, we started on a Sony XD, then went on to Canon 7D that I had, and a crew member had a Canon 5D. So we switched between them.
How did you go about the process of interviewing? What was your trick to get the right emotion out of them?
The most important thing is time. Time is required to build trust. People were really gracious to agree to the interviews. Over time, I kept meeting them for lunches and dinners and they opened up. I met a mimicry artist who mimics Rajni. Over time, he said he was a Kamal Haasan fan but his bread and butter came from Rajni fans. His actual job is plumbing. These details wouldn’t have come through in the first interview. You need to show them that you are indeed interested in them, not just for the film, but actually interested in them. It helps documentaries.
What were some of the challenges you faced while shooting and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was language. I don’t speak Tamil. I understand the language better now. I think the way to solve it was to hire a translator, which we did. I had these questions which the translator would ask. Then in edit I would listen to the answers and have more questions and I would be like “man I wish I knew the language.”
How long did the filming take?
It started in October 2010 and finished when Lingaa was released in 2014. I can still go on filming. The fans know me and they keep asking me to come and film stuff on Rajni like that blood donation camp.
How much of the film was scripted?
I would say 30 percent was kind of scripted. We knew what we needed to find out, the rest came while filming. There’s a part in the film when Rajni comes out to wave. We never thought we’d get him on camera. So a lot of things happened naturally.
How do you filter and curate the right content after shooting?
I am an editor as well. I would go shoot for five days, then come back and edit it. In that sense, it sort of helped. I didn’t need to hire an editor. Eventually, when putting it together, I was unable to remove my darlings (the fans). I know what I went through but we had to literally throw them out because of the time limit. I filmed so many fans but I can’t put them all in the film; and it breaks my heart.
One thing you learnt during the process of making this film.
It started as a curiosity to know why such crazy stardom for Rajni. They are grown men who are so crazy about him but why are they doing it? It then progressed to meeting them (the fans) over a period of four years and realizing that they are very serious about it. It was a segway between religion and cinema merging. They were giving him the status of God. It’s interesting how their Dravidian psyche worked when Rajni thanked them for their love and asked them to put the money into their family, instead of him, and they felt that he is so humble. So they lifted him more. It’s endearing but sometimes a little scary in the sense of, ‘what if something were to happen to the Thalaivar?’ One thing I learnt was that there is something like image trapping that every movie star has. For instance, Amitabh Bachchan always looks sharp in public or films. He is so well dressed. Rajni has never cared. He is this young man fighting goons on screen but in real, an old guy, bald, dressed in a kurta pyjama. Fans know that he looks a certain way on celluloid. They know it and they are okay with it. I don’t see this with any other movie star.