The 171st film by South Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth is to be directed by “Vikram” director Lokesh Kanagaraj, Kalanithi Maran’s Sun Pictures officially announced on Monday, putting an end to months of speculation.
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No further details are available, save the name of the music composer, Anirudh Ravichander (“Jawan,” “Jailer”) and stunt choreographer Anbariv (the K.G.F. franchise), indicating that the film belongs to the action genre. The film is currently identified as “Thalaivar171.” Thalaivar translates literally as leader and is one of the laudatory sobriquets used to describe Rajinikanth.
The star, director and producer are riding the crest of a wave. “Jailer,” starring Rajinikanth, directed by Nelson Dilipkumar and produced by Sun Pictures, is the third highest Indian grossing film of the year, with $76.6 million.
Kanagaraj’s “Vikram,” starring Rajinikanth’s contemporary Kamal Haasan, was one of the highest Indian grossers of 2022 with $60 million. The director’s “Leo,” starring Vijay, which is due an Oct. 19 release, is hugely anticipated. The film’s U.K. distributor Ahimsa Films reports that when advance bookings opened more than 40 days before the release date, it crossed £100,000 ($125,000) in sales across 120 locations.
Lokesh Kanagaraj is known for his LCU or Lokesh Cinematic Universe, which began with “Kaithi” (2019), continued with “Vikram” and retrospectively included 1986 title “Vikram.” It is not immediately clear whether “Leo” or Rajinikanth’s 171st film will be part of the LCU or not.
Rajinikanth has a cameo in Aishwarya Rajinikanth’s sports drama “Lal Salaam.” His 170th film, untitled as of now, directed by T. J. Gnanavel (“Jai Bhim”), is underway.
Sun Pictures’ recent credits prior to “Jailer” include “Annaatthe” (2021), starring Rajinikanth; “Etharkkum Thunindhavan” (2022), starring Suriya; “Beast” (2022), starring Vijay; and “Thiruchitrambalam” (2022), starring Dhanush. An as-yet-untitled film directed by and starring Dhanush is in the works.
Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, Rajinikanth began his career in 1975 with the Tamil-language film “Apoorva Raagangal.” Since then he has starred in films across Indian languages and attained cult status. Rajinikanth is a phenomenon among South Indian stars. His popularity includes fan bases in the U.S. and Japan. Every release of his is treated as a near-religious event by fans and causes such a frenzy that cinemas lay on back-to-back shows at dawn in the first week of release.
In 2017, he formally announced his decision to join politics, but since then decided not to for health reasons. He was the 2021 recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, India’s highest film honor.