Tickets for “Kabali”, which stars Rajinikanth as an ageing gangster, sold out well before the release and were changing hands on the black market for up to 5,000 rupees ($75) — a huge sum for most Indians.
The 65-year-old Tamil language cinema icon inspires an almost god-like adulation in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where fans refer to him simply as “The Superstar”.
Fans cut their hair in the style of Rajinikanth’s character and some even had his face tattooed on their arms as they awaited the release.
In Chennai fans set off firecrackers, gave out sweets and poured milk over giant posters advertising the movie — a tradition that derives from the ritual bathing of Hindu idols in milk.
Several companies in the city, a burgeoning IT hub, said so many staff had asked for Friday off that they had decided to simply close for the day.
“The story line is too good, it’s very emotional,” said one fan who had watched the 4am screening in Chennai.
Another fan in Mumbai called the movie “brilliantly awesome”.
“It has emotions, it has fights, it has all those things that a Rajini fan expects and it has those super moments where every Rajini fan will start clapping and whistling. Absolutely no disappointment,” he told the NDTV news channel.
Rajinikanth famously worked as a bus conductor in the southern Indian city of Bangalore before heading to Chennai in 1973 to pursue his passion of acting.
His last major film, the science fiction epic “Endhiran”, was one of India’s most profitable releases ever, grossing a record-breaking $13.8 million globally on its opening weekend in 2011 — including $4.4 million in the United States alone.
Its performance stoked global ambitions for the Tamil-language film industry, nicknamed “Kollywood” after the Kodambakkam district of Chennai where many studios are based.
Most of Tamil Nadu’s chief ministers have had connections to the industry and the incumbent, Jayalalitha Jayaram, was once a leading actress.