By John Cheeran
It is important to have a consensus about who is Rajinikanth. Is he a superstar actor or is he a comic superstar?
Rajinikanth is a phenomenon but he is a Tamil Nadu phenomenon that has broken into global consciousness thanks to email jokes.
There have been many rags-to-riches stories in Indian film industry. I would guess that Rajini’s is the ultimate of them all. From a bus conductor of Marathi origin in Bangalore to become nearly the all-time hero of moviegoers in Tamil Nadu is a fabulous feat.
Before Rajinikanth there was M G Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu. The important distinction between MGR and Rajini lies in the former not turning out to be a mere superstar but translating his screen success to a political platform. MGR was more than an actor. In a rational Dravidian culture, he was the nearest thing to god.
But we are discussing Rajinikanth the actor. Like Rajini himself admits he has been the mass actor but Kamal Hasan, the class actor. Even in Tamil Nadu, the worship may not be so complete. And then there are many who believe that Kamal Hasan is the complete actor that India has seen so far (and this is after taking into account someone called Amitabh Bachchan).
There is no debate or doubt about Rajini deserving a biography and that too from a knowledgeable mind such as Naman Ramachandran. It is almost impossible to find faults with Ramachandran’s meticulous tracking of Rajinikanth’s career. Especially after the author has quoted Rajinikanth in the prologue, may be in a bid to absolve himself of any charges of not living up to the role of a biographer.
Listen to this: ”In an autobiography, I will have to write the truth, I shouldn’t hide anything. Just to avoid hurting people’s feelings, I should not be hiding things. If I don’t present events as they happened, truthfully, it’s not an autobiography at all. I have read Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography and if I can muster up the kind of courage that he had, I will write one.”
Now has Ramachandran succeeded in bringing out all the shades in a colourful Rajinikanth? Rajinikanth, a definitive biography, published by Viking Penguin, is a faithful account more of the actor’s movies than his life. But, then, wasn’t his life movies themselves?
What disappoints me ?? despite not being a Rajini fan and eager to know more about the phenomenon — is the lack of insights that would explain the Rajini cult. For Rajinikanth could have succeeded only in Tamil Nadu, not for example in Kerala, West Bengal or Gujarat. I’m afraid, even in Tamil Nadu, chances are quite unlikely that Rajini will have a successor. Well, there could be a Rajinikanth franchise in future, similar to that of James Bond films.
Not the critic but an eight-year-old boy in Chennai gave me a clue to the Rajinikanth phenomenon in 1999 when the movie Padayappa was released. “Rajnikanth comes out a winner in everything,” the boy said, underlining that not many are capable of pulling off that feat in real or reel life.
But Rajinikanth has been wiser than the characters he has portrayed on screen and has chosen his fights carefully. He has so far stayed away from political stunts, despite threats couched in screen dialogues. Rajinikanth would win an assembly or parliament seat but capturing political power by floating a new political party might remain a fantasy. His willingness to placate both Karunanidhi and his one-time bete noir J Jayalalithaa in recent times, however, shows that he has the required political savvy.
And maybe Thalaivar will take the political plunge one day. Maybe Rajinikanth will become a true disciple of the Mahatma by writing about his experiments with truth.