He is Rajni. He is Rajinikanth. The change in spelling — nothing advertently there — perhaps signifies that there is more than one man within him. And if you ask his legion of fans, Rajni is a one-man army. And this week, they are all out in full force. Jailer, his latest blockbuster, has hit the cinema halls amidst unprecedented hype and hoopla across the globe.
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To celebrate the superstar, I have compiled a collection of the Best Rajinikanth movies representing the Rajni phenomenon over the years. It is fun doing this exercise. Watching them, especially with family and friends, can be even more fun. The Rajni experience is a collective celebration.
Rajnism: Best Rajinikanth movies
Here are some of the movies worth watching from Rajinikanth’s incredible portfolio. Most movies should be available on streaming services such as Prime Video or Netflix.
Mullum Malarum (1998)
No list of the best Rajinikanth movies will be complete without this one. The movie showed the world that there is an actor of measured calibre within the star. The ‘kettappaiyan saar indha Kali’ line he utters with natural insouciance is now what we call vintage Rajinikanth. His affection and love for his sister Shoba, his romance with Fatafat Jayalakshmi and the run-ins with Sarath Babu all belong to hall-of-fame. Just as there is a soft man inside the robust Kali, this movie shows that there is a terrific performer inside the showboat star.
By 1980, Rajni was already on the way to becoming a star. Johnny, among his early double roles — one of them with spectacles and a Zapata moustache — showed what the Superstar was capable of — both style and substance. He, along with Sridevi, looked like such a dainty pair and showed that a good script can bring out romance and robustness. The music of Ilaiyaraaja is among his best. The songs are for the ages. The background score is ageless.
Thillu Mullu (1981)
This remake of the Hindi hit Gol Maal, dare we say (at the risk of alienating those Hindi fans who hold the Utpal Dutt – Amol Palekar starrer in great esteem) better than the original, thanks in the main to Rajni’s stunning comic sense and Thengai Srinivasan’s inimitable show. This film is a favourite of most families as it is a laughathon. This remains the superstar’s best movie under his guru K Balachander’s baton. The cameo from Rajni’s supposed arch-rival, Kamal Haasan, is the icing on this cake.
Thambikku Entha Ooru (1984)
Another popular favourite across all ages. This is perhaps the first film that arrived at the typical Rajni formula — hardy fights, good comedy, soft romance, and great songs, all bound by a handy mainstream story. Plus, Rajni looked a million bucks. He had never looked more handsome than in this movie. In the period before this film, Rajni was going through some personal horrors. But he took solace in spirituality. And it showed on the screen. He was at peace. The song Kadhalin Deepam Ondru remains a cute love anthem to this day.
The superstar era had truly begun, and quite revealingly, this was the first movie in which the sui generis ‘superstar’ title card was shown. Now, it is a staple in all his movies — an announcement that typically arouses his fans (and even non-fans) into a frenzy of happiness and excitement. This typical masala movie set the template for Rajni movies for the next two decades. Also, away from Ilaiyaraaja, this Rajni movie seamlessly embraced the pleasing massiness of Deva music. Rambunctious but crowd-pleasing.
Another quintessential on any best Rajinikanth movies list. The scenes are almost a parade of Rajnism—full-on mass and magic. The script is an inspired tweak of the 1991 Hindi film Hum, which also had Rajni in the cast — but not in the same role. Baashsha remains a great diamond in the Rajni crowd, with whistles flying even today wherever it is screened. The story has many holes and timeline discrepancies. But nothing will catch your eye as everything is swept aside in the tsunami of Rajnism that the film is filled with.
Another of Rajni movies that works purely on the star’s presence. Rajni, alongside the thespian Sivaji Ganesan, added to the gravitas. The villain act of Ramya ‘Neelambari’ Kannan is among the most famous ones in the annals of Tamil cinema. No female character has dripped with so much evilness on screen than Neelambari. And it needed the alpha male Padayappa to quell that. The songs of AR Rahman are all chart-busters — even today.
A loose remake of the Malayalam hit film Manichitrathazhu, and a more faithful reprise of the Kannada hit Apthamitra, Chandramukhi is among the most important movies of this Superstar. His previous film Baba (2002) bombed spectacularly at the box office. Critics had sharpened their pens, writing cussed obituaries on the Rajni phenomenon. The Superstar had to prove that he could get up after a major fall and did it in his style and panache. The comedy with Vadivelu and the rousing songs of Vidyasagar are all other attractions of the film. The ‘enna koduma Saravanan‘ line from Prabhu is perhaps among the most memed.
There was a rumour that this was to be Rajinikanth’s last movie — he was going through a health crisis then. And it featured the biggest on-screen Rajni villain — multiple Rajnis. It played right into the growing Rajni mythology the media so organically built up. Even the Rajni villain could not be defeated — it dismantled itself. The badass Rajni act as the evil robot has fans hooting in delirium — even in their drawing rooms. The comic flair of the man also shows brightly. It was a role that was written for Kamal. But the Superstar made it all his. And that this is the hallmark of a supreme performer.
After doing the rounds of Shankar, KS Ravikumar and Ranjith, Rajni finally submitted himself to the vision of a young filmmaker who came with the sensibility of the millennials. Directed by Karthik Subbaraj, this last one on our best Rajinikanth movies list is a fitting tribute to Rajnism. The director is a die-hard fan of Thalaivar, and it showed in every scene and many references. Rajni also enjoyed relative freedom after willingly handing his screen persona to someone from this generation. The ‘kettappaiyan saar indha Kali‘ line comes a full and satisfying circle in this film.
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.