MUMBAI, India (AP) — Fans of an Indian movie star with a cult following thronged movie theaters and celebrated with dancing and prayers as his latest film hit screens on Thursday.
Hundreds of avid supporters of Rajinikanth, one of India’s biggest movie superstars, carried photo cutouts and flower garlands as they made their way to a theater in Mumbai to watch his latest film “Jailer.” The first screening began at 6 a.m. local time.
When Rajinikanth appeared on screen, the theater stopped the movie for a minute as fans danced and cheered, rejoicing in his return after a period of two years.
Popular movie stars are treated like gods in India, often worshipped like deities by their fans.
Rajinikanth is one of Asia’s highest-paid actors, known for his superhero stunts. He enjoys a devoted fan base that cuts across generations and even continents. His films have broken box-office records in India and in countries like Malaysia and the United Kingdom, both of which have large Tamil-speaking populations.
Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, the actor today uses only one name. He once worked as a bus conductor for three years before attending acting school. He started in small roles as villains in Tamil cinema and worked his way up, before landing roles in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai.
Some offices in the southern cities of Chennai and Bengaluru declared Thursday a holiday so his fans could watch the movie.
“Scientists say that time machines are not possible, but Rajinikanth has the power to take us back to childhood,” said one fan named Arun, who watched the movie on opening day in Mumbai.
In “Jailer,” Rajinikanth plays a prison warden who learns that a criminal gang is trying to rescue its leader from the prison, and he sets out to stop them.
Rajinikanth, 72, has acted in more than 160 movies spanning more than five decades in several Indian languages, including Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Malayalam.