Crowds cheer Indian superstar Rajnikanth’s latest film

CHENNAI, India (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of fans of Indian superstar Rajinikanth thronged cinemas across India and Malaysia on Friday for the premiere of his latest film, “Kabali,” jumping from their seats and dancing in the aisles as their hero fought enemies in the gangster flick.

Many private firms gave their employees a day off and parents kept children home from school in Tamil Nadu state for the movie’s long-anticipated release. Crowds waited outside theaters all night before the action film opened just before dawn.

Inside Chennai’s “Woodlands” theater, one of the city’s oldest, fans jumped from the seats, danced and sang along as the superstar made his first appearance.

When Rajnikanth landed punches on the villain in the two-hour-long film, fans egged him on with cheers and whistles.

Huge cutouts of the star and gigantic posters loomed large in the street outside the theater. In several places, fans poured big cans of milk over the cutouts in a Hindu ritual to bless the star and wish him a long life.

Sixty-five-year-old Rajinikanth is one of India’s most popular stars and counts millions of fans who speak the Tamil language and even those who don’t.

The film is being released in more than 12,000 screens across India, as well as in Malaysia, which has a sizeable Tamil-speaking population and millions of Rajnikanth fans. “Kabali” also premiered in 400 U.S. theaters. Rajinikanth and fans attended a special screening in San Francisco.

The action star has a huge following in Japan too, where his subtitled films are big box office earners.

The Malaysia-based AirAsia budget carrier organized a special round-trip flight from the southern city of Bangalore to Chennai for the movie premiere. An AirAsia plane dedicated to Rajinikanth and painted with his picture was flying to 10 destinations in India.

The opening scenes from the film show a grey-bearded Rajinikanth being released from a prison, swearing to avenge his enemies. In his search for revenge, he is reunited with his family and rains destruction on his foes.

Rajinikanth merchandise was selling briskly outside theaters in Tamil nadu. T-shirts and jackets sporting the superhero’s face and his trademark dark glasses aere hot favorites. One finance company in southern India has minted special silver coins with Rajinikanth visage and priced the five-gram coin for at $5.30 each.