Indian fans spray milk on a poster of Bollywood star Rajinikanth outside a cinema on the first day of release of his new Tamil-language film "Kabali" in Chennai on July 22, 2016.
Fans of the wildly popular Indian film star Rajinikanth queued overnight for a 4am screening of his eagerly awaited new movie on July 22 in the southern city of Chennai, where many companies gave up all hope of staff showing up for work and closed for the day. Tickets for "Kabali", which stars Rajinikanth as an ageing gangster, sold out well before the release and were changing hands on the black market for up to 5,000 rupees ($75) -- a huge sum for most Indians.
 / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR
Indian fans spray milk on a poster of Bollywood star Rajinikanth outside a cinema on the first day of release of his new Tamil-language film "Kabali" in Chennai on July 22, 2016. Fans of the wildly popular Indian film star Rajinikanth queued overnight for a 4am screening of his eagerly awaited new movie on July 22 in the southern city of Chennai, where many companies gave up all hope of staff showing up for work and closed for the day. Tickets for "Kabali", which stars Rajinikanth as an ageing gangster, sold out well before the release and were changing hands on the black market for up to 5,000 rupees ($75) -- a huge sum for most Indians. / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR

Chennai : Tamil Nadu was on Friday hit by Kabali mania as fans of Kollywood’s demigod Rajinikanth launched into hysterical celebrations to welcome the latest silver screen offering of their superstar. From bunking colleges and offices to waking up at the unearthly hour to watch the first day first show at 4 am in single screen theatres, the maniac fans did it all to capture their hero in action.

The movie that was simultaneously released in over 12,000 screens worldwide was also the first Tamil film to be dubbed in Chinese, Malay and Japanese. An unprecedented marketing hype that included painting an Air Asia aircraft with Kabali posters heightened the expectations of the fans so much so that some of them shelled out Rs 2,000 to buy a ticket. Legally, theatres can charge a maximum of Rs 120 per ticket in Tamil Nadu, but at many theatres the tickets were sold for Rs 500 upwards at the counter itself. An online ticket booking company even levied a service charge of Rs 200 per ticket, as against the normal Rs 30-35.

Such has been the demand for tickets for the film in the pre-booking days that many tired to pull strings with the police and VIPs to get the tickets. Some even offered to bribe theatre counter staff with a quarter liquor bottle. A letter given by the personal assistant to the State Information Minister to a theatre manager in Chennai requesting for 10 tickets on day one for his acquaintance went viral online. “All theatres in Chennai have houseful shows until Tuesday,” said a theatre manager. There were no previews in India and Rajinikanth himself watched the pre-release show in the US. His wife watched the film at Albert Theatre, famed for its Rajini-fan celebrations.

This time instead of pouring milk on the cut-outs of the actor many fans opted for a cola worship heeding to requests from milk distributors to give up the practice. For Rajinikanth, there are heavy stakes in the way the movie performs as the actor’s last super hit, Enthiran, was released six years ago. His previous film Lingaa and animation movie Kochadaiyaaan were disasters at the box office. This time he placed his cards on director Ranjith, who is just three-films old. The director’s debut Attakathi was well received and his last outing Madraswas was a hit and widely acclaimed.

However, the initial reviews for Kabali, where Rajinikanth plays an aging gangster based out of Malaysia with undercurrents of representing the Dalit Tamils working in the rubber estates there, have not been too good. Many critics felt it is not a usual Rajinikanth formula film. Fans of Rajinikanth have usually been treated to a larger than life character with an inherent style quotient, punch dialogues, fights and victory. “The movie moves at a slow pace, which is not Thalaivar’s (Leader, a reference to Rajinikanth by fans) style. The plot too keeps jumping. Though Thalaivar looks stylist with his beard, shades and suit, the speed element is completely missing. The trailers gave us a completely different picture,” laments ‘Rajini’ Siva, a diehard fan from Villupuram who had come down to Chennai to join the Fan Club celebrations.

Some of the fans were heard blaming director Ranjith for trying to change the usual character of Rajinikanth and thereby “killing” the film. Though the actor has in the past effectively portrayed slow-moving roles, since the late eighties his movies are essentially fast-paced. An attempt to move away from this formula proved disastrous in 2002 when his Baba bombed at the box office prompting distributors to demand the return of the minimum guarantee amount. What also came as a damper was the online leak of the entire film, barely hours after its release in India. The film was freely available for download on a torrent website, which defied a Madras High Court order banning over 200 torrent websites from streaming the film, at around 8 am. “Now we doubt if people would come to the theatres after the first few days to watch Kabali. The reviews too have not been encouraging,” rued a theatre manager, Sivan. Nonetheless, the producers have raked in the moolah in the opening bookings.

l A friend bought #Kabali tickets forgetting he was to get married on the same day. Wants to know if someone else is interested in getting married

l Mohandas Menon Verified account @mohanstatsman

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s been a 4 am show for any movie anywhere in the world, right? #Kabali

l Daniel Fernandes ‏@absolutelydanny

Kabali released today, waiting for Rajnikant to review the audience. #KabaliDay

l Sand-d Singh ‏@Sand_In_Deed

More people in Tamil Nadu got up before sun rise today, than they would do for Independence Day or Republic day events. #KabaliDay

l Gujju Rocks ‏@gujjubhen

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