Lessons from a superstar

Vinay Kamath | Updated on March 10, 2018


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The inimitable Rajinikant may have inspired many a joke, but he also makes for a subject of study for brand managers

Rajini knows Victoria’s Secret! Rajini can make onions cry! Rajinikanth once kicked a horse in the chin. Its descendants are today called giraffes!

Corny jokes such as these about South Indian super star Rajinikanth are legion. On the Web, in SMS exchanges, mimics regaling parties, the jokes proliferate like rabbits as soon as they are made up. While the jokes are light hearted banter, Rajini as the subject of serious management thought? Or as a brand compared to some of the iconic brands around the world.

Rajini is a ‘brand’ all right, in the world of entertainment. But to draw a parallel with iconic brands such as Harley Davidson and Apple would, one may think, be a tenuous link.

Not so, argue chartered accountants P.C. Balasubramanian (Chennai-based) and Ram N. Ramakrishnan (based in Qatar), ardent Rajini fans, whose book Grand Brand Rajini will soon be released by publishers Rupa.

Making of a brand

Bala and Ram have traced Rajini’s life and career from his debut as an unknown actor in a 1975 release Apurva Raagangal to his super hit movie Robot last year.

As Bala explains in a conversation, “We trace the challenges he faced in his initial years, to how he emerged as a ‘power brand’, then to a ‘super brand’ and now, finally, as a cult brand. We also mapped his journey with that of other brands and explain why he’s a cult brand as well.”

Of course, he admits that Rajini himself, with whose consent the book has been written, did not set out to be a ‘brand’ but as he gained popularity his image began to be shaped in a certain way through the choice of his characters, the powerful statements he made in his movies, the choice of movies, all led to the emergence of ‘Brand Rajini’.

“Brand Rajini has grown not by design, but we have made the inferences,” adds Bala.

Living the promise

Rajini, says Bala, like a brand is able to live the promise and able to ‘live’ the brand. “Rajini,” he explains, “gives his fans what they expect. He did not deviate from that path. When a brand deviates from the expectations that people have, they fail, like Rajini did with his Baba movie. But, he came roaring back with Chandramukhi!”

This isn’t the first book on Rajini that Bala has written. A couple of years ago, along with Raja Krishnamoorthy, a human resource consultant, trainer and actor, Bala authored Rajini’s Punchtantra, with the tag line ‘Business and life management the Rajinikanth way’.

First published by Chennai-based New Horizon Media, the sales and marketing of the book was taken over by Rupa earlier this year.

Rupa’s Commissioning Editor, Pradipta Sarkar, says that after it took over the book’s rights, around 16,000 copies of the slim volume have been sold, with another 10,000 of a print run of 30,000 still in the market.

New Horizon, Bala estimates, would have sold around 12,000 copies of the book before Rupa took over the rights.

Universal appeal

For the uninitiated but something that diehard Rajini’s fans swear by, are the insightful punchlines that Rajini delivers in his inimitable style in each of his movies.

Sample this, from the movie Yejaman, “You say that one must do good as stated by law, whereas I believe that doing good is the law.”

The writers then go on to infer what lessons one can draw from this in business as well as in life with a message to wind it up, as in this one — ‘give back to society what you earn from it!’

Rupa’s Sarkar says that Rajini being a southern star does not limit the sales of the book.

“The earlier book has been selling well across zones. Beyond a point, the entertainment value of a book or the quirkiness of a person written about can only take you so far. The book ( Punchtantra) is a fun and useful life mantra for readers,” she says.

The untrodden path

Many writers have been quick to infer and draw life and management lessons from the most unlikely of events and personalities (management learnings from Anna Hazare’s campaign), movies (lessons on team building from Chak De), which could all make for a tenuous and farfetched link.

Put this question to Prakash Iyer, Managing Director, Kimberley Clark, and an author himself ( The Habit of Winning) and he says it is interesting for somebody to read about a different take on the same thing all saw.

“Books like these demystify lofty concepts. Many readers may not be able to relate to a lofty treatise on leadership but there’s a certain resonance when it’s connected to someone like Rajini.”

It’s fascinating, he adds, to be able to connect the dots back in Rajini’s life and see a pattern emerge, to see parallels running through his life and in organisations.

“We are all interested in hearing stories about other peoples’ lives,” he says. However, the danger of this genre of books, he says, is that they should not be dumbed down in a way that people can’t relate to it.

As Bala and his co-author, Ram, explain in their book, “For any brand to succeed, it’s vital that it finds a place in both the minds and hearts of consumers. Brand Rajini indeed lives in the heart, mind and souls of its hardcore fans admirers and followers.”

The paradox is that Brand Rajini himself, to date, has not endorsed any brand!

Published on November 23, 2012

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