CHENNAI: Ahead of 'Superstar' Rajinikanth's birthday on December 12, he decided to re-release his 2002 action-fantasy movie 'Baba' to the surprise of his fans, given the underwhelming response accorded to its initial release.
Director Suresh Krissna opening up on the wisdom behind the actor's call said fantasy elements of 'Baba' were 'ahead of times' back in 2002. The pathbreaking success of Rishab Shetty's 'Kantara' filled with fantasy and mystical elements encouraged Rajinikanth to modify 'Baba' into a movie palatable to the 2022 audience, he added.
While Rajinikanth's decision and its reasoning were awe-inspiring, his and director's palatability-quotient seems to be off the target. Retaining lines like "Perusu! aambalainga veetla irundha ketruvanga, pombala pullainga veliya pona ketruvanga" (Old man! men get spoilt if they stay indoors, women get spoilt if they step outdoors), for example made the film more regressive and anachronic.
On the contrary, 'Baba' makers felt the film's runtime, the sub-plot of a Japanese woman and some songs were impediments. There might be some truth to it, but pruning off the said elements magnifies the problematic portions in the film. We are forced to second guess the sensitivity of team 'Baba' for its choice of edits and retentions.
'Baba' was not rejected for its fantasy elements as believed by its director, the actor too wasn't new to the genre (Adhisaya Piravi - 1990). Also Rajinikanth's next after Baba, 'Chandramukhi' had its own share of mystical and fantasy elements turning out to be one of the huge hits in the actor's career. In fact, fantasy was one of the best selling points among the children, this writer included, back then.
We'll return shortly to the problems in 'Baba' after deciphering why 'Kantara' is apples and the former is oranges. The Kannada film is from the layman's perspective of vanishing forests and his hopes of some redemption through a divine being. Rishab Shetty wisely fuses the threat of environmental damage and landlessness of tribal people, and the atavistic escape of relying on the divine. This admixture ensured 'Kantara' mints record box-office numbers. As India is facing slowly vanishing mangroves, 'Kantara' couldn't have come at a better time.
Coming back to 'Baba', only Rajinikanth and Suresh Krissna knows best their intentions behind the movie, there is no denying that it served as the actor's political vehicle back in the days. With some lines and scenes intending to elevate Rajinikanth and take potshots at his old political rivals frozen in time, it failed to generate the due response. Scenes artificially staged to cater to the actor's real life persona is the biggest reason for the film's misfire. With Rajinikanth putting an end to his political-entry speculation (one of the major talking points during 2002) citing health issues, it removes the remaining fizz in 'Baba' which was touted to be the actor's last movie before the political plunge that never happened. This resulted in a new, but shoddy climax, adding a fresh problem to the laundry list of problems in the movie.
The re-released 'Baba' definitely is a watch party for the audience with pangs of vintage Rajini style and good comedy scenes in Tamil cinema. But if 'Baba' the movie takes a human form it would sing, "Naanaga naan irundhaal naatukke nalladhadi vivagaram illayadi" (the nation and myself would be better off if I remained the same).