To watch a Rajini starrer on the first day, you need to be an Olympic decathlete. You have to squeeze in through the metal detectors, nimbly avoid the sniffer dogs, jostle through the crowd, hop over all the cabling laid out by the TV crews, and stagger into your seat. But if you're a true Rajini fan, you can do this blindfolded on one leg.
The combination of star, director and music director alone makes Sivaji like one of those rare and obscure celestial events that send astronomers into spasms of ecstasy. And "spasms of ecstasy" probably describes what Sivaji holds for the Rajini devotee ('fan' doesn't do justice). For, it is a no-nonsense out-and-out movie of the Rajini devotee, for the Rajini devotee and, looks like, by a Rajini devotee. And even if you aren't a Rajini devotee but are friends with one, or are a Rajini-watcher, you'll get your paisa vasool
Sivaji (Rajini) returns from the US where he has amassed Rs. 200 crores as a software systems architect. He returns with the burning desire to spend his time and money on helping the public. Yes, an unavoidable by-product of being a Shankar hero is to do unto society what a detergent does unto stained clothes in TV ads.
Along with his pal Sundaram (Vivek), he jumps through hoops to set up universities and hospitals, but is thwarted by Adiseshu (Suman) and his politician buddies who are worried, mostly because they have to face Rajinikanth with the masses behind him. This is probably a delicate hint to Tamil Nadu politicians, with about the same level of delicacy as an elephant backing into a crockery shop.
Eventually Adiseshu succeeds, and at the interval leaves Sivaji with a Re. 1 coin (played by a Re. 1 coin) in his hand, and leaves the audience atremble with thoughts of our hero's retaliation.
The storyline isn't terribly inventive or engaging. Good rich man wants to do good, bad rich man wants to stop him, and oh, by the way, there's a girl involved. What is different, of course, is that this is Rajinikanth. You put him in a movie, and you've suddenly created a parallel universe to which earthly logic, aesthetics and reasoning don't have a visa.
Truth be told, this is an older Rajinikanth - one whose cheeks are a bit fuller and steps are a bit slower. This is visible in the first half of Sivaji. However, that is entirely beside the point, because he is still inimitable at what he does best. There are a couple of trademark gestures with the coin and with chewing gum that will join the pantheon of Rajini mannerisms.
A couple of other aspects of Sivaji are noteworthy. After a long time, the dubbing from Tamil to Telugu seems to really work, and because of this, the comedy track is more than adequate most of the time, and surreally good at others. For example, a scene where two goons who are helping in a small surgical procedure clink saline bottle and blood packet and go 'Cheers'. As Sivaji keeps saying, 'Cool'!
Since it's such a big release in AP, care has been taken to 'localize' as much of the movie as possible. This is carried so far as to shoot 3 small 'tribute' songs to legends of Tollywood cinema with Rajini and Shriya standing in for their Tollywood counterparts, that will have AP audiences clapping and hooting in the aisles.
For the connoisseur, Sivaji is replete with references to Rajini's life and career. Starting from the fact that the very movie is named after Rajinikanth's real name, to the references that Adiseshu makes about Sivaji having to take up a bus conductor's job, there seems to be subtext after subtext throughout Sivaji.
The music is good, though not the same kind of stuff that Rahman could do in his heyday. A couple of the song picturizations are completely over the top, as are the action sequences, but please refer to our earlier comments about parallel universes etc. By the way, Shriya appears in most of the songs and some other scenes too.
In the final analysis, Sivaji is the archetypal Rajini movie, with all the expected ingredients. If you're a Rajini fan, don't miss it for anything in the world. If you understand Tamil, you'll probably want to see it in the original as well! Even otherwise, you can get to see a decent movie with a tight storyline and good to excellent production values.
[Also read: The fangirl review