October 25, 2006 (Chennai):
Bollywood star prices seem a laugh as you travel down South where, without fuss and headlines, Tamil star Rajnikanth has become India's highest paid actor.
He is paid more than the Khans or even the Big B. With each new film Rajnikanth breaks his own record as India's highest paid actor.
He is getting Rs 16 crore for his next film Sivaji. That is about Rs 6 crore more than what he got for his last film Chandramukhi.
The math is mind boggling for outsiders. Bollywood's biggies like Aamir, Shah Rukh, and Salman don't earn more than Rs 7 crore each for a film. And their films are distributed around the country.
But those who produce Rajni's films say Tamil Nadu's ageing superstar is worth the price. Chandramukhi, Rajni's last film, earned Rs 50 crore at the box office, which is a record in Tamil Nadu.
"We make enough money on a Rajni film. So much so that we can make another film. So we don't have any problems paying him this much," said Ram Kumar Ganeshan, Producer, Chandramukhi.
At 56, it is a record-breaking run that seems to be unchecked. Except four years ago, the film Baba, which by Rajni standards was a flop. It earned only Rs 20 crore.
Rajni bounced back with Chandramukhi but decided he would cut down on the number of films. What he won't change, though, is the signature Rajni style.
Shivaji is being directed by Shankar, who is Tamil Nadu's hottest director. But it's clear who will be calling the shots.
"Rajni is always afraid whether the director should be able to present him in the way the masses like him. So Rajnikant himself controls the script and directs the film to a large extent," said Sreedhar Pillai, a film critic.
When it comes to movies Rajnikanth works only with the biggest and the best in the business.
"When we sign him on, we are able to cover all expenses. When I met Rajnikanth, I gave him Rs 1,001 as advance. I said I will pay your salary in a few days and he said he will take his payments later after the film's completed," said A V M Saravanan, Producer, Sivaji.
One of the reasons for Rajni's skyrocketing rates is that he is Tamil cinema's lone superstar after MGR, while four to five big heroes rule Bollywood. Realities that even his co-actors accept.
"Finally Rajnikant stands on top. In the film, Jyothika's done a great job. I had a good role. Vidyasagar gave very good music. But finally it was a Rajni starrer. We were all there, but it was a success because Rajni was there. You need a Rajni for that," said Prabhu, Co-star, Chandramukhi.