The Raj of Rajnikanth….
Wishing Rajnikanth a speedy recovery. Heard he is admitted at Mt Elizabeth in Singapore, the same hospital where Amar Singh had his kidney transplant. Rajnikanth’s message to his fans prior to his departure via an audio release confirms how weak he is now. Hope he gets well soon!
First published on Times of India on 25th May 2011 http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tiger-trail/entry/the-raj-of-rajnikanth
Dust storms gather in full fury sucking up everything in it’s path, gale winds scurry in a hurry, inclement weather moves in tempestuously, eerie shadows reverse at break neck speed as the camera zooms in to capture the image of one man (from bottom up) to the beat of reverberating drums and bellowing trumpets. And to the deafening and ceremoniously grand background score, the silhouette of one-man lights up the silver screen, the silhouette of one that now flicks gum high up in the air instead of a cigarette. This is how Rajni illuminates the silver screen quite literally with his screen presence and he has been doing so ever since he flung the gates open in K Balachander’s “ Apoorva Raagangal” in 1975 in an iconoclastic fashion.
The name Rajnikanth (or Superstar as he is more popularly known) zips across a cross section of age groups and societal stratums and brings together a collective reverie of the eidolon. Rajni’s popularity in Tamil Nadu can be only compared to the late MG Ramachandran who too had previously used the Robin Hood philosophy to score brownie points with an adoring audience that in turn deposited him straight into the heart of Tamil Nadu’s vote banks. Akin to an equation with fixed variables that has been chalked into Tamil Nadu’s popular culture, Rajni is greater than or equal to MGR and Kamal Haasan is greater than or equal to the thespian Sivaji Ganesan. An equation that is not likely to change for a long time to come. Even if Indian cinema is by and large a make believe world of fantasy, Rajni’s movies tend to redefine fantasy at an altogether different level. Every level of escalation is well accepted by a doting audience, despite however rational they may otherwise be. This reconciliation is reserved only for their Superstar. Any body who dares to attempt or mock Rajni’s style, mannerisms, punch dialogue delivery, walk or talk, faces the risk of being at the receiving end of generous flak by a non forgiving and emotional public.
An average looking man who now wields the entire Tamil Nadu as his mirror, has risen from the most ordinary of circumstances to become one of the most extraordinary personalities that India has seen, coupled with an envious fan following. He was even rated as one of the most influential Indians in Forbes and amongst the influential persons in South Asia by Asia week. He is the highest paid film star in Asia after Jackie Chan. Rajnikanth’s off screen presence is far removed. The man is known for his simple living and simplistic approach to life, minus the strut, glitz and swagger. He tends to spend a fair share of his time in meditation at the Himalayas and engages in philanthropic services. He is known to lead a life minus the paraphernalia and remains in touch with those who supported him in his early days in Bangalore where he was a bus conductor.
Rajni’s humility is probably most luminescent and holds him in good stead with the starry eyed public. He has managed to maintain good relations with both the DMK and the AIADMK and has diplomatically kept himself away from the crossfire over the years (one way or the other). Rajni has the ability to influence public opinion like no other in Tamil Nadu and can create a formidable third front if he wishes to. But, for now, he chooses to remain apolitical despite his participation in the recent years over the sensitive Cauvery issue and in the protests against killing of innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Rajni’s popularity can stupefy the senses. He is a cult figure and even if lofty attempts have been made to reduce Rajni to a caricature via Rajni jokes, Rajni one liners, Rajni impersonations, this is but a miniscule price to pay for colossal levels of popularity. Rajni’s recent health issue is a worry for his fans, me included, and I hope he gets better soon. I have witnessed the Rajni phenomenon far away from Chennai, in Melbourne, at the Palais theatre where I watched the first day first show of ‘Sivaji’. The celebrations for the movie had begun a kilometre away from the venue and this is how far the line snaked on the roads of St Kilda. And when the man came on screen for the first time, coins were whizzing past my head, streamers were gushing, to the sound of shrill whistling and amongst hundreds of lighters of “aarthi”, I jumped with glee. Dust storms gathered in full fury sucking up everything in its path, gale winds scurried in a hurry, inclement weather moved in tempestuously, eerie shadows reversed at break neck speed, heralding the arrival of Rajnikanth. Mind it, he is here to stay.