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It’s unfair to compare a man against an institution. Rajnikant has made 200 films during his 27 years in the movie business. Bollywood makes the same number of movies every year.

The industry is more than 100 years old. It has witnessed the making of such classics as Mother India, Kaagaz ke Phool, Pyaasa, Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam and Sholay. And over this period and through these films, the industry has produced a pool of unparalleled talent whic includes Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. And then, there is Rajnikant, the South Indian superstar, who, like MGR before him, is worshipped in Tamil Nadu. He has an enviable fan following and is undoubtedly the highest paid actor in India. But it’s important to understand the context of his popularity. Tamil Nadu has always made gods of its screen idols and Rajnikant has been in the game far longer than many of his contemporaries.

Sivaji, by far, is the biggest South Indian blockbuster in history. But numbers are not created in vacuum. If the movie has done as well as it has, one needs to give a nod to the quartet of intelligent marketing, public relations, multiplexes and media. And going by its current speed, my guesstimate is it will probably gross Rs 125 crore. But like I said, this is the only blockbuster of its kind in the history of Tamil cinema and Rajnikant’s career.

When it comes to numbers, Bollywood has the advantage of reflecting the success of many and not just one. In the past 50 years, 25 industry blockbusters have grossed more than Rs 100 crore. By today’s estimates, (inflation accounted for) Sholay earned more than Rs 200 crore, Mughal-e-Azam Rs 170 crore, Mother India Rs 150 crore and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun Rs 142 crore. But even the success of these movies didn’t make its stars bigger than Bollywood.

Internationally, Indian cinema has become synonymous with Bollywood and has received — sometimes surprising — patronage from a variety of audiences. A line-up of stars, from Amitabh Bachchan to the Khans, are crowdpullers; even Munna Bhai and Circuit are a franchise that, by the way, grossed more than Rs 100 crore in revenues just from its theatrical release.

Today, international bids are entertained for staging awards shows and the industry has become an important vehicle for the promotion of various countries. Yash Chopra has a lake named after him in Switzerland, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh and other Bollywood denizens have been bestowed with laurels and doctorates from institutions across the world; London’s Madame Tussaud’s has found it important to showcase three Bollywood icons and Walt Disney has just trademarked the word Bollywood.

What Rajnikant has achieved in his career with Sivaji is outstanding and he is a bankable superstar. And, he is definitely the king of South Indian movies, but Bollywood is bigger than the sum of its superstars. It is a global brand, which is, for good or bad, equated with all of Indian cinema, even Sivaji.

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