Why do we love Baashha?

It’s a question many have pondered over for years now. Why Baashha? What about it?

That frenetic clicking sound you hear is thousands trying to pre-book tickets for Baashha that’s been confirmed for re-release on Friday, March 3. Such outpouring of love for a film that’s more than two decades old is quite unprecedented, even in a cinema-crazy society like ours. You need only hear the raucous cheering every time Baashha’s teaser plays at Sathyam Cinemas to recognise that somehow, Baashha has managed to attain a mythical quality that is arguably unmatched by any other Rajinikanth film ever made. They re-released Annamalai a few years back—Annamalai of the famous Rajinikanth intro music, but there just wasn’t as much love. It’s a question many have pondered over for years now. Why Baashha? What about it?

In these times of instant gratification, where we post for the likes and tweet for the retweets, it’s most relevant that we now remember what really made Baashha the rousing success it became. No, I’m not talking about Baashha’s raised index finger, though in these times of electoral tumult, it could be said to mean a lot. No, I’m not talking about his signature line in the film that is almost magical in its catchy triviality. It isn’t so much the music or the flashback within the flashback device either. I’d say it isn’t even Baasha’s entertaining rivalry with the magnetic Mark Antony.

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“Hey, hey, hey, hey… vote pottiyaa?”

Baashha became such a rip-roaring success not on account of its many dynamic moments, but because of its… restraint. It made you earn your reward. Was there another commercial film during the peak of Rajinikanth’s career that was able to resist the temptation of an early fight scene? Even given that life in the 90s wasn’t as listless, and audiences not eager for immediate rewards, having a Rajini film without a fight scene for an hour and a half must have been an exercise fraught in danger. And indeed, it was, as director Suresh Krissna recently admitted in an interview. Suresh Krissna didn’t just stop with pushing the fight scene almost out of the first half of the film; he went one step further and got the bad guy to tie Baashha to a pole and beat the daylights out of him. Again, remember that this was during a time when an onscreen rebuke addressed at Rajini’s character resulted in mobs thronging your house with vengeance in their hearts. Ask Vadivukkarasi about it.

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“Pssst. Could you ask your fans to go easy on me?”

Baashha is nothing if it wasn’t for the tantalising wait in the first half. The wealthy Kesavan’s goons rip apart Manickam’s auto. Baashha holds back. The powerful Indiran passes a lewd comment at Baashha’s sisters. Baashha holds back. Indiran later goes medieval on Manickam’s seemingly frail body. Baashha holds back. And then, just as you’re beginning to get frustrated with the wait, Suresh Krissna lets go. The great release. Baashha uproots a pump in fury, causing water to gush out, almost a metaphor for the release of Manickam’s pent-up thirst for violence. When the scene is over, we realise that our mouths are agape at having witnessed the spectacle finally; at our wish finally getting fulfilled. Contrast this restraint with recent commercial films, say Singam 3. By the end of the first half hour, the film has exposed all its cards. There’s no holding back, there’s no reward to look forward to. Faceless villains with a proclivity for getting their faces smashed, keep coming forward.

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“I’M HUNGRY! BRING ME ANOTHER 10 VILLAINS! GRRRR.”

Let’s also not forget the revelation that was Raghuvaran. You only have to remember that opening scene which has him saying two average, almost boring, lines: “Good news!” and  “Bad news!”. Raghuvaran, however, brings to the scene a certain magic, a presence Tamil cinema has achingly missed since his passing away. There isn’t another villain of his stature; someone who can make ordinary moments seem extraordinary. Till he started playing to the gallery in repetitive fashion, Prakash Raj filled up this role for a while. Now though, Arvind Swamy’s resurgence notwithstanding, we rely for the most part on Hindi actors who play characters that are more muscle than brain. There isn’t restraint in commercial cinema anymore. There aren’t charismatic villains. And that’s why Baashha has already been booked out.

This column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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