Chennai: Rajinikanth’s last released film 2.0, reported to have collected Rs.750 crore so far, has been the highest grosser in 2018.

His previous film Kaala struck some much-needed blows for Dalit welfare.

His next movie, Petta, scheduled for a January 10 release, has already kicked up enormous expectations, and its official trailer logged in over 1.5 crore in just YouTube viewership.

He has also committed to a film with director AR Murugadoss.

In short, 2018 will go down in superstar Rajinikanth's storied career as one of the most productive and successful ones.

So where is the party?

This question can also be asked about his planned political foray.

Exactly one year ago, on December 31, 2017, Rajinikanth dramatically announced at his Raghavendra wedding hall, "My entry into politics is confirmed", and even as his impassioned followers burst into a crescendo of claps and whistles, he, making his famed 'Baba symbol' added: "This is the need of the hour."

Hours became days, days became weeks, weeks months, and now it is a year, still, there is no sign of the party.

It is not as if Rajinikanth has gone back on his political plans, but the non-starter of a formal political outfit has led to plenty of questions being aired, especially by his detractors, as to whether the superstar will put his money where his money is.

Rajini, as of today, is on a holiday break with his family in the USA. He is expected to be back in Chennai ahead of Petta’s release. Post that, he will busy himself with the preparation for the film with Murugadoss.   

"He is still keeping everyone guessing on his political plans. It means he is unsure even now," says Prema Kumar, a political analyst. "This will not go down well with his critics, as well as his followers."

In contrast, Rajini's film and now political rival (at least that is how the media is building it up) Kamal Hasaan not only announced his party but also has been travelling the length and breadth of the state in a kind of political campaigning.

Rajini fans are uneasy that their hero seems to be dilly-dallying over the party. But they are happy that he continues to be active on the film front. Coimbatore-based V Marimuthu, a die-hard fan of Rajini, says, "The mood among his fans is upbeat. If Thalaivar had not focused on films and also kept his plans for the party under wraps, we would have been worried. But his film career is back to its peak. As fans, we are happy about that. We are sure that he will launch the party at the right time."  

To be fair, Rajini did keep his political interactions going on with his fans (members of Rajini Makkal Mandram), and office-bearers were named for this association. Rajini Makkal Mandram has also set up individual teams (comprising 30 members each) for all the 65,000 polling booths in Tamil Nadu.  But these only heightened expectations on the party. 

Rajini's political advisor Tamilaruvi Manian has been quoted as saying in media reports that all groundwork for the party has been completed, and the party is ready to be floated as and when the Assembly elections are announced in the state.
Rajini had made it clear that his focus was only on the Tamil Nadu elections and not the general elections of 2019. The state elections are technically due only for 2021. This begs the question: why did he make that announcement of planning to float a party at the start of 2018 then?

"At that time things looked really dicey in Tamil Nadu. The government did not seem like it would last out the year. Perhaps that is what made Rajini sound the bugle of sorts. Now when the Tamil Nadu political situation is seemingly more set, he is holding himself back," one journalist, who is sounded out from time to time by Rajini for advice, says. "I would think it is smart of him to not rush anything. Patience in politics always pays off," he added.

Rajini's Makkal Mandram members were, however, seen in action in the aftermath of cyclone Gaja, involving themselves actively in rehabilitation work. "Rajini did not travel to the cyclone-ravaged areas. Whereas Kamal (Haasan) did. But Rajini's followers did solid work to help the needy. This suggests that he continues to nurture political plans," says Prema Kumar.  

As of now, the popular theory in Tamil Nadu is that Rajini, if and when he comes out with a political unit, will operate as a kind of B-team for the BJP. The fact that his idea of spiritual politics is closer to the BJP than others, is the general consensus. 

Whether Rajini starts a political party or not, he was asked a lot of political questions all throughout the year, and his answers did kick up a lot of storms across camps.

His opinion on the shootout in Tuticorin after the Sterlite protests got out of hand ("The attack on the cops were wrong") and his reaction to the BJP’s loss in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh ("Losses show BJP is losing its influence") were the fodder for social media outrage for many days.

"These comments - one pleasing the Right wing, and the other the opposite camp - do point to the fact that Rajini has a mind of his own and cannot be slotted into easy political niches," says the journalist.

So apart from the question of ‘when is the party’, Rajini is also making people wonder about what his party will be about.

"Politically, these are just trailers. The main picture is still to be seen," Marimuthu says, rhetorically invoking a popular dialogue of the Thalaivar from Padaiyappa. 

But quite unlike his films, it is tough to tell from the political trailers how the story will pan out.