The parallels between the two superstars are numerous: humble beginnings, stratospheric rise, outsiders to state and system; and, predictably, Dhoni receives the same pop-culture adoration, with Rajini songs playing as his entering BGMs.
On a scorching April 30 afternoon in Chennai, as hundreds shouted their heads off at the sight of MS Dhoni stepping out to bat against Punjab Kings at Chepauk, DJ Zen played the popular Rajinikanth song “Baasha paaru…” (See Baasha). That 1995 film, in which he played a Don, catapulted Rajini’s career to super stardom, prompting Amitabh Bachchan to fly to Chennai and wait for Rajini’s arrival to congratulate him. A more fitting song lyrics for cricketing legend MS Dhoni could not have been written. Keep an eye on Baasha. Keep an eye on Dhoni. And stare. There was nothing further to say. Chepauk was trembling with chills. Dhoni had been completely Rajinified.
N Srinivasan, the owner and powerful businessman administrator who brought him to CSK, famously stated that Dhoni would always be “part and parcel” of not only the club but also the city of Chennai. “There is no CSK without Dhoni, and there is no Dhoni without CSK,” he remarked. No other brand has so boldly and unabashedly devoted itself to a single individual.
Tamil Nadu, and particularly Chennai, enjoys its movie stars. Rajini in particular. Even Yoga babas may struggle to get up at 3 a.m., yet 4 a.m. performances in Chennai are always full. Movies may be a holy experience, with milk baths for stars’ pixels taking place just within the theatre complex. Colourful fragments of paper are shredded and flung across the screen, swirling over the viewers’ heads. Nobody needs to be urged to ‘whistle podu’ by a DJ. No one can hear the conversations for at least a half hour.
The title card is a watershed moment in this viewing experience; every self-respecting fan remembers which movie featured the ‘Superstar Rajinikanth’ title card for the first time – Annamalai in 1992. Above all, the superstar’s entrance shot is important in the film, causing complete frenzy. It’s no surprise, then, that Dhoni’s appearance on a cricket pitch has become a first-darshan religious event.