It was my boss Murali who first said to me the name “Rajinikanth”.
Murali is a natural storyteller. He’s utterly captivating, Murali, with one of those personalities that immediately commands any room into which he steps. Some of us tend to be indistinguishable from the wallpaper, but Murali is of the kind with an invisible spotlight trained on him at all times. So to see Murali get a faraway look in his eyes when speaking of a film hero — that man must be spellbinding indeed.
And what Murali told me about Rajinikanth was nothing short of unbelievable: something about shooting at a bad guy, realizing there were actually two bad guys, and then throwing a knife to split the speeding bullet into two pieces that each perfectly pierce the hearts of both bad guys.
While it may not have been that exact scenario, it was certainly in that general spirit. And whatever it was, my coworkers nodded in agreement at the assessment that Rajinikanth lived on a plane above us mortals. Oh, they knew of Rajinikanth. Everyone knew Rajinikanth. Except us Americans.
And we Americans are missing out.
After this conversation, I googled the name. The portrait I found didn’t seem particularly transcendent: a slightly pudgy man with an admittedly impressive mustache. But then I beheld the glory that you will experience in the two clips below. Part one:
Part two (it gets EVEN BETTER):
From there, I descended into the Youtube hole, and a world of Tamil cinema embraced me into its overdubbed bosom. Rajinikanth may be singularly glorious in Murali’s esteem, dear reader, but other South Indian action heroes are not far behind.
Conclusion: Tamil action cinema is incredible.
I cannot claim to understand who did what first in Tamil cinema. It’s possible that Rajinikanth is the greatest and all else are pretenders. It’s possible that Rajinikanth is the first and everyone else is biting his flow. It’s possible that Rajinikanth got famous copying someone else’s moves. All I know is that it gets better:
And better still:
Dear Indian readers of this blog, if there’s one thing we ignorant Americans know less about than Bollywood cinema, it’s Tamil cinema. In fact, I’m not even sure if Rajinikanth’s oeuvre is properly called “Tamil cinema” — I could be way off. (As the comment below points out, I’ve included at least one Telugu clip above.) What I do know is that I have yet to behold a knife splitting a bullet with my own eyes. I — and all Americans — would be in debt of anyone who could a) explain Rajinikanth and his antecedents to us, and b) embed the knifey-bullety clip below.