“Ayya, en peru Maanikam.
Enakku Innum oru perum irukku”
Who doesn't remember these words as the Super Star faced down the slimy official and helped his sister get the much deserved medical seat?
Well I didn't. It's only recently that I finally got to watch this movie, twenty years after it hit the big screen.
OK, sue me for having committed the gravest sin of all time. But first, hear me out!
Living in Madras all my life I have found that the religion of this city is Rajni-ism and the sanctum sanctorum of this religion is, without doubt, Baashha. I didn’t realize why, until recently. Personally, I consider it ethically wrong to not participate in the how so ever clichéd practice of the home town where you’ve lived all your life, whatever it may be. In that vein, I've committed a crime of Manick proportions to not have watched the blockbuster for so long, even though it's been telecasted on almost all special days throughout the year, every year.
Seeing the cult following of the Super Star movies has always intrigued me as to how a commercial entertainer can turn out to be an influential factor to the culture of Madras. I found my answer after two and a half hours of gripping scenes, a brilliant plot and a protagonist dripping with pure awesomeness.
Manik Baashha. Enough said.
To pen down my responsive thoughts on this legend of a movie, I didn't know where to begin. Given that it came out way back in 1995, I was skeptical about the screenplay before watching it but I was completely taken aback by how intricately detailed this motion picture was. Manikam's introduction prefaced by his help to fellow auto driver families in need, his entry with the Ayuthai pooja song as he smashes the pumpkin with a style only he can pull off (causing bands to name themselves after this move) got me hooked from the very beginning. His portrayal of a good hearted auto driver who cares deeply for his step brother and sisters, the emphasis on the poorer part of the city with an inner meaning that moved me to tears, his past life shown in flashes with the chanting of ‘Baashha’ as I watched him hold back on his anger; I was instilled with a sense of righteousness in me as I watched Manickam's passive aggressiveness in giving up his previously badass life for the welfare of the people.
The scene where Nagma chooses the auto she wants to take and Janagaraj's happiness as he shouts with a sense of triumph, “Bloody fools” to the rest of his fellow men is the kind of humour I've thoroughly missed in recent times. The surge in excitement I had every time I saw Baashha manifest in Manikam or the times I crushed on Nagma followed by a sense of doom as I watched Manikam's expression in seeing her father, I don’t know which, but I was pretty glued to the screen not knowing if I wanted the film to end or not given all the suspense.
As the movie unfolded and we were taken to Mumbai, seeing Manikam transform into Baashha was just magic. His move with the knife to get answers from Mark Antony's crony predates the Joker's by decades but had just an awesome an effect. Mark Antony as Baasha's adversary was beautifully scripted and their stand-offs felt like something as classic as a Clint Eastwood film. I honestly couldn't get enough of Baashha and coming to the end of the movie felt like I was saying goodbye to these characters way too soon.
Being just a few months old when it hit the big screen, I was maybe too young and undeveloped to perceive the after effects of what the movie caused. The underlooked auto drivers in our city developed a sense of unity and made their efforts matter for the greater good. A couple of day to day influences I've always noticed were how they started giving emergency rides to the injured and pregnant women free of cost. If only I could have watched the movie the very first day at the Kasi theatre, with the electrified and fanatic atmosphere seeing the Thalaivar deliver his knock out punch dialogue.
“Naa oru dhadava sonna nooru dhadava madri”
I was half expecting a post credit scene of a badass Manik Baashha to finish off things in style, something like a ‘Baashha will Return’ (Yes, I know. I’ve been watching too much of Marvel) I could only relate to a superhero genre. No wonder people looked down upon me everywhere when they learnt I hadn’t yet watched this Superstar classic. This is but one lesson I have learnt, never to miss a Rajnikanth film. When Kabali finally decides to grace our screens, you'd know where to find me at 4 AM that Friday.
Written by Kasthuriramanan